The Character and Cultures of Credit in Early Modern Spanish Texts: Matters of Belief, Trust, and Uncertainty

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The rise of finance casts a long shadow in Iberian print culture. Mathematicians and businessmen understood credit as a matrix of equations that could establish either the fluid functioning of genuine exchange or open a threshold into the realm of the senseless. Thinkers and authors perceived that the power of the imagination penetrates even the skillful techniques of commercial arithmetic. Credit means to believe and give credence. It relies on calculation and abstraction, as well as mechanisms of trust and make believe particular to fiction. Mateo Alemán, Duarte Gomes Solis, and José Penso de la Vega intersect tropes of hope and fear with visions of modernity that speak to myths of restlessness, boldness, and imprudence, together with a rich imagery of intricacy and impermanence. This set of writings examines the puzzling logic of fictitious capital as a means of production and representation. Technical, intellectual, and creative pursuits shaped the extensive debate about credit explicitly or implicitly. For the vexing questions explored are not exhausted by vocabulary, genre, or ideology.








Elvira L Vilches

Associate Professor of Romance Studies

My teaching and research interests include early modern Spanish and Colonial Latin American cultural history and literature. My scholarship explores early Iberian capitalism in a new way. It studies the interface of practitioner knowledge, economic thought and ideologies, and cultural associations. 

Most recent undergrad and graduate courses include Cervantes and Money, The Baroque, Don Quixote for Beginners, Fictitious Truths, Cervantes and the Ethics of Migration, and Global Humanities.  

 I study how economics, science, and culture share a universe in the writing practices of Spanish Renaissance scholars and authors that shaped broader secular registers grappling with the new economic experiences of colonial wealth and global capitalism. I analyze how mercantile technologies, business writing, and various segments of print culture naturalized capitalism by informing the production of economic knowledge as social practice.

This inquiry into economic and intellectual history through the lenses of critical political economy and literary criticism also expands to the understanding the ways in which economic activities are influenced by moral-political norms and sentiments

Recent publications explore shifting value systems in the Iberian Atlantic; money and public trust; the experiences of financial crisis past and present; as well as monetary practices and the spread of numeracy. My book New World Gold: Monetary Disorders and Cultural Anxiety in Early Modern Spain (Chicago University Press, 2010; was the winner  of Choice List of Outstanding Books 2011).

My research has been supported by the The National Endowment for Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, The John Carter Brown Library, The Kluge Center, and the Folger Research Institute.

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