By Hui “Luna” Li ‘21
On Friday, October 13, a month-and-a-half into my first semester at Holy Cross, I returned to my high school to give a presentation on my work with ancient coins. This fall, I started learning about ancient Greek and Roman coins on Fenwick 4. Outside of studying the history of coins in the ancient world, I am helping catalog the Worcester Art Museum’s collection as part of Professor Smith’s Ancient Coins class.
I thought it would be good to reach out to my former Classics teachers at Noble and Greenough School in late September with an offer to drop by and teach this year’s History of Ancient Greece class about coins of the past and the work we do on them today for future research. I am grateful to Mr. Blake, the chair of the Classics department at Nobles, and to Mr. Ulrich, the teacher of the History of Ancient Greece course, for being open to and excited about my idea. I made sure to include tidbits in my slideshow that both built off of what the students had already learned about ancient Greece and served as a segue to material they will be covering next week.
Mr. Blake and Mr. Ulrich welcomed me back with open arms in an emotional reunion that I will not forget anytime soon. They looked happy to have me back on campus and were excited to hear about my adventures in the Classics department at Holy Cross. Mr. Ulrich told me that I had the entire 45-minute class period to present. This made me both nervous and excited about my presentation, but above all, I couldn’t wait to return to my old classroom and see all the students.
10:15 came soon enough, and I found myself in the room I knew too well. Part of me wanted to sit down with the students, but I knew that this day, I would be taking the teacher’s role in the classroom. I set up my computer, pulled up my presentation, and waited for Mr. Ulrich to turn the class’ attention to me. I cleared my throat, straightened my jacket, and began.
I introduced myself as a first-year Classics major at the College of the Holy Cross and a recent Nobles graduate, adding sarcastically that 2017 was so long ago. Whatever worries I had running through my mind melted away after hearing the class start laughing at my joke. I found it easier to smile as I went to the first parts of my slideshow.
I started with a brief introduction on numismatics and on how coins were made in the ancient world. I spoke about the coin hoard at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, explaining why the well-preserved coins and the raw material they were found with were important for piecing together the history of coins, and laughing at the fact that the coins went missing in the British Museum for 90 years. I could not be happier that everyone was with me and that the students were engaged with the material.
From there, I moved onto ancient Greek coins, their designs, and their significance in the Aegean. I went over the parts and features of a coin and pulled up images of American coins for comparison. Circulating around the room was a purse of modern coins to add a more tactile experience to the presentation. The students followed along with my remarks on how similar our coins are to the coins used in the ancient Greek world – our quarters can feature the eagle (an animal symbol of the country, similar to how the Athenians had their owls) or a state (like how different city states had signature identifiers on their coins) on their reverses.
After a candy break (a custom I picked up from Mr. Blake, who bought us candy every Friday to keep us awake), I talked about my work in the Worcester Art Museum, examining photographs of the coins provided by the museum, identifying and assigning specific issues to each one, and filling in the data on our software. I showed them photos of the first coin I worked on, a silver denarius of the Roman emperor Galba from 68-69 C.E. Alongside the WAM-supplied images were pictures of a better-preserved example of the same issue, for a clearer image of what the coin might have looked like in the past, and a sample catalog entry for a coin of this sort. There were also photos of the other Roman imperial coins I was working on, screenshots of my catalog work, and candids of our class in action at the Worcester Art Museum.
Wrapping up my presentation, the point I made sure to touch upon the most was the fact that these were real coins we were working with, with our own hands, that these are what survive from the ancient world today. The research we are doing identifying and cataloging these coins will be valuable contributions to existing databases and will help numismatists of the future identify any yet-to-be identified coins. In my closing remarks, I left the class with a question: what will we leave behind for people of the future? If coins are what outlived their creators and are what we have today to piece together their lives in the past, what will our coins say about us?
After reading the acknowledgements on my last slide, I did not expect to receive so much applause in the classroom. This was my first time speaking to a class as a guest presenter, and I could not be any happier with the response I got from my audience. I was overjoyed to see the students so curious about ancient coins and about a different field of the Classics. It was after this moment that I could not be prouder to be a Nobles graduate.
Thinking back to why I wanted to give this presentation, I remember that this time last year, when I was a student in this class, Mr. Blake invited his friend and former colleague, Professor Mires of Salem State University, to talk to us about underwater archaeology and his work on the Antikythera shipwreck. It was this brief glimpse into a new side of the field that inspired me to pursue the Classics in college. I never knew that I was going to be working with actual coins that ancient Greeks and Romans used in the past. I had no clue that I would be inspired by my Ancient Coins class to prepare and give this presentation. Now, I, once a student in History of Ancient Greece, was a guest speaker to a group of students one to two years younger than me.
I hope I can provide a different view to the Classics to the current Nobles students like Professor Mires did for me. I do not know how else I would have realized the sheer vastness of the field that stretches beyond language and history. Furthermore, I want to show these students that the Classics concerns not only the past, but the present and the future as well. What Professor Smith, my Ancient Coins classmates, and I are doing now will be for the present and future of the Classics. I hope my presentation carried those messages to the younger students, and I look forward to speaking about my work in the Classics again.