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Statement of Purpose

That “money talks” is a cliché — but true. Like television ads, pop music, sculpture, architecture, paper money can be “read” as texts that transmit norms, values, ideologies and political messages. These ideas are embedded within complex visual schemes that incorporate ancient symbols, portraits of historic figures, images of buildings and monuments, illustrations of nature, official government emblems, and color combinations, among sundry elements. To take a line from a popular credit card commercial, our group decided to find out what’s in all our wallets. We listened to our money to better understand what it says about the United States and about Americans as a people. With this aim, we also read the currencies of a few other nations. By analyzing what is on the Russian Ruble, the Chinese Yuan, and the Brazilian Real, we learned what is not on the dollar, a matter of equal importance as what is on it. We guided our reading of the dollar and foreign currencies with questions about what ideas each currency emphasizes, what political statements they appear to make, and how and why a visitor might read a currency differently than a citizen. Our discussions about these questions led us to even broader considerations about how symbols, such as the ones on our money, are used to foster national identity. In other words, our inquiry culminated in an exploration of how the symbols we create act on our culture to, in turn, create us.