ARCH 1570 Cold Hard Cash: The Materiality of Money in Ancient and Modern Finance
Instructor: Prof. Christoph Bachhuber
Now more than ever we are in need of new perspectives on the value and meaning of money. The course prioritizes anthropological and historical approaches as ways to offer time depth, cross-cultural comparison and insight into our own troubled financial systems. The anthropological perspective in the course includes handling and studying a wide range of financial objects and devices that are housed in the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University, including but not confined to objects from New Guinea, Sub-Saharan Africa, and indigenous North America. The historical perspective is informed by handing and studying the world’s earliest coins held in the Joukowsky Institute of Archaeology and the Ancient World. Through numerous ancient, historical, ethnographic and modern case studies the course explores how specific kinds of objects, materials, and non-materials can be invested with financial value.
The course draws upon a diverse literature in order to understand how financial devices (to include currencies) are embedded in and mediate social relations. Financial devices mediate social relations because they contain within them core ideologies of the communities that use them. In this way we will explore the rich paradoxes of money at the interface between the material and ideological worlds. From the pre-coinage financial systems of ancient Mesopotamia, to the invention of coinage in the Aegean region, to the dynamics of monied interactions in historically recent colonial encounters, to the immateriality of finance in global markets today, we will explore the ‘social imaginary’ of finance and the materials, devices, and ideologies that perpetuate and legitimize financial systems.