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January 12, 2006 Contact: James David Moran
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Money, money, money…
Online history journal explores Americans’ obsession

Worcester, MA—The April 2006 issue of Common-place, the online history journal, focuses on money, a subject that has been a constant obsession in American history, from the founding of the first colonies to the present.

"Beginning with the first notes issued by a government in the Western world (the Massachusetts Bay Colony), through a war of independence underwritten with paper money (the Continental Dollar) and a similar experiment during the Civil War (the greenback), paper money has been a recurrent motif in the nation’s history," write Stephen Mihm and Mark Peterson in the introduction to the special issue of Common-place which includes 15 articles on the topic.

The broad range of articles examines all facets of money; its history in the developing nation, the power, value, and wealth it represents.

In her article, "Money, Money, Money," Joyce Appleby discusses the great seventeenth century debate over the value of money. Money as a

medium of exchange—"the lubricator of a new economic order," she writes— overcame the positions of political philosopher John Locke that the silver content of coins was its only source of value.

As money and commerce developed in the seventeenth century, so too did American’s attitudes towards lending practices. Mark Valeri’s article, "The Rise of Usury in Early New England" explains how the practice evolved from being considered morally reprehensible to a means of sociability, prosperity, and promoting the common good.

Jennifer J. Baker’s essay, "Money Gets Personal" recounts money’s role as a literary device in eighteenth century periodicals, broadsides, poems and songs.

"Enriching Virtues," by Benjamin H. Irvin, explains how Benjamin Franklin used sayings and emblems engraved on Continental currency to promote civic virtue.

A pair of articles, "Big Money Comes to Boston," by Mark Peterson and "Money of Moderate Size" by Rudi Colloredo-Mansfield discuss both physical characteristics of money as well as its power to stymie contending currencies and the merchants and tax agents empowered by them.

Christine Desan’s article, "Money Talks," discusses how the creation of a currency’s value illuminates the political economy of its time.

During the nineteenth century, America’s money was colorful, offbeat and inconsistent. "Bankers and others came to see their currency as a way of telling Americans about themselves—about their country and its unique destiny, its past, its prosperity, and its strengths," writes R.G. Doty in, "When Money was Different."

As a nineteenth century banker who tried to apply his ideas about representative government to his notions of classical beauty, Nicholas Biddle, "created an artistic idiom that helped validate the authority of bankers and bank money in democratic America," writes Jeffrey Sklansky in "A Bank on Parnassus."

While they weren’t debating the role of the government in setting monetary policy, nineteenth century Americans were fascinated with bookkeeping. Michael Zakim’s article, "Bookkeeping as Ideology," notes that it "was a subject of common-school curricula, of scores of competing instructional methods, of public lectures on the fast-growing Lyceum circuit… even of parlor entertainments that filled leisure hours."

Silver and Gold

Silver from the Americas weighed heavily in the battles between the Spanish and the Dutch for control of this vital resource. In, "Have You Heard the News About the Silver Fleet?" Wim Klooster writes, "To the Dutch, Spanish power in Europe was based on the seemingly endless supply of precious metals from the New World."

Michael O’Malley’s article, "Free Silver and the Constitution of Man," describes how gold was championed as "the natural money of the superior races," by a leading labor economist of the late nineteenth century who also was the supervisor of the census. The heterogeneity of currency in 1896 mirrored the nation’s ethnic, racial, and economic diversity," O’Malley writes, "the anxiety about both that characterized the 1890s makes the connection between money and the sense of self unmistakable."

The discovery of gold in the California in 1860 is the basis for Malcolm Rohrbough’s article, "The California Gold Discoveries" which examines the social, economic and political effects on Europe in general and France in particular.

Monetary Unions

Money’s relation to trade practices is the subject of two articles. Eric Helleiner’s, "North American Monetary Union?" notes that intensifying North American economic integration in the mid-nineteenth century prompted new interest in the idea of closer monetary ties between Canada and the United States.

As Europeans today debate whether to adopt a supranational constitution, Robert E. Wright points out in, "Currency Unions Past and Present," that over two hundred years ago, North Americans faced the same question. "The big difference between the American and European experiences is that the Americans united politically before they created a monetary union and integrated economically," he writes.

The April 2006 issue of Common-place will be on-line through June and then available among the journal’s archived issues on the website. Individuals may subscribe to the journal to be notified of publication of each issue. Common-place is published quarterly, in October, January, April, and July.

About Common-place

Common-place is a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks–and listens–to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900. Common-place readers can join in the discussion of any of the journal’s features by visiting the "Common-place Coffeeshop," a message board on the website. Common-place is sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and the Florida State University Department of History.

About the American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is a learned society and independent research library, specializing in all aspects of American history and culture through 1876. Founded in 1812 by the patriot printer and publisher Isaiah Thomas, AAS is the third oldest historical organization in the United States and the first to take the whole nation as its scope. The AAS library is the preeminent repository of pre-twentieth-century American printed materials and related manuscript and graphic arts materials in the world.

The Society also sponsors an array of programs to encourage the use of its collections and to foster a greater understanding of American history. The main office for Common-place is at AAS, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609-1634; telephone (508) 755-5221.

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