Manchester historian awarded major grants by AHRC and ESRC

Dr Edmond Smith, Presidential Fellow in Economic Cultures, has been awarded two major grants to explore how Britain’s economy developed between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. Building on their previous research, which culminated in their 2021 monograph Merchants, Smith will continue to examine the cultural and behavioural underpinnings of economic activity in the early modern world.

The first project, Risky Business: Investing in Innovation and Britain’s Economic Development, 1660-1750, will examine the lives and business practices of investors by investigating how these actors came to self-consciously participate in ‘improvement’, ‘innovation’ and economic growth. In doing so, the project will reshape inquiry into the cultural and social dimensions of investment during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries – a period in which financial revolution accelerated the development of the first modern economies. To fund this project, Dr Smith has been awarded an ESRC New Investigator Grant worth £285,000 that will enable them to conduct research at archives across the UK, as well as carry out impact, outreach and policy related initiatives. “I am extremely grateful and excited to have the opportunity to carry out this research”, Smith says. “The ESRC backs amazing projects across the UK and I am delighted that they have chosen to support my ongoing research and professional development”. They are seeking to appoint a post-doctoral Research Associate to work with them on this project  – the deadline for applications is the 19th of September 2021.

Dr Smith has also, as part of a collaborative project with Lancaster University and UCL, been awarded a £1 million AHRC Standard Grant for Legacies of the British Slave Trade: The Structures and Significance of British Investment in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, c. 1550-1807. The funding will enable teams at each university to collate and improve existing data, complete new research, and create comprehensive biographies of the 6,524 British investors in the slave trade. This work will offer a new perspective on the slave trade’s commercial context and of the networks that structured investment within the slave trade, while highlighting the degree to which the business was embedded within the British economy. Smith said, “This is a fascinating and important project to be part of and it is humbling and thrilling in equal measure. Support from the AHRC for empirically driven research into this important topic is vitally important, both as a means of better understanding the historical trajectories of Britain’s economic development and its continued impact on society today”. As part of this project, Smith is seeking to appoint a post-doctoral Research Associate to work with them at The University of Manchester – the application deadline is the 19th of September 2021.

These two projects will form the basis of Dr Smith’s ongoing work to interrogate the relationship between slavery, colonialism, international trade, and industrialisation, which aims to understand the trajectories of economic growth that catapulted Britain towards its commercial and imperial position in the nineteenth century. This will culminate in their second book Slavery, Capitalism, and the Origins of Britain’s Wealth in 2025.

Image credit: Elevation of a sawmill (top), elevation of a sugar mill (below): both lettered for a key. Engraving by S. Porter, 1806, after J. Farey the younger. Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

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