Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 lectures / week, 1 hour / lecture

Recitations: 1 recitation / week, 1 hour / recitation


There are no prerequisites for this course.


This course examines finance from the perspective of Science, Technology, and Society (STS). Finance is conceived as a social technology, intended to improve economic opportunity by moving capital to where it is most needed. The first half of the course surveys the history of modern finance, from medieval Italy to the Great Depression. Topics include: Finance and state (and imperial) power; global financial interconnection; and financial crisis. The second half of the course explores modern finance (since about 1950) from a variety of historical and social-scientific perspectives. Topics include quaint finance; finacilization; the crisis of ‘07–‘08; and finance in the digital age.

The course has a dual rationale. First, this course provides students a broad historical and social-scientific introduction to a central aspect of modern economic life: Finance. By drawing upon a variety of disciplinary perspectives from the humanities and social sciences, the course offers a multi-dimensional picture of finance—not only as an economic phenomenon, but as a political, cultural, intellectual, material, and technological one as well. For students with limited background in finance or economics, it will offer an introduction to a variety of foundational financial concepts and technologies. For all students, including those with additional background in finance, it will help them to understand finance as a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, with a complicated past and an open future.

Second, by conceiving finance as a social technology—indeed, as financial engineering, broadly construed—this course also provides an excellent opportunity for the introduction of a variety of central concepts in the study of STS. These include: The historical development and social construction of technical knowledge and technological systems; accidents and crises; risk and uncertainty (both as historical and analytical concepts); regulation and its challenges; the politics of technology; “materiality”; “performativity”; technological imaginaries. As a communications intensive course, it will also help students to improve skills in written communication and to learn tools for historical analysis and textual interpretation. The course will therefore provide an excellent entry-point for students looking to undertake more advanced work in STS.


Paper 1 10%
Paper 2 15%
Revision of Paper 1 or Paper 2 15%
Paper 3 15%
“Three-quarters-term” exam 25%
Attendance and participation 20%

Participation and Attendance

Students are expected to attend every class meeting, including lectures and recitations. Because spoken communication is a key component of this CI-H course, attendance in recitation is especially important. Consistent, well-prepared, and thoughtful participation in recitation is one of the essential requirements of this course. Like critical reading and expository writing, academic conversation is a skill that needs to be practiced. Asking questions and citing text are always good strategies for high-quality contributions. In lecture, students may periodically be given “index card” writing exercises at the beginning of class, in which they will be asked to briefly (~5 minutes) reflect on some aspect of the reading for that session.

Attendance will be taken in every recitation and periodically in lecture (by way of “index card” exercises). Students who miss class without prior permission will receive 0 credit for their participation in that class session.