Currencies: Symbolism and Signification in the Golden Age of Finance Capital


LAC Burkhardt




For residence at the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine during academic year 2018-2019


Focusing on Great Britain, France, and their overlapping spheres of financial influence, from the railway mania of the 1840s to the First World War, this project investigates how visual culture mirrored and mediated controversial new understandings of economic and aesthetic value ushered in by the global expansion of the financial industry. The promise and reality of generating money from money as opposed to the production and exchange of goods and services uprooted traditional understandings of value, money, and their relationship to one another. In response, economists, statisticians, architects, and artists both invested traditional symbols of wealth with new meanings and collaboratively cultivated new understandings of visual representation as such. “Currencies” considers graphs, buildings, paintings, coins, and the so-called primitive currencies of non-Western people, underscoring how images, objects, and places played a crucial role in acculturating experts and lay people alike to new conditions of economic and semiotic uncertainty.