Wesleyan Black Lives Matter Project

Have you been affected by racism? Have you participated in Black Lives Matter activism? Have you worked against systemic racism in other ways? These stories are often not well-documented in university archives. Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives seeks to improve this gap in the historical record. To help center Black experiences in our collections, we … Read more

Black Lives Matter: A Message from the Wesleyan University Library

We, the staff of the Wesleyan University Library and Collections, are devastated by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and so many other people of color who were victims of police brutality. We deeply believe that Black Lives Matter. We understand that eliminating the systemic racism that pervades our society … Read more

Library Services for Summer 2020

Welcome to summer! Despite Henry James’ observation regarding summer afternoons¹, we know summer can often be a very busy and productive time for many faculty and students.  With this in mind, the majority of library services are available online even while our buildings and collections remain closed. Whether you are teaching this summer or preparing … Read more

Ease your access to library resources

Wesleyan subscribes to LibKey Nomad, a browser extension that can help you locate the full text of articles when you are viewing a citation in a scholarly database or publisher’s site. When full text can be found in Wesleyan’s subscribed resources, PubMed, or other full-text sites that Wesleyan has access to, a Download PDF or … Read more

Accessing library resources when on the VPN

Many of you have noticed that you can no longer access articles, ebooks, and other content the library subscribes to when on the VPN unless you begin at the library’s website. This change in access results from a change made to Wesleyan’s VPN to accommodate the significant increase in VPN traffic while we are all … Read more

Show Me the Money! WUAAC Collaborates with Numismatics Class for Applied Learning

I know I talk about our coin collection all the time – partly because it is so impressive in its immensity and diversity.  But I am also fascinated by these coins’ life histories. What transactions did these individual coins facilitate, and between which actors? How did we come to have a 16th century coin from Bohemia, or a clothier’s token from Chichester Cross in England? What issuing authority minted the coins, and what is the historical context of their designs?  How long were they in circulation as legal tender before someone decided instead that they were a “collectible”? And how long were they collecting dust in the corner of an Earth & Environmental Sciences storage room before they were accidentally rediscovered in 2017? Their respective journeys from minting (in Europe, China, Japan, Vietnam, and India) to their current abode (tiny, acid-free envelopes at the Exley Science Center) were circuitous, unlikely, and strange. And strange, unlikely trajectories are some of my favorite things to ponder.

During the late 19th century, Wesleyan was actively trying to build their numismatics collection. The appendices of many curator’s reports include appeals to alumni and other readers for money to help increase the size of the coin collection. Interest in that campaign eventually waned, but not before Wesleyan had acquired more than 4,000 coins for its Museum collection.

Numismatics students Tristan Stetson, Amin Mojarad, and Sally Tepper catalog a tray of German coins in February 2020.

These objects span three continents and represent at least a millennium of human history. Because they have never been comprehensively cataloged, the coins provided a unique opportunity for students in Phil Wagoner’s archaeology course (Treasure Trove: The Archaeology of Money) to apply what they are learning this semester to a real collection. As these students are learning in class, coins convey significant information about economies, iconography, geopolitical history, and societal beliefs about currency and value.

In early February, Professor Wagoner’s students visited the Archaeology & Anthropology Collection to try their hand at cataloging historical coins. We held four separate 90-minute cataloging sessions for students to attend. Combined, these 12 students were able to identify and catalog more than 30 coins. If you think that does not sound like a lot, then here is a brief summary of what that work involves:

The first step is to figure out the issuing authority – this is typically the governmental unit or entity that issues the currency. The “legend” (any writing on the coin) may or may not provide the cataloger with hints. Students were able to ascertain from some of the legends that the coins were likely German. The next step was to consult the Standard Catalog of World Coins (there is an edition for each century).

Standard Catalog of World Coins

This reference is organized by region, so the students headed to the German section. Then they used the legend and iconography on their coin to narrow down a German state (i.e., Prussia, Saxony, etc.), if possible (if not, you need to look at each coin page by page until you find a match). Then they went to that part of the guide, and looked for a matching image of the specific denomination they have (i.e. thaler). They need to be careful and observant here, as the design of coins changed slightly as time went on. The rest is entering information like a description of the iconography on both sides, transcription of the legend, material, weight, dimensions, die axis, edge treatment, and any notes they found in WUAAC records about the coin.

As is typical with collections work, some students encountered the unexpected. Some coins had been accessioned in 1890, but students found errors in the original identifications. Others found exonumia, like tokens or medals, mixed in with coinage. Exonumia include objects that look similar to coins, but that did not function as legal tender. (they are also not in the reference guide, making identification especially difficult). One of the highlights was an 1890 coin that one student found from German East Africa (present-day Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi) called a rupie. This German rupie was based on the Indian rupee, and was standard currency in Germany’s African colonies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Professor Wagoner and one of his numismatics students (Greta Hu) look at a coin accession ledger from 1890.

In participating in this lab, these students gamely tested their knowledge of world history (always humbling!) and their German language skills, persevered when the reference catalog let them down, and were meticulous in their cataloging.  Many thanks to Professor Wagoner for his expertise, and to all the students who helped us learn a bit more about our collections!





Written by Wendi Field Murray, Archaeology & Anthropology Collections Manager and Repatriation Coordinator 

Library Services to Support Remote Learning and Research

Updated on March 27th Our top priority is to ensure as many resources and services as possible are available remotely so that teaching, learning, and research can continue. Services will be adjusted as necessary in compliance with university guidelines and changing conditions.  Visit this page often for access to the latest information. Important resources for … Read more

Book sale postponed

Due to the rapidly-evolving Coronavirus/COVID-19 situation, the book sale organizers have made the difficult decision to postpone the ‘Wicked Big Book Sale,’ originally scheduled between March 12 and March 23, to a later date, which will be determined after the virus threat has been mitigated.  The health and safety of our volunteers, community members and … Read more

Lecture by Irish musician/scholar Karan Casey

Wesleyan University T. Viswanathan Fund for the World Music Archives presents a lecture by Karan Casey The evolution of FairPlé: is singing enough? Monday, March 2, 2020 at 7pm Smith Reading Room, Olin Library   Free and open to the public, but seats are limited. RSVP required: https://forms.gle/8bBoYWM2RQPJ6wtb7   Having spent a lifetime believing in the … Read more