Honors | CASH: Currency and Culture in Historical Perspective (HON)
H304 | 27433 | Rebecca Spang


What is money? What does it mean and why do we value it? Can
societies exist without money? Is all money the same? In this
course, we will ask these and related questions, and think about how
to answer them historically. Money, it should be noted, has many
different kinds of history. For instance, consider the history of
the specific objects we use as money: a single coin or bill might
pass through thousands of hands and travel considerably distances,
but it might also be treated as a collector’s item and removed from
circulation. Then think about the technological history of money’s
manufacture and the political history of states’ control of those
techniques. Such questions emphasize money’s physical qualities, but
there are less material aspects to its history, as well: from the
development of monetary theory to ideas ofpsychological “investment”
and cultural currency.

We will read and discuss “theoretical” texts on money (Simmel, Marx,
Locke, psychoanalytic perspectives) as well as key works of economic
anthropology, before looking in some detail at case studies drawn
from the past five centuries. Case studies may include (but are not
limited to): the shortage of specie and use of credit in the early-
modern world; the introduction of paper money during the French
Revolution; the gold standard/greenback debate in the United States
after the Civil War; hyper-inflation in central Europe afer World
War One; the creation of national currencies and the recent
development of both increasingly international and adamantly local
moneys (the euro and Ithacadollars are just two such examples).

This course meets as a seminar and active, informed participation in
all discussions is expected.

Assessment: attendance and participation (20%); short (3-5 pp.)
commentary on some aspect of contemporary money culture, due in the
third week (10%);  analysis (5-7 pp.) of primary text (15%);
critique (5-7 pp.) of secondary text (15%); final paper (12-14 pp.,
40%).