On 1 June, 2012, I arrived at the British Museum to attend the opening of its newly renovated Citi Money Gallery. This was an exciting moment for me: inside was a display of money-related objects and images from Haiti that I collected with Heather Horst and Espelencia Baptiste for a research project. I couldn’t wait to see how our coins, phones, cards, and underwear with secret pockets for hiding cash would look inside this venerated institution.
It was a huge success. People were spending far more time in the new gallery, lingering over the displays. Why, all of a sudden, was money so much more gripping?
The answer, said curator Katie Eagleton, was the social aspect. Whereas traditional money galleries usually focus on coins, promissory notes, and other traditional forms of money, the new gallery includes a range of displays that focus on the social history and current practices of money. Not just for coin-collecting enthusiasts, the money gallery had something of interest for everybody.
By putting money-related objects in social context, the Citi Money Gallery challenges many of our assumptions about how people relate to money. Our approaches to researching money and finance need to change as well. What can we learn from ethnography