• University of Southampton

Understanding Money: The History of Finance, Speculation, and the Stock Market

Explore how money, investment, and finance have been represented in arts, literature, and popular culture over the last 300 years.

8,513 enrolled on this course

Composite image of bank notes and financial charts.
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Understand the key concepts of money, credit and debt, and the stock market

What is money? What does money do? How has the understanding of economics changed over the years? Explore the answers to these questions and more in this online course.

On this course, you will learn how literary, cultural, visual and historical studies have offered new ways of understanding money and investment.

You will look at popular representations of finance in visual culture and literature and explore the social meaning of credit, debt and the role of the market. You will also investigate financial crises in history and analyse how the media presents this information to the public.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds SPEAKER 1: Information about money seems to surround us. Nearly every news report ends with details of the stock market, of an interest rate, or growth forecast.

Skip to 0 minutes and 22 seconds SPEAKER 2: And yet, how money and finance really work is often elusive.

Skip to 0 minutes and 26 seconds SPEAKER 3: We will explore how history, art, literature, and popular culture gives us ways of understanding this world of finance that the financial news doesn’t.

Skip to 0 minutes and 35 seconds SPEAKER 4: We’ll explore what the history of money tells us, from the cowry shells of the British Museum to the bitcoins of the digital age.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds SPEAKER 1: We won’t teach you how to make a killing on the stock market. But we will explain the history of investment, and the way in which it’s related to the history of speculation.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds SPEAKER 5: So we’re looking at the spaces and practises of investment. We’ll explore how people learn to navigate the stock market and how it’s conquered the world.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds SPEAKER 2: But investment doesn’t always run smoothly. And we’ll also look at the history of financial crises, from the South Sea Bubble to the Wall Street Crash to the Global Financial Crisis.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 seconds SPEAKER 1: The history of money is more emotive, more contested, and more fascinating than you might expect.

What topics will you cover?

  • An introduction to the disciplinary debates regarding the function and histories of money.
  • An exploration of money’s representations in art, literature and popular culture.
  • An introduction to stocks, shares, investment and the national debt.
  • An exploration of how investment cultures have changed and the role that technology and financial advice have played in them.
  • An analysis of the causes and forms of financial crisis.
  • An exploration of four case studies - the South Sea Bubble, the Railway Mania, the Wall Street Crash and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the ways in which critical, cultural and literary history and theory contributes to our understanding of three central economic concepts – money, credit, markets.
  • Evaluate the differences between a number of central critical traditions and theoretical approaches (eg the history of money as credit versus the history of money as a commodity).
  • Describe the origins and the purpose of the contemporary financial market and the ways in which it functions.
  • Identify and discuss the ways in which a range of literary and visual texts offer us a critical insight into these histories and give them a social and political relevance.
  • Critically reflect on the ways in which the visual appearance of money signals it as a source of authority and locates it within a specific place and time.
  • Evaluate the implications of an historical approach to money that reads it as process of dematerialisation (from barter to gold to paper).
  • Develop an understanding of the formation of money in contemporary society and why this is a history of credit and how it has been made sense of through a recurring visual and linguistic imagery (eg the bubble and the balloon).
  • Understand the history and function of the stock exchange and the way in which it has moved from a physical location to a set of highly complex mathematical operations.
  • Reflect upon your own relationship and access to the idea of the financial market and your knowledge of it.
  • Examine how the financial crisis was given a narrative in the mainstream press and what this suggested for the need to change the conditions in which it had occurred.

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone with a general interest in money and how money is understood in society, as well as anyone interested in history, literature, and economics.

Who will you learn with?

I am a Professor of Twentieth Century Literary Studies at the University of Southampton. I work on representations of money and market in British and American fiction and culture.

I am an economic historian based at the University of Southampton. My initial research interest was the South Sea Bubble, a financial market crash in 1720.

I'm a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, with a particular interest in the intersections of literature, culture and economics.

I am a historian of modern British history at Lancaster University, specialising in the history of business, advertising, and fraud.

I am a Professor of American Studies at the University of Manchester. My research is on conspiracy theories, and the stock market in American culture.

Who developed the course?

University of Southampton

Southampton is a place for ambitious people keen to stretch their intellectual abilities and help change the world.

Endorsers and supporters

funded by

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