Understanding Risk

Elisabeth Engel, “‘A Wild, Ungovernable Thing’: Risk and Insurance during the Beginnings of American Independence, 1770–1840,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute [Washington, DC] 58 (Fall 2016): 71–85.

Elisabeth Engel presents her research project in this free access article. Analyzing the complex procedures by which insurers and the insured systematized the world around them, she examines a new culture of risk, which characterized and transformed the early American Republic. Part and parcel of this culture was knowledge, including “the insurer’s knowledge of risk calculation and the knowledge the insured needed” so they could “choose and benefit from [the insurers’ ] policies.” (83)

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Insurance policy issued on Mount Vernon, 1815, Digital Collections, Library of Congress (reproduced in Engel, “Wild, Ungovernable Thing,” 84)