Program: History of Science
Fields of Study:
- History of Political Economy and the Social Sciences
- Financial History
- History of Early Modern Science
- Britain and the British Empire
- The Enlightenment, especially in the Atlantic World
Advisors: Michael Gordin and Linda Colley
I am a historian of science interested in the history of economic knowledge. My dissertation, Calculated Values: A Political History of Economic Numbers in Britain, 1688-1738, investigates how Britons used numerical calculation to question, understand, and govern the startling economic changes they underwent in the half-century after the 1688 Revolution. The period witnessed the emergence of many seemingly modern economic forces: a powerful military-fiscal state, increasingly global trade, vibrant financial markets. Yet early-modern Britain also lacked modern structures of economic expertise, and many novel analytical problems about fiscal policy, trade, and finance were contested in the halls of Parliament and in the public press. Self-appointed experts and political outsiders constructed creative calculations as a way to overcome informational asymmetries and critique policies, often with marked success. My project reconstructs a history of Augustan Britons’ practical epistemology by intensively examining the period’s most significant computational controversies. These include disputes over monarchical budgeting in the early 1690s, the calculation of the "Equivalent" money paid by England to Scottish stakeholders at the Union of 1707, the Anglo-French balance-of-trade controversy in 1713, and the failure of Walpole's Excise Scheme in the early 1730s. I am especially interested in how numerical objectivity—a distinctive trust in the value of numbers as a foundation for credible communication and trustworthy knowledge—emerged as a political virtue in the period as a begrudging compromise to the problem of making decisions in a republican polity strained by competing interests.
Methodologically, my works relies heavily on a kind of “close reading” of the numerical texts of the past, excavating past computations and reconstructing their internal logic in their own, contextualized terms. This method of computational reconstruction provides an especially powerful lens for thinking about questions of historical epistemology, bringing into focus both the nature of economic reasoning in the past, and the political and moral functions such technical analysis was intended to achieve.
I have a special interest in the history of financial knowledge, and in the mutual construction of computational practices, market behaviors, and ethical standards in the development of financial capitalism. A significant portion of my dissertation is devoted to the study of early-modern England’s first dramatic financial crisis, the “South Sea Bubble” of 1720. My research explores contemporary computations deployed during and after 1720 in order to assess the real value of South Sea Company Stock. By asking what qualified as a plausible way to calculate financial value at the time, I am interested in showing that historical financial crises ought to be understood in part as crises of financial knowledge, rather than serving as test-cases of the rationality/irrationality of past investors. The history of financial plausibility helps to inform current research in financial economics that has emphasized the importance of disagreement in the formation of asset bubbles. I further wish to understand how the crash of the Bubble itself, and especially the political autopsy that followed, shaped new standards for what qualified as “correct” valuations in the aftermath of the crisis.
I am currently Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellow, in my fifth year at Princeton. I earned an A. B. summa cum laude from Harvard in History in 2006. My thesis, entitled “Beyond the Idle Philosopher: William Petty, the Down Survey, and the Empowerment of Knowledge, 1652-1662,” earned Hoopes, Washburn, and Harris Prizes from the College. Before coming to Princeton, I worked as an investment banking analyst for a New York private equity and advisory firm, advising corporations in financial distress. That career didn’t take.
Awarded a Doctorate in Mixology from the Harvard Bartending Course in 2005, I am currently the longest-tenured bartender at The Debasement Bar, or “D-Bar,” the bar of the Princeton Graduate College.