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Accepted Paper:

The currency of communism: representations of value in socialist material culture at the British Museum  
Tom Hockenhull (British Museum)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the challenges that come with assembling a tangible and representative material culture of monetary exchange from socialist countries, whereby traditional payment mechanisms are often fragmented and thus subverted.

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses research and acquisitions of communist and post-communist financial material, conducted by the British Museum in the build-up to the centenary of the Russian Revolution. The project, enabled by a grant from the Art Fund, began with two aims. The first was to look at how shared political ideologies can influence the aesthetics of currency design in socialist states. The second, less definitive aim was to explore if, and how, material culture can inform our understanding of how exchange mechanisms work under the planned economy. Arguably this second aim has had the greater potential impact, asking fundamental questions about how concepts of value should be represented in national numismatic collections. Socialist states themselves sought to redefine concepts of value among their citizens and, therefore, the traditional approach to numismatic collecting, namely of state currency in the form of coins and banknotes, has required some redefinition. While remaining important for everyday transactions, currencies of socialist states have often been supplemented by various forms of official and unofficial exchange including voucher systems, awards and decorations, barter and the black market - often known as the 'shadow economy'. Navigating the complexities of an extremely fragmented monetary system, this paper will discuss how the Museum attempted to define some of the official - and unofficial - characteristics of a socialist planned economy in its recent temporary exhibition, 'The currency of communism' (October 2017-March 2018).

Panel P014
Representing 'Modern' Global, Local and Imperial Histories in Object-Centred Museums
  Session 1 Friday 1 June, 2018, -