Asylum Editor E. Tomlinson Fort writes:
makes an interesting point about historians taking little
interest in numismatics; as a sometime history lecturer at
Penn State’s New Kensington, PA Campus, I think I
might make a couple of comments.
First, the interest of historians, like any other research field,
is ignited when material is available. The brutal fact is that
most numismatic publications are so obscure that few
academic libraries make any real effort to get them. To be
honest, aside from the ANA and ANS does anyone know
of a research institution which has The Asylum in its
There is also the question of the amount of evidence. The
reason ancient and medieval historians work with coinage
is that so little evidence from before the thirteenth century
survives. For example, lets take the case of the Social War
(c.90-88 BC). This civil war between the Roman Republic
and a coalition of Italian city states had repercussions that
lasted for generations afterwards. However, no contemporary
account survives. Our chief sources are Plutarch (especially
his lives of Sulla and Marius) writing almost 300 years later
and a highly condensed outline of lost books of the historian
Livy (Livy wrote two generations after the war but the
epitome was probably made in the third or fourth century
AD). The only contemporary evidence for the government
of the Socii (Latin for Allies, hence "Social War) are a
couple of very fragmented inscriptions and the coinage. If
one is going to examine this conflict then one must look at
the coins in depth, if for no other reason than there is little else.
This case is true for much of the ancient and medieval world.
Government records and contemporary historical accounts
do not really begin to survive in bulk until the 13th century
and later. Coinage is the one historical evidence that survives
in appreciable quantities before this period.
However, if one looks at the American Civil War (1861-1865)
the amount of evidence is staggering. Even if you had as much
money as Bill Gates and as much free time as John Burns you
could not even begin to go through all the primary sources in
your lifetime -- forget the secondary sources. If you are
studying this period the coinage and paper money is a very
small piece of a giant iceberg. The historian must pick and
choose and at the moment questions regarding currency,
coinage and tokens have not attracted attention.
For historians to become interested in modern coinages you
need people at graduate schools to become interested. The
quickest way would be to endow a chair or two in Monetary
History at a couple of Universities. The holders of these chairs
would publish articles and books on the subject and their
graduate students, when they find jobs, will continue to
expand the research boundaries.
Another way to get the academic world interested in coinage
would be for numismatists to publish articles in historical
journals. However, it is time for the historian in me to bite
back. While numismatists often rightly claim that historians
take little note of them the reverse is also true. I have read
many numismatic works where the author demonstrates a
shocking lack of the understanding of the use of historical
documents or the society which produced the coinage,
paper monies or tokens being discussed. Numismatists
have to learn to quit relying on third hand works, many of
which are very out of date, and actually dig into the primary
A few well researched articles on American Civil War
tokens published in prominent journals would begin to
stimulate interest among historians."
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