Prof Peter Knight

Professor of American Studies

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Research interests

My research investigates two areas: conspiracy theories, and cultural approaches to finance.

My work on conspiracy theories in American culture challenges the standard psychological approach that tends to dismiss conspiracy theories as merely a sign of delusional paranoia. My first book,Conspiracy Culture: From the Kennedy Assassination to "The X-Files" (Routledge, 2000), argues that conspiracy theories in American literature and popular culture since the 1960s serve as important ways of making sense of ideas about causality, agency and responsibility in an era of increasing interconnectedness. My second book, The Kennedy Assassination (Edinburgh UP, 2007) examined how the event has been represented in a variety of cultural forms. My edited collection Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Postwar American Paranoia (New York University Press, 2002) brought together an international group of scholars who are also engaged in rethinking the role of conspiracy theories in American culture, while Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2004; 2 vols) expands this new approach to conspiracy culture to the entire range of American history. From 2016-20 I directed a large European network that  developed a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to the topic. As part of that project I am co-editor of a new book series and a state-of-the-art handbook on conspiracy theories for Routledge. I am now leading a UKRI-funded project on conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, and in 2021 will begin a major AHRC-funded team project looking at how conspiracy theories have changed in the age of the Internet.

My second research strand develops a cultural studies framework to understand the importance of narrative and representation in economics. This work contributes to the emerging interdisciplinary project of the Economic Humanities. Like my work on conspiracy theories, my focus is on forms of vernacular epistemology. My third monograph, Reading the Market: Genres of Financial Capitalism in Gilded Age America (Johns Hopkins UP, 2016; winner of the BAAS Book Prize for 2017), analyses how Americans learned to make sense of the stock market around the turn of the twentieth century. I was director of the AHRC-funded Culture of the Market Network (2009-2011), which explored the cultural dimensions of the history of capitalism. Together with Paul Crosthwaite (Edinburgh) and Nicky Marsh (Southampton), I curated the AHRC-funded exhibition Show Me the Money: The Image of Finance, 1700 to the Present. Shown at five locations across the UK in 2014-16, the exhibition charted the changing ways in which the abstract and mystifying domain of 'the market' has been represented by both artists and the financial industry, from the South Sea Bubble to the Crash of 2008. Our subsequent AHRC-funded project involved researching the History of Financial Advice, that produced teaching materials for schools and the wider public, and a resource collection at the Library of Mistakes in Edinburgh. We are also editing a series on Literature, Culture and Economics for Palgrave.


Research and projects