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Type: Thesis
Title: Banking on hearts and minds: American banks, popular confidence, and the public sphere during the gilded age and progressive era
Author: Mackay, Thomas Ashley
Issue Date: 2017
School/Discipline: School of Humanities
Abstract: This thesis explores how popular confidence issues in American banking were being represented within the public sphere during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. To varying extents, many people lacked confidence in the reliability of banks, while many others saw bankers as economically and politically threatening. The thesis argues that there existed an overarching and multifaceted confidence problem directed towards American banking institutions which was reflected, reinforced, and instilled through the public sphere via the media and assorted cultural artefacts. It further argues that bankers eventually came to appreciate this fact and in turn sought to challenge negative impressions and to manufacture consent for desired confidence- inspiring reforms. They did this by themselves taking to the public sphere through advertising and propaganda campaigns. Together, we can see popular movements and various social commentators pushing people away from what were viewed as unreliable or corrupt institutions on the one hand, and, on the other, the efforts that were being made to pull people towards what bankers positioned as trustworthy, civic-minded repositories of the nation. What emerges in the thesis overall is a more comprehensive analysis of the role of banking within the civic debates of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Such issues were central to many Americans’ political consciousness in ways that have not been well analysed. While historians have explored various aspects of banking over this period, they have taken confidence issues for granted, treated them in isolation, or have approached ‘confidence’ entirely in a quantitative manner. It has mostly been a topic for business and economic history. By instead taking a cultural approach, this thesis breaks new ground. Towards this end, a range of materials have been consulted, ranging from newspaper articles, trade journals, conference proceedings, magazine articles, novels, cartoons, and songs. Such an approach reveals the extent to which these issues had permeated the popular imagination. Following the Introduction, Chapter I details how previous historians have approached confidence issues and highlights the originality of this thesis. Chapters II through V then explore the various ways that banking issues were understood and represented within the public sphere, including how runs and panics and the depiction thereof resonated (II); how embezzlement and misappropriation scandals (dubbed ‘wrecking’) permeated the popular imagination (III); how financial monopolisation ‘othered’ certain bankers (IV); and how popular banking reform movements themselves reflect popular confidence issues (V). Chapters VI through VIII explore how bankers sought to respond to these issues, including how individual banks started turning to advertising (VI); how elite bankers engaged in a sophisticated propaganda campaign to instate a reserve association that they believed would end banking panics (VII); and how banks all over the country participated within the Bond and Savings drives of the First World War which in turn conveyed them as facilitators of patriotism (VIII). The thesis concludes with an epilogue that extends this history into the 1920s and beyond, and shows how relations had in fact improved by the end of the Progressive Era, albeit temporarily. It also shows how this thesis relates to today.
Advisor: Buchanan, Thomas C.
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2017.
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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