Skip to main content

BackStory with the American History Guys - On The Money: A History of American Currency

February 21, 2014

BackStory with the American History Guys - On The Money: A History of American Currency.

There's a lot of talk about Bitcoin these days--the digital currency that's been gaining ground. Bitcoin allows online payments to be made person-to-person, instead of via a bank, and sidesteps government involvement, too. Is it a more democratic approach to financial exchanges? Could it be "the future" of money? Brian, Ed, and Peter look to American history for answers.

This week's BackStory unpacks America's relationship with money, exploring the transformations of currency over the centuries. The Guys and their guests discuss the profusion of currencies in the past, considering how Americans decided which ones to trust--and which were only flashes-in-the-pan. From Continental Dollars at the Founding, to Greenbacks and "Greybacks" during the Civil War; from the gold and silver crises of the Gilded Age, to the new Federal Reserve notes of the 20th century--this episode considers the many ways money has shaped, and been shaped by, America's politics, economy, and society.

Guests include:

  • Steven Mihm, University of Georgia, on why Bitcoin is going against the lessons of history--which established the dominance of government-backed currency.
  • Benjamin Irvin, University of Arizona, on the design of Continental currency, and how it sought to inspire confidence in the new United States.
  • Ben Tarnoff, author, on counterfeiting the "Greyback" during the Civil War, and the ways this undermined the Confederate war effort.
  • Michael O'Malley, George Mason University, on the connections critics of Reconstruction drew between fiat currency on the one hand, and emancipation on the other.

BackStory is a production of VFH Radio at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The weekly program is newscast compatible and there are no carriage fees. New episodes are uploaded to SubAuto/PRX and Content Depot on Friday afternoons.

For more information regarding this event:

Contact: Check local listings for stations and times Phone: (434) 924-3296 E-mail: