Research (Research project)

“Capital Markets of the World”: looking at the birth and history of modern finance through stock exchange quotations, 1850-…

At its outset, the Capital Markets of the World project was conceived as a historical investigation in what could be called the ‘information system(s)’ that have been responsible for the production and dissemination of price-sensitive stock-exchange information. Its tenet was derived from practical concerns related to the consultation and interpretation of a collection of multi-market financial information gathered by the Crédit Lyonnais Service des Etudes Financières, and currently hosted by the Graduate Institute, Geneva (hereafter referred to as ‘the Collection’; cf. infra). Over time, the regular, yet initially ‘naive’, use of these primary materials bred an ethnological awareness of informative differences that are typically sterilized or even erased in the conventional practice of extracting lists of data from primary sources.

In the first place, this led the project’s principal investigators to seek to develop a vocabulary and methodology to make sense of geographically and temporally distinct institutional set-ups of the production of financial information. By means of several case-studies, they aim to show how these set-ups of information production and dissemination can be related to specific modes of information consumption. This very attention to the multiplicity of exchanges and price production soon led to a reassessment of the historical and material (!) mediation of financial information. Put simply, is the common practice of data extraction not insufficient, or even misguided? In yet other words, is the traditional distinction between data collection and knowledge production not to be considered obsolete? The principal investigators contend that this is indeed the case, and therefore proceed in an almost inverse fashion. Seen through our ethno-historiographical lense, data are not to be extracted from their historical and material environments, but are to be introduced as they were gathered, structured, and formulated in these respective historical environments. Feeding research conclusions back into the historical ‘raw material’ has the important advantage of closing the gap between theory, empirical research, and, ultimately, the curation of the Collection.

This is where the Capital Market of the World Github pages come into play. Drawing on the joint expertise of historians and information scientists, a main pillar of the project is the construction of a smart catalog in order to be able to mine the ‘deep structure’ of the information being buried here. True to the project’s strong ethno-historiographic inspiration, the catalog will allow the exploration of the rationales behind the historical structuring of the information, in order to gain insights for further theoretical and historiographical development. Typical elements of such catalog, apart from conventional Library of Congress Subject Headings, include: an item-by-item list of keywords (‘tags’) as they appear in the original primary source, together with a 21st century ‘transcription’ of the latter’s meaning, a description of the contracts underlying the transactions at the time, (if possible and/or deemed relevant) the identity of the members of the board of a given listed company, and their connections to politics or certain social groups, and so on.

Research project in progress
Michael Schiltz
Michael Schiltz