A STUDY at the University of Stirling, investigating the literary and cultural activities of merchants in early modern Britain, could help inform present-day educational debates.

Dr Angus Vine, of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, has received a prestigious grant from the British Academy to research the literary interests, collecting habits and the vocational, practical, and scientific knowledge of merchants living in the late-16th and 17th centuries.

The year-long project will look to understand the origins of a split between humanist forms of learning and more practical forms of knowledge-making.

The former, during the period to be studied, was typically associated with universities as well as the social and political elites.

On the other hand, more practical ways of learning could be linked to business and urban citizenry.

Dr Vine, a lecturer in English Studies, believes his research will not only shine a light on various strands of history – but also inform discussions around education that are taking place today.

He said: “This interdisciplinary project will document the literary and cultural lives of early modern merchants.

“It will look at their interests as readers and writers – understanding the books and poems that they collected – and reconstruct specific early modern merchants’ libraries.

“It will also focus on merchants’ education – analysing the guides and handbooks on mercantile and economic activity – and the involvement of merchants in the educational reforms that took place at that time.

“This work co-ordinates areas – mercantilism and humanism – that have traditionally been treated separately by economic historians and literary critics.

“The early modern merchant had a foot in both camps and provides the perfect lens for understanding this long-standing split.

“The findings will provide an important insight into early modern history and literary studies, and will have implications for other areas of history, such as science and education.

“They will also provide a compelling historical perspective on educational debates that are live and charged today – debates around science, technology, engineering and maths; academic specialisation; vocational learning; the acquisition of skills; the relationship between skills and academic learning; about the value of arts and humanities, and the nature of human learning itself.”

Dr Vine will publish his findings as a detailed academic study; in a collection of essays; and in articles written for non-academic journals.

He will also embark upon a number of public engagement activities to promote the work, including performance workshops with school and university students; a staged reading performed by Edward’s Boys Theatre Company, Stratford-upon-Avon; public lectures at the University of Stirling and Guildhall Library, London; and a workshop and document viewing at London Metropolitan Archives.