make the most of Lovereading books of the month
Search our site
Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner Read the opening extract of the brand new Susie Steiner book before its publication on 05/04/2018

Wampum and the Origins of American Money by Marc Shell

Wampum and the Origins of American Money


Wampum and the Origins of American Money by Marc Shell

Wampum has become a synonym for money, and it is widely assumed that it served the same purposes as money among the Native Algonquians even after coming into contact with European colonists' money. But to equate wampum with money only matches one slippery term with another, as money itself was quite ill-defined in North America for decades during its colonization. In this stimulating and intriguing book, Marc Shell illuminates the context in which wampum was used by describing how money circulated in the colonial period and the early history of the United States. Wampum itself, generally tubular beads made from clam or conch shells, was hardly a primitive version of a coin or dollar bill, as it represented to both Native Americans and colonial Europeans a unique medium through which language, art, culture, and even conflict were negotiated. With irrepressible wit and erudition, Shell interweaves wampum's multiform functions and reveals wampum's undeniable influence on the cultural, political, and economic foundations of North America. Published in Association with the American Numismatic Society, New York, New York.


I am struck with the remarkable depth and breadth of Marc Shell's scholarship in this book, his fascinating focus on the role of bilingualism and especially wampum in the development of American banking and currency, and his intriguing plays on words and images. An extremely stimulating and enjoyable book. --Kathleen J. Bragdon, author of The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Northeast

The author's erudition and breadth of commentary is both edifying and entertaining. --EH.Net Literature professor Shell provides a scholarly overview of wampum as the lingua franca of the New World. . . . By tracing the path of American currency from wampum to Wall Street, he removes wampum from historical-footnote status and spotlights a fascinating, often forgotten, aspect of Americana. --Booklist

This copiously color-illustrated and erudite work fills a significant gap in the literature of Native American and U.S. economic studies and is highly recommended. --Library Journal Marc Shell provides wide-ranging and interesting observations on money as a medium of communication, translation, and commercial transaction. . . . Building on his valuable work on money and language, Shell shows that, like coins or paper money, wampum had agreed-upon meanings and values that facilitated exchange between individuals and societies. --The Historian

Not only does this book illuminate an interesting and little-discussed corner of American cultural history--the history and cultural significance of currency--but it does so in an open and engaging style. Provocative and filled with creative ideas. --Frederick E. Hoxie, coeditor of Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country: The Native American Perspective

About the Author

Marc Shell is Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature and professor of English at Harvard University. He is the author of many books, including The Economy of Literature and Money, Language, and Thought.

More books by this author
Author 'Like for Like' recommendations

Loading other formats...

Book Info

Publication date

2nd October 2013


Marc Shell

More books by Marc Shell
Author 'Like for Like'


University of Illinois Press


168 pages


History of the Americas
Economic history



Its jam packed with fantastic titles, informative descriptions & fantastic reviews and has a vast array of great features & competitions.

Linda Rollins

You can trust Lovereading to show unbiased reviews by actual, ordinary readers that help likeminded booklovers choose their next great read.

Linda Hill

Books of the month/debuts of the month, kids/adults, fiction/non-fiction, free prize draws and free extracts, what's not to love?

Emma Smith

What can I say, the clue is in the title Lovereading - and awesome books.

Sarah Davis

I recommend Lovereading because you get honest reviews on a whole range of genres-there's something for everyone. It's the only site I need.

Sian Spinney

I 'Lovereading' because it lets me see what new books are around with a detailed synopsis and readers' reviews.

Judith Sharp

Lovereading tells me about new books before they hit the shelves, lets me find other authors I may like and has great prize draws!

Sheila Dale

Lovereading has given me the opportunity to delve into new and exciting worlds of authors who I would never have tried before.

Glynis Elliott