Y. Cassis u.a. (Hrsg.): Remembering and Learning from Financial Crises

Remembering and Learning from Financial Crises.

Cassis, Youssef; Schenk, Catherine R.
Anzahl Seiten
213 S.
£ 65.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Yi Liu, Historisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Interest in studying the history of recurring financial crises has never waned, particularly in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. However, it is rarely questioned whether the past is remembered and, if so, by whom and how lessons have been drawn from it and applied to the present. When the historical approaches seem to have reached their limits in answering these questions, the book Remembering and Learning from Financial Crises reinvigorates them with cultural history and memory studies to capture how memories of financial crises are formed, transmitted, and (mis)used. In addition to the theoretical and methodological innovation, the papers in the volume draw from rich sources, including not only archival documents and published contents, such as newspapers and academic works, but also physical artefacts and original first-hand accounts such as interviews, speeches, and memoirs.

The nine chapters in the volume are arranged as such as covering multiple types of financial crises, such as banking crises, sovereign debt crises, and stock market crashes. Geographically, it focuses on Western Europe and the USA, while allowing comparative angles (Schönhärl, Fear and Kobrak). Chronologically, the time period in focus spans from the early nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century, thus enabling analyses in different temporal dimensions. Although the chapters are rather loosely related to each other, their heterogeneity and diversity make the perspectives presented in the book all the more illuminating.

Cassis and Schenk review the historical research on financial crises and address various aspects of memories, such as mediation, the distinction between “communicative memory” and “cultural memory”, and transformation (p. 4–5). Drawing upon a database of selected daily newspaper and weekly magazines of the four leading Western powers, American, British, French and German, Cassis and Knaps show how the collective memory of the Great Depression has been mediated by the press. The findings suggest that the Great Depression was more referred to than remembered. Besides, other crises, which could have provided invaluable lessons, may be eclipsed by the Great Depression and therefore forgotten.

Meanwhile, Quennouelle-Corre presents a mnemonic journey: using the 1987 stock market crash as a case study, she maps out how the event, started as a short-term, fragmental memory, has gone through a long process of fading, until it was recalled in 2007 with structural clarity in response to the new crisis. Her creative use of a variety of sources, in particular oral and audiovisual, enables her to reconstruct the collective memories of three social groups: public view, academic experts, and investors and traders. While she adds an instructive understanding to the shift in perception because of the changing environment, how memory is stored can also influence the impacts of memories. Barnes and Newton present the curation of memories by studying objects and artefacts as storage of organisational memories. In their contribution, two prominent British bank managers, Daniel Robertson[1] and George Rae[2], who steered their banks through crises and threats, were remembered through artefacts and objects. The organisations, namely the banks, used these lasting physical artefacts to establish the “active learning memory” (p.184) and create communicative points for educational purposes. However, once the item no longer constitutes the bank’s heritage, the memory fades accordingly as in Robertson’s case.

The political or policy uses of memories and their potential effect on financial actors are analysed through different approaches. Schönhärl stresses the political interests of people using the past agilely as “imagined futures” (p. 39). She analyses Greek and German reports on the Greek bankruptcy crisis of 1893–98 during the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis 2010–11. While the international commission was perceived in Greek media as a form of foreign intervention, their German counterpart used the 1893 crisis to justify European control and regulation.

Whereas history builds on facts and knowledge, collective memory has its roots in identity and popularity. Therefore, it can be instrumentalised in certain political cases. Telesca employs the concept of “myth” (p. 61), namely a shared story that links the past to the present and bridges the ordinary people and the policy-makers, to portray the Labour Party as a “memory producer” in using the memories of the 1931 sterling crisis over time. Two myths emerged after the devaluation of 1931 respectively as evidencing the Labour government’s incompetence and as a treachery narrative to the Labour’s principles. In deciding whether to devaluate the pound sterling in the 1960s, the two myths were utilised and shaped by varied interest groups.

Schenk explores the use of the memory of the Great Depression in two contrasting historical and institutional contexts. The Federal Reserve Chair W. M. Martin used the 1930s crisis in his public speech in mid-1965 as a parable to defend the dollar exchange rate, which led to a sharp drop in the stock market. In comparison, the Bank of England regarded memory as a source of practical lessons to anticipate a potential international bank crisis resulted from sovereign debt default in the early 1980s. This case should stress the practical relevance of history rather than serving as an answer to the enduring debate among bankers and European central bankers about whether the past can be used as a guide.

Larsson and Lilja depict the relationship between formal institutions (regulations and laws) and informal institutions (cultural, traditions and norms). By analysing five Swedish financial crises in three time periods from 1905 to 2009, the use of memory is summarised as a solution pattern of the Sweden state for financial crises, which suggests that the past can be learned from, and the pattern can be generalised. While the similarities are stressed in this chapter, the divergence is an object to the following comparative study of Fear and Kobrak. It shows how narratives about the 1873 crisis took different paths in Germany and the USA. The language used in narratives in the US lent more weight to liberty, transparency and openness against bank corruption; in contrast, Germany put the recurring emphasis on order and regulation. The different threads in both countries led to their diverse developments of economic thoughts, which were manifested in consequent dissimilar measures.

By combining historical perspectives with memory studies, this volume opens a broader discussion about financial crises rather than offering a systematic approach or drawing general conclusions. It adds new details to our understanding of remembering and learning from financial crises and might inspire more attempts to research the memories of financial crises in other regions, periods, and contexts. Both financial and cultural historians could benefit from reading this insightful book.

[1] Daniel Robertson (1805–1864) was the first General Manager of the National Provincial Bank of England, later National Westminster.
[2] George Rae (1817–1902) was the Chairman and Managing Director of North and South Wales Bank, which was acquired by Midland Bank in 1908 and later by HSBC.

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