AHA Member Spotlight: Ellen R. Feingold

Ellen R. Feingold is the curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. She lives in Washington, DC, and has been a member since 2013.

Website URL: http://americanhistory.si.edu/profile/1159

Alma maters: BA, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2005; MSc, University of Oxford (St. Antony’s College), 2008; DPhil, University of Oxford (Merton College), 2012

Fields of interest: imperial and global history, with a focus on the history of the British Empire and process of decolonization; history of money and monetary objects; counterfeiting and forgery, legal institutions and administration of justice; African history and culture

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I have had a passion for history my entire life. After completing my doctorate, which examined British imperialism and decolonization in East Africa, I knew I wanted to work as a historian in a public-facing role. I was fortunate to have my first job at the British Museum working as a project curator for the Money in Africa Project. I was based in the Department of Coins and Medals and there I became interested in numismatics and the great potential for monetary objects to engage the public with history. After I moved to Washington, DC, with my husband, I became a volunteer with the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection, which had recently lost both its curators. I fell in love with the collection and was hired as its curator about six months later.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? Washington, DC, is a great home for a historian. There are countless museums exhibitions and historical sites to visit, and a regular calendar of engaging talks and seminars through local universities and organizations. It is a particularly good place to be a public historian because the city is a destination for families and school groups who are interested in learning about history.

What projects are you currently working on? One enjoyable aspect of my job is collecting objects for the National Numismatic Collection that strengthens its utility as a national and global resource for the study of money. Because I collect objects from around the world, I engage with subject experts to help me make selections that will augment our holdings and learn a great deal about new places and periods in the process. I am currently working with subject experts to acquire a historic collection of East Asian coins that would greatly enhance our holdings and deepen our understanding of the development and circulation of coins in China, Japan, and Korea. This project involves an interesting mixture of archival research, object research, and oral history interviews. If the museum acquires the collection, I will next select some of the objects for temporary display in the exhibition I curated called The Value of Money.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? While researching counterfeiting in British colonial West Africa, I found counterfeit coins and banknotes, as well as silk scarves and metal cigarette cases with colonial banknote designs, in the files at the National Archives at Kew in London. I blogged about it for the British Museum: https://blog.britishmuseum.org/2013/02/15/discovering-objects-in-the-archives/.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes is a beautiful book that places objects at the heart of the story. It’s a powerful account of the many unexpected histories that a single object or group of objects can represent.

What do you value most about the history discipline? I value the importance of evidence in history. I believe the critical analysis and discussion about sources are essential for a healthy and open society. I am proud to be part of a discipline that teaches students how to think about, filter, and contextualize new information.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? I like being part of a broad community of historians with a diverse range of specializations, professions, and perspectives. It is important to me to be regularly exposed new ideas and approaches and I value the opportunity to attend panels on topics totally unrelated to my own work at the AHA’s annual meeting.


AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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