Emergent Countries, Emergent Media - Currency as National Identity

Curator's Note

Beyond its original purposes of trade and military power, currency is also important as a means of communication through art (Mudd 13). Eric Hobsbawm’s (1983) essay on mass production and the nationalist tradition outlines the extensive government initiatives to “cultivate the allegiance of citizens by instilling in them a sense of collective identity centered around nationalist images of a common past and culture” (Helleiner 1411). 

State-issued currency is a visible public medium through which the imagery of national identity and shared cultural heritage is defined and emphasized through a conscientious and careful articulation of national identity. Benedict Anderson suggests that the primacy of capitalism is strongly linked to the origins of national consciousness (37). Print languages laid the basis for national consciousnesses by creating unified fields of exchange and communication, and giving a new fixity to language that shaped the subjective idea of the nation (44-5). Historical imagery, reminding and teaching citizens of key events, personalities, and landmarks in the nation’s history, were instrumental in the construction of national identity in most countries (Helleiner 1412).


This presentation showcases a few of the emergent currencies post 1991 from Europe and Africa. Each slide contains a note of national currency with a brief description of the image and its relation to that country’s pre-imperial or post-revolutionary identity.Works Cited 

*See References slide for full bibliography


Helleiner articulates five ways national currencies can foster national identity: 1) they provide an effective vehicle for nationalist imagery that aims to construct a sense of collective tradition and memory; 2) national currencies act as a common medium of social communication that may facilitate communication and encourage similar frameworks of thought; 3) collective monetary experiences bolster the feeling of community membership as a shared fate; 4) currencies can be associated with a sense of popular sovereignty; 5) currencies can be linked to the kind of quasi-religious faith often associated with nationalism (1430-31).



Currency is a fascinating topic. Your explanation of the proposed currency for ISIS was timely and provocative The fascinating thing about ISIS coinage, to me, is that it really precedes an internationally legitimate, recognized state, which seems somewhat the opposite of the origins of most currencies. It certainly attempts to link religion and nationalism, but it also points to the ways in which currency could also look forward, or toward the aspirations of a nation, rather than purely back to a "sense of collective tradition and memory." How do you think the ISIS currency works within Helleiner's framework? Also, I was in Scotland last year, and I did not come across any of the defaced coins shown in your presentation, but Scotland has a long-established "Bank of Scotland" which issues Scottish pounds featuring leading figures from Scottish history (Sir Walter Scott, etc.) as opposed to strictly the Queen. In Scotland, British pounds and notes from the Bank of Scotland are acceptable for use, but in England some merchants wrongly do not accept notes from the Bank of Scotland. Additionally, one of the key issues for the independence referendum in September, 2014 was the status of the currency.

Thanks Zach! The defaced coins with the Saltire just happened in Dec/Jan, so pretty recent, but the occasional rejection of Scottish bank notes happens pretty regularly - and it's happened to me in Scotland, not in England! I like your note about the reverse establishment re: ISIS; however, as they have all the apparatus of a nation (banking, military, territorial control, propaganda machine, religious foundation), it's really only a recognition of "legitimacy" they lack - which they have because we're at war with them, we use and recognize their name, we criticize their policy, we parse their social media language, etc.

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