Christine Desan is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the author of Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism (Oxford University Press, 2014). Approaching money as a matter that political communities design, the book illuminates the transformation in money’s architecture that brought capitalism to early modern Europe. More generally, Desan is interested in contesting the common tendency to identify money as an opaque instrumentality or impersonal medium. Instead she approaches money as a public institution that defines exchange and credit in changing and selective ways, shaping the market as it does so.
At Radcliffe, Desan is exploring a monetary alternative to capitalism, the world engineered by early American settlers as they sought to create a political economy out of the ingredients allowed them by British imperial authorities. Struggles to make colonial money shaped provincial self-determination, domestic political agency, and strategies for economic development. The monetary drama continued over the next decades, shaping the revolutionary conflict, the US Constitution, and the efforts to balance state and federal power that followed.
Desan earned her JD from Yale Law School and an MA in law and development from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy after completing her undergraduate work at Princeton University. She is the cofounder of Harvard’s Program on the Study of Capitalism and has held grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.