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Exploring Currency and Empire through Archive Mapping

8 Feb 2022 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Josephine Baker is MA Student in Economics, a Heilbroner Fellow, and a Sawyer Seminar Research Assistant at the New School for Social Research.

A collage of colonial banknotes

[Assortment of Colonial Banknotes]

The Project

Beginning in fall 2021, faculty at The New School launched a Mellon-funded Sawyer Seminar titled Currency and Empire: Monetary Policy, Race, and Power. The goal of the project was to interrogate the connections between monetary systems and (neo)imperial power through deep interdisciplinary engagement. Housed at the Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, and with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Currency and Empire has rolled out a suite of initiatives and programming. Through seminars, reading groups, and our online archive mapping project, faculty members and graduate students involved with the work of Currency and Empire explore the relationship between monetary systems, the production and consolidation of racial difference, and imperial power. 

The seminar series, which began in fall 2021 and will continue through spring 2022, has organized meetings around a variety of topics, such as Categorizing Currencies, Colonial Genealogies of Political Economy, Hierarchical Systems of Currency, and the Technopolitics of Money Management. In addition to the seminars, the project hosts informal reading groups every other week. The aim of the reading groups is for participants to build a common language through discussion. Reading group topics have included Theories of Money, Neoliberalism and Monetary (Dis)orders, and Monetary Futures - A Vernacular Archive. The reading group has been a great way to build scholarly community as all attendants are encouraged to participate and play a role in deciding future topics and readings.

The seminars and reading groups both take place via Zoom and are open to anyone interested in the topic. To register for events or join our mailing list you can visit our website at:currencyandempire.org. To follow our ongoing work please join us on Twitter @EmpireCurrency and on Facebook @EmpireCurrency.

The Archive Mapping

Overview

As part of the Currency and Empire project, I have had the pleasure of building an interactive data visualization for mapping archival resources related to the topic of Currency and Empire. The goal of the archive mapping is to create a collective open-source resource to help those interested in the topic explore relevant collections. The archives included span from the more formal – the archives of national banks – to the informal or “vernacular”. The map works by displaying the archives and their themes both by network and geographically. Users of the mapping can apply filters to visualize connections and find specific resources. When scrolling over an archive marker, users see a brief description of the archive and its contents as well as a link to the archive’s website. Thus, the mapping is not simply a list of archives, but a central location for the exploration of archives related to currency and empire.

An oval shaped data visualization with coloured dots along the perimeter and different coloured lines connecting them at various intersecting points.

[Currency and Empire Archive Mapping Network Visualization]

Visualizing the Data

The data visualization is built using a combination of programming in R and visualizing in Tableau. The visualization helps understand archives through their connections to categories of imperial powers, currency types, general themes, and other archives. One dashboard maps the archives by location and allows users to filter by these categorical variables. The other dashboard illustrates the connections between these archives and their themes via network mapping. Lines connect archives such as the Egyptian National Library’s Car al-Kutub collection or the Banco De Mexico’s numismatics collection to themes like numismatics and counterfeiting, currencies like shells, bonds, and virtual currency, and related imperial powers.

Contributing to the Project

One aim of this archive mapping project is to create a collective aggregation of resources. For this reason, the archive mapping is an open-source resource. Information about relevant collections or archives can be submitted via a brief submission form on our website. From here, I integrate the suggested archive into the database for the visualization and update the visualization to include it. By engaging in this type of interaction with participants and archival communities, we can expand the scope of the mapping beyond the knowledge of our team. We encourage those submitting to contribute not only by directing us to new archives, but also by suggesting additional themes or currencies related to their submission. Part of our motivation in contributing this blog post is to encourage ACA community members who are aware of interesting resources related to the topic of currency and empire to consider submitting them so we can continue to expand our database and create a more comprehensive mapping. Expanding our database means that seminar participants and site visitors will be able to explore a more diverse and extensive set of resources in their consideration of the topic.

Some of the wonderful submissions we have received include:

  • The Baroda State Archive which was described by Shweta Banerjee in her submission as “both formal and vernacular. This is the archive of the Baroda State which was indirectly ruled by Britain. Finance and currency was a site of contestation between the Baroda State, the Colonial state, and merchant-bankers.”
  • The Tunisian Museum of Currency and Money which is held by the Tunisian Central Bank and includes a collection of banknotes and coins as well as tools used to create and destroy currency.

Conclusion

My participation in Currency and Empire has allowed me to grow as an economist. The interdisciplinary approach to the study of money’s connection to imperialism is a crucial perspective for all scholars, but particularly economists, to consider. Furthermore, work on the archival project has allowed me to advance my personal awareness of the scope of collections relevant to the study of monetary orders. Archives are critical to the study of currency and empire and are essential to understanding the historical context of monetary regimes and imperial power. My hope is that the archive mapping project will help others to expand their knowledge of the collections and records available.


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