Wampum and the Origins of American Money

Overview

 
Wampum has become a synonym for money, and it is widely assumed that it served the same purposes as money among the Native Algonquians even after coming into contact with European colonists' money. But to equate wampum with money only matches one slippery term with another, as money itself was quite ill-defined in North America for decades during its colonization.
In this stimulating and intriguing book, Marc Shell illuminates the context in which wampum was used by ...

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Overview

 
Wampum has become a synonym for money, and it is widely assumed that it served the same purposes as money among the Native Algonquians even after coming into contact with European colonists' money. But to equate wampum with money only matches one slippery term with another, as money itself was quite ill-defined in North America for decades during its colonization.
In this stimulating and intriguing book, Marc Shell illuminates the context in which wampum was used by describing how money circulated in the colonial period and the early history of the United States.
 
Wampum itself, generally tubular beads made from clam or conch shells, was hardly a primitive version of a coin or dollar bill, as it represented to both Native Americans and colonial Europeans a unique medium through which language, art, culture, and even conflict were negotiated. With irrepressible wit and erudition, Shell interweaves wampum's multiform functions and reveals wampum's undeniable influence on the cultural, political, and economic foundations of North America.

Published in Association with the American Numismatic Society, New York, New York.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

 
"Not only does this book illuminate an interesting and little-discussed corner of American cultural history--the history and cultural significance of currency--but it does so in an open and engaging style. Provocative and filled with creative ideas."
--Frederick E. Hoxie, coeditor of Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country: The Native American Perspective

  "Literature professor Shell provides a scholarly overview of wampum as the lingua franca of the New World. . . . By tracing the path of American currency from wampum to Wall Street, he removes wampum from historical-footnote status and spotlights a fascinating, often forgotten, aspect of Americana."--Booklist
 

"This copiously color-illustrated and erudite work fills a significant gap in the literature of Native American and U.S. economic studies and is highly recommended."--Library Journal

"I am struck with the remarkable depth and breadth of Marc Shell's scholarship in this book, his fascinating focus on the role of bilingualism and especially wampum in the development of American banking and currency, and his intriguing plays on words and images. An extremely stimulating and enjoyable book."
--Kathleen J. Bragdon, author of The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Northeast
 “The author's erudition and breadth of commentary is both edifying and entertaining."--EH.Net

Library Journal
★ 10/01/2013
Wampum, strings or belts of clam or conch shells, had many uses among native peoples. Among them: as an artistic way of telling the narrative of a sovereign people (e.g., the Iroquois wampum belt), as a diplomatic and trade language, and as a form of tribal and intertribal specie. Intriguingly and convincingly, Shell (Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard Univ.; American Babel: Literatures of the United States from Abnaki to Zuni) argues that wampum was adopted by the Dutch and English for diplomatic and economic purposes. He gives examples of early uses of wampum in economic exchanges among American Colonies. Beginning with a short history of numismatics, Shell shows how coinage was representative of a people, especially for foreign trade. His middle, and strongest, section focuses on the uses of wampum during the Colonial era and how wampum usage reached its nadir by the end of the American Revolution, when it was supplanted by paper currency, which he terms "paper wampum," that often featured representations of Native Americans. The book's final portion is a history of the development of the U.S. economy to the present day that contextualizes wampum as the origin of the American economic system. VERDICT This copiously color-illustrated and erudite work fills a significant gap in the literature of Native American and U.S. economic studies and is highly recommended for academic readers interested in its interconnected subjects.—John R. Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252033667
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2013
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 1,470,880
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Shell is Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature and professor of English at Harvard University. He is the author of many books, including The Economy of Literature and Money, Language, and Thought.

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