WISO-Abendkolloquium: Alessandro De Cola (Bloemfontein): "Rethinking the two sides of the coin: the Maria Theresa thaler in the Red Sea (1860s–1960s)"


Zeit: Dienstag, 16. Mai 2023, 18.00–19.30 Uhr

Moderation: Lisa Hoppel

Ort: hybrid – Seminarraum WISO, Hauptgebäude Universität Wien (Universitätsring 1), Stiege 6, 2. Zwischengeschoß und via Zoom

Meeting-ID: 67294694068

Kenncode: 477780

In an influential essay about the role of money, Keith Hart utilises the double-sided shape of a coin to symbolise the centuries old debate in Western economic thinking about money as a token of authority, issued and guaranteed by a political power (head), or a commodity, a product of the markets (tail). Empress Maria Theresa issued her famous thaler for the first time in 1741, and the silver coin became extremely successful in commercial exchanges with the territories under the influence of the Ottoman Empire. For this reason, after the death of the Empress in 1780, and after it stopped to circulate as legal tender within the borders of the Austro-Hungarian empire, her thaler continued to be issued on request to the merchants involved in the Levantine trade. By the first half of the nineteenth century, it became the most widespread silver coin on both the shores of the Red Sea. Since then, it resisted every attempt to be replaced by colonial powers and African or Arab rulers, fuelling regional trade with its fluctuating value and without any centralised polity controlling it. In a world of nation-states struggling to keep a fixed equivalence among currencies, the Maria Theresa thaler was challenging both the necessity of any centralised national or supranational regulating authority, and the concept of equivalence itself, keeping alive a monetary system built on multiplicity and difference of values. Navigating sources collected in Italian, French and British colonial archives, in this presentation I will employ the Maria Theresa thaler as a tool to rethink the relationship between the ‘two-sides’ of money, its connections with the myth of the nation-state, and the concept of modernity itself.

Alessandro De Cola is currently a Postdoctoral research fellow at the International Studies Group (ISG), University of the Free State, South Africa. His research deals with colonial monetary policies and African monetary practices, with a particular focus on the Red Sea region, from mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War.