English and Scottish Literature

Understanding Money launches as free MOOC

Paul Crosthwaite tells us why we need to get to grips with finance, and how it’s possible to do so through a three-week online course open to everyone.

Paul Crosthwaite, a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, is fascinated with the links between literature, other forms of artistic expression, and finance.

Photo of Paul Crosthwaite
Paul Crosthwaite, Senior Lecturer in English Literature

Over the last decade, particularly in the context of the global financial crises, he’s looked at economic questions through a humanities lens, all to better understand the abstract - and often mystifying - domain of money, investment, credit and debt.

In collaborative projects such as 'Picturing Finance' (led by Peter Knight) and 'The History of Financial Advice' (led by Nicky Marsh), both funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), he’s worked with researchers in the universities of Manchester and Southampton to explore new ways of engaging the public with this important topic, for example through touring exhibitions such as Show Me the Money: The Image of Finance, 1700 to the Present.

Together with colleagues in Lancaster University and FutureLearn, the team are now bringing you a free online course - Understanding Money: The History of Finance, Speculation and the Stock Market - which begins its three-week run on FutureLearn on Monday 18th March 2019.

A world we know is important, but that seems opaque and mysterious

“The financial world is woven into every aspect of our social, political, and cultural lives” reflects Paul. “Just think of how often we hear discussions of what “the markets” will make of the latest news story, or think of how many classic and contemporary novels feature villainous bankers or money-hoarding misers. But crucial aspects of the financial systems that surround us often aren’t well understood: we can feel that we’re looking at a world - the world of stock markets, central banks, derivatives trading, or cryptocurrencies - which we know is important, but that seems opaque and mysterious.”

“Developing a better understanding of how money and finance have operated both historically and in the present helps us to grasp some of the key forces shaping our lives. And it’s ultimately important for the health of democracy, since if we don’t collectively understand the financial sector it’s difficult to make it more accountable to the common good.”

Interacting with learners from all over the globe

Asked why the course is running as a free, online MOOC, Paul says “my colleagues and I are committed to making the key ideas arising from our academic research accessible to as wide an audience as possible. An online course like this allows us to present this material in a multimedia format (there are lots of images, videos, and links as well as text), and we hope that this will be stimulating and engaging for those taking part.”

“It’s really exciting for us that we have an opportunity to interact with learners from all over the world, and we’re looking forward to hearing about how the history of money and finance has shaped the countries and regions in which they live. We hope that learners will be inspired by what they explore and discover on the course and will want to deepen their knowledge of these topics further in future.”

Is this course for you?

“The course will appeal to various different audiences. If you’ve ever wondered where the flimsy pieces of paper we carry around in our purses and wallets get their value from, how investors go about deciding which companies’ stocks to buy, why the market crashed in 2008, or what a Bitcoin is, then you’ll find the answers on this course.”

“And you’ll also get a lot from it if your primary interests are more historical (for example, if you’re interested in eighteenth-century London or 1920s New York) or if - like many people in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) - you come at economic, social, and historical topics from a literary and cultural perspective: the course looks extensively at how writers, artists, and filmmakers have shaped how we understand money, finance, and economics - from Daniel Defoe to Jane Austen to The Wizard of Oz to F. Scott Fitzgerald to contemporary artists like Molly Crabapple.”

“You can find out more about my research by following the links below (to the website for Show Me the Money, an exhibition I co-curated, and to a video about The History of Financial Advice project, which was filmed at Edinburgh’s Library of Mistakes). English Literature students in LLC could also take my undergraduate option course on Modernism and the Market.”

Understanding Money: The History of Finance, Speculation, and the Stock Market starts its three-week run on Monday 18th March 2019. Estimated study time is three hours per week.

Find out more and sign up on FutureLearn [external website]

Related links

Find out more about Show Me the Money on the project's website [external website]

Watch the video for The History of Financial Advice on YouTube [external website]

Find out more about Paul's undergraduate course on Modernism and the Market