Peter Knight


Accepting PhD Students

Personal profile



Peter Knight teaches American Studies, with a focus on literature and culture in the 19th and 20th century. He is an expert on conspiracy theories, and cultural dimensions of finance. He has published widely and led major grant projects in both areas. He came to the University of Manchester in 2000, having previously held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Nottingham. He has also held visiting fellowships at New York University, Harvard, the Smithsonian, Leiden University and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in Amsterdam. In the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (SALC), he has served as Director of Postgraduate Education, Associate Director for Research Impact and Knowledge Exchange, and Head of Division for English, American Studies & Creative Writing.

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. In 2020-21 I led a UKRI-funded project on conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in the co-written book (with Clare Birchall) Conspiracy Theories in the Time of Covid-19 (Routledge, 2022), and the co-edited collection (with Michael Butter) Covid Conspiracy Theories in Global Perspective (Routledge, 2023). From 2021-24 I am PI on "Everything Is Connected," a major AHRC-funded team project looking at how conspiracy theories have changed in the age of the Internet, and Co-I on REDACT, a three-year EU-funded project looking at conspiracy theories and digitalisation in comparative perspective across Europe.

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 ([Open Access] Johns Hopkins UP, 2016; winner of the British Association for American Studies 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, a resource collection at the Library of Mistakes in Edinburgh, and the co-written book Invested: How Three Centuries of Stock Market Advice Reshaped Our Money, Markets and Minds (Chicago, 2022). We are also editing a series on Literature, Culture and Economics for Palgrave, and edited the Cambridge Companion to Literature and Economics (CUP, 2022).


PhD Supervision areas:

I would be interested in supervising projects in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature and culture. Some examples of potential research topics:

  • fictions of finance in 19thC and/or 20thC America
  • history of financial advice
  • history of popular and literary representations of American corporations, and corporate self-representations in PR
  • comparative study of how Americans and Europeans came to mis/understand political economy (in business schools curricula, popular self-education manuals, etc.)
  • comparative analysis of popular guides to the stock market in 19thC Britain and the US (and/or contemporary China and Eastern Europe)
  • literature, film and popular culture in the wake the demise of the international gold standard in 1973, and the crash of 2008
  • reassessment of particular episodes of American countersubversive fears, such as the Illuminati scares of the 1790s
  • investigation of mega-conspiracy theories in contemporary literature and popular culture
  • conspiracy theories in the digital age, especially mixed methods (digital methods, ethnography, critical discourse analysis)

I have supervised or co-supervised PhD students on topics including :

  • Don DeLillo (Robert McMinn)
  • work and happiness in postmodern times (Angela Lait)
  • popular evangelical prophecy writings (Jennie Chapman)
  • Chester Himes (Will Turner)
  • postmodern American encyclopedic fiction (Matthew Tresco)
  • discourse of money in American naturalism and modernism (Laura Bekeris Key)
  • interactivity in experimental fiction and online gaming environments (Elizabeth Burgess)
  • Cormac McCarthy (Tony Harrison)
  • the black hair industry in the US since 1975 (Carina Spaulding)
  • conspiracy theories in post-Soviet Russia (Ilya Yablokov)
  • finance and American Gothic writing (Amy Bride)
  • Don DeLillo; and creative writing (Joe Mungo Reed)
  • American Express and expatriate writers (Grace Dutt)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Areas of expertise

  • E151 United States (General)
  • Conspiracy theories
  • Finance
  • PS American literature

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures
  • Creative Manchester


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