John Martin Handel

Graduate Student

Late Modern Europe

I'm a historian of Modern Europe, in general, and Modern Britain and its empire in particular. My research primarily focuses on the history of finance, especially the origins of modern financial markets in the nineteenth century. In my dissertation, The Infrastructures of Modern Finance: The Rise of Stock Exchanges in Britain and its Empire, 1800-1929,  I tell the story of the explosion of finance capitalism in the nineteenth century through the mundane and technical infrastructures that underwrote its everyday operations. Spanning the material infrastructures of telegraph wires and ticker tapes, the knowledge infrastructures of quantified price lists and economic theories of market behavior, and the human infrastructures of clerks who settled accounts, porters who opened stock exchange doors, and messenger boys who ran orders from telegraph offices to the trading floor, I show that finance capitalism was not born but made. Through uneven, contingent, and often contradictory processes, a range of actors slowly assembled and connected the infrastructures of finance into a seemingly coherent system by the end of the nineteenth century. We still live in the world they built. Even after WWI disrupted the financial globalization that characterized the nineteenth century, I show how financial infrastructures  persisted well into the twentieth century and continued to shape the behavior, politics, and limits of financial markets. 

My second project, tentatively entitled, The European Financialization of American Slavery, 1820s-1870s, tracks how British financiers began investing in slave economies abroad as pressure mounted for Britain to abolish slavery at home and within its empire.  I am currently preparing an article on how British financiers assessed the risks and rewards of investing in slavery during an age of abolition, and how they justified these investments to themselves, politicians, and investors elsewhere. As I develop this into a book project, I am examining a variety of different ways that the European financialization of American slavery transformed politics and economics in the mid-nineteenth century Atlantic world. Using bank archives from both America and Europe, I'm researching how how slave-backed mortgage bonds, engineered by London bankers in co-ordination with Southern planters, were then sold to banks throughout Britain and Europe. I am also studying the international legal disputes that erupted when Southern states defaulted and repudiated many of their loans, and how this led to the development of new economic and legal strategies by European bankers and bondholders. The debts undertaken by slave-states, that were secured by the bodies of slaves themselves, came to be legal and financial anchors around southern states throughout the nineteenth century. Eventually, efforts to recoup outstanding loans and bad debt aligned European finance with those opposed to the political project of Reconstruction.

Before I began studying I finance, I studied the history of religion. My early work explored how the theology of the Oxford Movment was shaped by, and in turn leveraged, the new media of nineteenth-century mass printing. I often return to the philosophy and theology of John Henry Newman.  I have written about Newman's role in the transformation of Britain from Protestant Christian nation to a pluralist Christian nation in the late nineteenth century as well as the relationship between Newman's most philosophically groundbreaking and important work, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, and the transformation of Roman Catholicism that took place at Vatican I. 

Research Interests

  • Modern Britain and Its Empire
  • History of Finance/Capitalism
  • Secularization
  • Colonialism
  • History and Theory
  • Digital Humanities