E-Sylum reader Tom Babinszki publishes the Blind Coin Collector blog. His latest post is a great follow-up to two earlier E-Sylum articles related to the
coin petting zoo organized by the Lawrence University classics department. Here's an excerpt, but be sure to read the complete article online. -Editor
I read an article in the October 27,
2019 E-Sylum about an annual coin petting zoo organized by the Lawrence University classics department and the Wriston Art Center Galleries in Appleton, Wisconsin. The idea
fascinated me, because it was a hands-on experience with coins, and had absolutely nothing to do with blind people. When I talk to coin collectors, I often encourage them to
experience coins by touch when it is possible. Traditionally we can see coins in holders or behind glass, but there is still many to be handled especially when using a proper
protection of objects.
After reading about the coin petting zoo, I was curious how it came about, and I wanted to see what we can learn from this experience either for collectors in general, or if
there is something that can be adopted for blind people to learn about numismatics. I contacted Adriana Brook, a professor of classics, from Lawrence University's classic
department with my questions. She responded promptly and suggested that I also contact Beth Zinsli who is the curator of this collection.
As I was researching this topic, I also came across another article from the E-Sylum, which talks about the collection and Ottilia Buerger, a Lawrence University alumna,
who donated it to the University. I will not rewrite this information here, but I would recommend that you read it with this post, it is a great piece.
I originally wanted to write this post in an interview style, and I sent a few questions to Adriana and Beth. Their response was so great, if I converted it into a different
format it would only lose from its value, so the following is a slightly filtered version of the emails I got in response to my questions. Beth Zinsli mostly told us about the
history of the collection, and Adriana Brook gave an overview of the coin petting zoo and explained how she is using it in her classes.
From my perspective as a professor there are several aspects of the ancient coin petting zoo that I consider to be particularly successful. First, it allows students to engage
with the field of classics in a tangible way that's often lacking – for good reasons – in classes that focus on the ancient past. Students read heavily edited texts that
somebody else has translated or look at pictures of famous, well-preserved (often restored) artifacts of the past. When students engage with the past in this somewhat distanced
way, it's really easy to lose sight of the fact that our connection to the ancient world is often really tenuous.
When students engage with the coins in 3D they have to contend with uncertainty: the coins are worn away in places; they may be cast asymmetrically, leaving partial words or
images; there's no authoritative textbook to consult to find out what the text says or what the imagery is meant to represent (or sometimes, what a given image is even
supposed to be!); some of our coins even contain "typos." Uncertainty can be an uncomfortable experience, but it offers a valuable perspective on the role that historians,
archaeologists, and textual critics play in creating the body of knowledge that students come into contact with in classics courses.
To read the complete article, see:
Coin petting zoo at the Lawrence University
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
THE ANCIENT COIN PETTING ZOO (https://www.coinbooks.org/v22/esylum_v22n43a20.html)
OTTILIA BUERGER'S ANCIENT COIN COLLECTION (https://www.coinbooks.org/v22/esylum_v22n47a11.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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