You are on page 1of 3

Distrust, Innovations, and Public Service 2009 EHS Thesis abstract Koji Yamamoto

1

Projecting Culture in Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England: Distrust, Innovations, and Public Service
My thesis reappraises the role of distrust in economic innovations. It does so by showing that practices of ‘projects’ – commercial applications of new knowledge and technical ingenuity – developed in response to a body of negative stereotypes, especially that of the ‘projector’. Allegedly, ‘projectors’ profited themselves by promoting spurious innovations purportedly for the public good. Literary studies on Jonson, Brome, Defoe and Swift have demonstrated the persistence of this image, but have failed to study how representation influenced practice (Knight, Barton, Sanders, Butler, Novak, Schaffer, Rogers). Historical studies have examined economic initiatives deemed as ‘projects’ at the time, but have underplayed the relevance of negative stereotypes (Thirsk, Harkness, Cramsie, Webster, Jacob&Stewart). Crucially, however, virtually all promoters tried to avoid being seen as ‘projectors’. Originally coined to criticise Elizabethan monopolists and patentees, this image became the first established stereotype in England of economic innovators, and circulated even during the financial revolution. By juxtaposing negative stereotypes and practices of innovations in key economic sectors, my thesis offers the first systematic account of projecting culture. By attending to criteria by which distrust was managed for the public good, it also contributes to studies of trust and commercial culture, themes attracting increasing attention in economic history and history of technology and science. Chapter One outlines how stereotypes and organisations of projecting activities evolved simultaneously between c.1570 and c.1730. To do this, it explores the English Short Title Catalogue, pamphlets, bills, songs, plays, and an original patent database (including over 400 patents granted between 1617-1716). The remaining four chapters examine concrete projects chronologically. Chapter Two examines the promotion of husbandry in the Hartlib circle. Print and manuscript sources reveal that promoters did not agree how the fundamental economic sector might be improved ‘for the public good’ without attracting suspicion. Some lobbied parliament for imposing sweeping reforms; some solicited private patronage for godgiven secrets; and some, intriguingly of ‘middling sorts’, published manuals to encourage

Distrust, Innovations, and Public Service 2009 EHS Thesis abstract Koji Yamamoto

2

readers’ initiatives, highlighting open communication and financial ‘disinterestedness’. Illuminating a spectrum of ‘projecting’ options, the chapter not only underlines the departure from monopolies as the previous dominant option, but also highlights that even humble promoters could adopt different strategies for managing distrust. Chapter Three focuses on horticultural proposals promoted under Charles II through the Royal Society and elsewhere. Early Stuarts’ monopolies and versions of millenarian experiments of the previous decades came to be distrusted as threats to the Restoration Church and State, adding stereotypes promoters should avoid. No consensus emerged; but encouraging private initiatives was becoming a standard, even in this branch of husbandry for which many had previously called for governmental intervention. The chapter thus illustrates that certain negative stereotypes about projects, derived from previous projecting activities, came to influence the pattern of subsequent activities. It argues that this dynamic interaction between stereotypes and practices is, together with religious and political circumstances, crucial for understanding the evolution of projecting culture. Chapter Four investigates how distrust was managed in the political sphere when the government authorised, but had little financial stakes in, projects. It investigates the Stour project, the first inland navigation backed by the Cavalier parliament. Petitioners, and MPs debated whether interested parties could be safeguarded and the potentially damaging accusation of monopolists (and the government’s uncritical endorsement of them) hedged. Under the circumstance characteristic of legislation after 1660, promoters’ integrity, competence, or financial probity, or even projects’ feasibility was not highly relevant. The chapter concludes that, in order to understand how knowledge and ingenuity were exploited through concrete projects, we must often move beyond the analysis of trustworthiness and self-fashioning that has dominated history of science and technology (Shapin&Schaffer, Johnston, Ash). Chapter Five examines unincorporated joint-stock companies as an increasingly dominant mode of projecting from the 1690s that were not only run by groups of individuals, but also eagerly promoted to, and consumed by, investors in London and elsewhere. The chapter concludes the long-term account of projecting culture by examining the case of

Distrust, Innovations, and Public Service 2009 EHS Thesis abstract Koji Yamamoto

3

the innovative, but scandalous, Company of the Mine Adventurers. It argues that, although its deputy governor was denounced according to the emerging stereotype of the projector as unscrupulous speculators, even this fraudulent, ‘private’ enterprise was, like its predecessors, preoccupied with the pursuit of godliness and public service. In short, my thesis argues that projecting activities and negative stereotypes about them cannot be understood in isolation. In doing so, it contributes to the growing historical debates on trust and commercial culture.