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). The book argues that a radical transformation in the way societies produce money ushered in capitalism as a public project. From creating money as a direct credit (coined or not) that linked the political community to members, sovereigns moved to intermediating the public medium. They issued it through investors, nascent central bankers, and enshrined the profit motive as the incentive that regulated money’s production. Those innovations exploded old strictures on money creation and revolutionized attitudes towards self-interest.
Desan’s research more generally explores money as a constitutional (small “c”) project that structures material life and governance. Earlier work focused on the adjudicative power of legislatures and sovereign immunity. Desan teaches courses on the constitutional law of money, globalization as a monetary phenomenon, and monetary reform. She is co-founder of Harvard’s Program on the Study of Capitalism, an interdisciplinary project that brings together classes, resources, research funds, and advising on that subject and has taught the Program’s anchoring research seminar, the Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism, with Professor Sven Beckert (History, Harvard University) since 2005. Desan is on the Board of the Institute for Global Law and Policy and is an editor of the journal Eighteenth Century Studies. She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and served on her municipality’s committee on campaign reform for ten years. Recent work includes edited volumes A Cultural History of Money in the Age of Enlightenment (2019), and, with Sven Beckert, American Capitalism: New Histories (Columbia University Press, 2018).