On Monday 29 January 2024, Lecturer Sean H. Vanatta (University of Glasgow) will lead the fifth session of the Seminar Series on Modern North American History, organized in cooperation with the Sciences Po Center for History (CHSP) in Paris.

This is an online event. You can attend his lecture, titled A Treacherous Ocean of Money: Finance and Failure across the Interwar Atlantic, 1920-1935, from 17:00 to 18:30 CET.

In his lecture, Vanatta will explore how small US rural banks became entangled in Latin American sovereign debt, tracing the complex financial networks before and during the Great Depression. In the early 1930s, thousands of mostly small, rural banks failed in the United States. When government officials took possession of the failed institutions, seeking to liquidate their assets and repay the banks’ creditors, they found something surprising: large quantities of sovereign debt, particularly from Latin American states and municipalities which borrowed heavily in the interwar years.

The paper starts with this puzzle: how did rural American bankers come to own the debt issued to pave streets, build railroads, and supply clean water across Brazil and Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru? In seeking to answer it, the presentation offers a very preliminary sketch of a new project, which will trace the transnational networks linking Latin American governments (bond issuers), British and American investment banks (bond underwriters), US commercial banks and bond houses (bond distributors), and small, rural US banks (the ultimate bondholders), showing how the networks grew and developed before the Great Depression, how they frayed and split during it, and how they eventually reformed—like much of the global economy—under firm US government influence.

The Political Economy of US Finance

Sean H. Vanatta is lecturer in United States economic and social history at the University of Glasgow and senior fellow at the Wharton Initiative on Financial Policy and Regulation (2023–2024). His research examines the political economy of US finance. He is the author of Plastic Capitalism: Banks, Credit Cards, and the End of Financial Control (Yale University Press, forthcoming) and The Banker’s Thumb: A History of Bank Supervision in the United States (with Peter Conti-Brown, Princeton University Press, forthcoming), as well as articles appearing in Business History Review, Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics, Enterprise & Society, and Review of Social Economy.

For more information on Sean H. Vanatta and the event, click on the invitation. If you are interested in attending this lecture, please register here before Friday 26 January.

We look forward to seeing you there.