Courses of numismatics are almost nonexistent in North American university curricula. Coins are shown in courses of classical art and history especially as illustrations of the iconography of statue types, of monuments and of the portraits of ancient rulers, but little attention is paid to the technical aspects of coin production and to the purchasing power of the denominations. Several North American University Museums own coin collections, which are also used as a teaching tool, but in the majority of cases students do not have direct access to the artifacts. A collection of ancient artifacts including coins is also owned by the Department of Classics and the Art Conservation program at my university. What makes this collection different is that it does not belong to a museum and it was acquired with an educational purpose: the ancient artifacts are to be used as a teaching tool for students from both programs. The collection is a diverse assemblage of unsorted artifacts, often fragmentary and sometimes in very poor condition, all without any information about the original context or prior treatments. Among them are more than 600 Greek and Roman coins, which have been so far neglected. Recently a new project has started which directly involves students in the study of the coin collection. Students from Classics and from Art Conservation contribute with their specific background and skills working together on the same items and teaching each other in a stimulating environment. Art Conservation students research alloy composition, manufacturing techniques, old restoration and cleaning methods, and perform conservation treatments according to current standards, while their Classics peers identify the coins, provide historical context and study their economic significance. The collaboration between the two programs makes the experience very formative since students become acquainted with the principles and methods of both disciplines.
Teaching with Coins: Coins as Tools for Thinking about the Ancient World