What stories do historical medals tell us?

“Numismatics? And what is that? – This is the reaction I get most of the time when somebody asks me what I am interested in and what I want to specialise in during my master’s studies. Simply put, numismatics is the study of the history of coins and money. Anyone who thinks of ‘grandfather’s old collection of coins’ now and views numismatics as a boring and monotonous discipline is mistaken.

As part of the extension curricula of my bachelor’s programme in History, I could discover the multifaceted and diverse nature of numismatics. The discipline studies all forms of money from the point of view of history in general as well as in terms of art, cultural and economic history. I am especially interested in the fringe areas of numismatics that are still partly under-explored. Religious medals are one example: I learnt the handling of such medals in an introductory seminar and could use my knowledge during an internship at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. During this internship, I handled and determined medals that were found during an archaeological excavation at the cemetery of the Elisabethinen Hospital in the third district of Vienna. (On the website of the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, Benedikt talks in more detail about his internship and about the stories that religious medals tell us. (in German))

When I handle historical objects like I did during my internship, I do not do so just for the sake of the objects themselves. Rather, I want to discover their embeddedness in a greater (historico-)cultural context. This means that I want to deal with things of the past systematically, identify traces of them in the present and understand their effect, meaning and use, as well as ask more comprehensive questions about them.

Currently, I am doing the bachelor’s programme in History, but I think it is important to go beyond the limits set by the curriculum and to deal with academic contents also beyond the courses at the University: I want to develop my own ideas and projects, look for interdisciplinary approaches and establish contacts with other researchers and disciplines. After all, when I do research in an archive, organise an archaeological excavation, construct an online database or write an article, I gain important experience – for my degree programme or future research activities.” – Benedikt Prokisch

Benedikt is studying History at the University of Vienna.

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