The History of Banking

This two year research programme will investigate the history of banking- a business whose roots
are traceable to Mesopotamian civilisation in the third millennium bc and with an influence both
extensive and profound in shaping the story of humanity. Civilisation’s successes and its crises, the
rise and fall of governments, the evolution of ethical systems and codes of conduct- both individual
and corporate, jurisprudence, military enterprise, the advance of knowledge in the natural and
human sciences, philanthropic endeavour, agricultural settlement, the development of towns and
cities: these are among the many means by which human beings have shaped the world they
inhabit. These historical developments have also, at varying times, been influenced by the
availability of credit, judgements about probity, the money supply- its expansion and contraction,
investment possibilities, assessment of ‘wealth’, the expectation of plenty and calculation of risk- the
relation of both to quotidian need: in short, the business of those we call “bankers”. The
investigation into banking, here envisaged, embraces familiar topics : methods of deposit,
calculation of assets, the business cycle, lending and credit, getting and spending, boom and bust,
animal spirits and prudential restraint, bullish markets and bearish ones. In tracing the impact of
these phenomena- their influence on the lives of individuals, societies and nations- we will also gain
an understanding of the dynamic historical context- the role played by the banker in the story of
humanity. It is this wider dimension which makes the Erasmus Forum’s ‘ History of Banking’ such an
unique enterprise.