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The John Rylands Research Institute

Second city: Manchester and modern finance

Alexia Yates, History

Old newspaper

Alexia’s project uses archival materials relating to Manchester’s industrial history in order to explore the City’s financial status.

Manchester is well known as an industrial (and post-industrial) city, occupying a key place in the historiography of the economics and politics of the industrial revolution. As ‘Cottonopolis,’ it is renowned as a crucial nexus of production, exchange, and labour relations in the nineteenth century. Its status as a financial capital is less appreciated, however, despite being the city in which the Rothschilds began their English operations, in which joint-stock banking flourished alongside cotton mills, and in which some of the world’s most important securities’ and commodities’ exchanges were established. Historians have certainly not neglected this topic; however much of the existing scholarship is outdated and remains to be synthesized in light of new approaches to the history of capitalism. Moreover, the continuing fallout of the 2007-8 financial crisis demands deeper engagement with the history of finance as a specific and spatialized activity in the UK economy and the ‘Northern Powerhouse.’

The goal of this project is to scope collections at the John Rylands Library that can inform new scholarly investigations of financial history from the vantage of Manchester’s particular urban spaces, as well as its economic, social, and cultural institutions. The University of Manchester Special Collections contain a wealth of material pertaining to the region’s industrial history, ranging from the records of prominent trade unions and professional associations to the private business correspondence of substantial merchant families. Some records among those listed below more obviously pertain specifically to financial practice. However deeper investigation is required in order to determine which portions of these collections can inform our understanding of financial innovation and institutionalization.

This project is funded by a JRRI pilot grant and runs from September 2018 – July 2019