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HIST3146 Passions and Profits: Wealth, Freedom and Virtue in the Age of Adam Smith (Pt. 2: Texts)

Module Overview

Building on the close knowledge of Smith and other key thinkers gained in part one, we will now proceed to set these debates in the social, imperial and commercial context of Britain and her empire in the years 1750-1800: considering the rise of consumer culture and fashion, of factories and manufacturing, and of a modern system of borrowing and lending. As we shall see, disputes over the balance of trade, of production and consumption, social caste and economic mobility lay at the root of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) - an Anglo-French conflict that raged over six continents. They helped inspire the American Revolution and internal conflicts in British India. Like it or loathe it, the globalized world that we inhabit embodies the ideas of Smith and his times, and questions surrounding the limits to growth, luxury and necessity, trade and conquest continue to exercise us today.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of this module are to: - Introduce you to a key figure in the history of capitalism. - Encourage you to consider the ways in which commerce, freedom, consumption and virtue interact.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Eighteenth-century moral philosophy
  • The Scottish Enlightenment and its institutions
  • The origins of the discipline of economics
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Take an informed part in a range of contemporary debates surrounding inequality, identity, the role of the financial sector, consumerism, wealth and happiness.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse how an economy allocates scarce resources
  • Consider micro- and macro-economic questions from a human- as well as market-centred perspective.


Building on the knowledge of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations gained in Part One, Part two will set the arguments and debates addressed in these texts in the social, cultural and imperial contexts of Britain in the years 1750-1800. Seminars will be student-led, and address a series of possible answers to the question "What is wealth?" Is wealth to be understood in terms of luxury, virtue, happiness, the possession of consumer or fashion goods, social mobility, liberty, family life or something else entirely?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - two weekly seminars of two hours each. Learning activities include  - two double sessions per week in a seminar format  - student-led seminars designed to develop skills of source analysis.

Preparation for scheduled sessions80
Follow-up work20
Wider reading or practice30
Completion of assessment task52
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

John Rule (1992). The Vital Century: England’s Developing Economy, 1714-1815. 

John Brewer (1988). The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783. 

Peter J. Marshall (1998). The Eighteenth Century, The Oxford History of the British Empire. 

Peter N. Miller (1994). Defining the Common Good: Empire, Religion and Philosophy in eighteenth-century Britain. 

Kathleen Wilson (1998). The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, 1715-1815. 

Maxine Berg (2005). Luxury and Pleasure in eighteenth-century Britain. 

Brian Bonnyman (2014). The Third Duke of Buccleuch and Adam Smith. 





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 40%
Examination  (3 hours) 40%
Seminar presentation 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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