Illustration of an alligator biting a snake

This course focuses on the role played by the intersection of commerce and culture in the creation of a global imaginary in the long eighteenth century. In particular, we shall study the feedback loop that obtained between financial capitalism and joint-stock companies like the South Sea, Mississippi, and East India Companies on the one hand and the worldwide movements of people, things, and discursive and visual practices on the other.

We shall analyze a broad range of texts and objects, including prose narratives, poems, plays, essays, letters, paintings, prints, places, and things associated with movements of people and goods within Britain and between Britain, other European powers, the Ottoman Empire, the Americas, Africa, the Indian Ocean, India, China, and the South Pacific.

Sub-topics include:

  • The role played by trading and joint-stock companies in turning the British and European eighteenth century into a global era marked by European expansion and multi-directional encounters;
  • The construction of Britishness through competition with other European powers in and outside Europe;
  • The ever increasing role played by colonialism and the enslavement of people in the creation of Britain’s self-definition as a free, polite, and
  • commercial people;
  • The impact of globalization on taste, aesthetics, and the culture of sensibility and sentiment;
  • The gendering of the economy, credit, and colonial power;
  • Proto-environmental concerns in depictions of the natural world and domesticated landscapes;
  • Economic thought and moral sentiments;
  • The founding of New Orleans in 1718;
  • Globalism versus universalism (or global commerce and universal rights);
  • The respective roles of texts and images.

Works by such authors and artists as Aphra Behn, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Maria Sibylla Merian, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Mary Wortley Montagu, Abbé Prévost, Jonathan Swift, Bernard Mandeville, Montesquieu, William Hogarth, Mirza Sheikh I’tsesamuddin, Denis Diderot, Maria Edgeworth, Anna Seward, Ignatius Sancho, George Robertson, James Gillray, William Blake, and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.

If you would like to see an advance copy of the syllabus or have questions about the course, feel free to contact Professor Labio at

MA-Lit Course Designation: D (Cultures/Politics/Histories), Literature Before 1800