History in your Hands Foundation – a Foundation to Expand Interest in Numismatics

June 9, 2016 – The “History in Your Hands Foundation” is a not-for-profit organization that hopes to build bridges between numismatics and the public at large. The foundation will work in cooperation with museums and educational institutions to provide students and older people too with the opportunity to actually handle old coins and other historical objects.

Shanna Berk-Schmidt knows what an impressive experience that can be. She has always considered it a privilege that her employment in the coin and antiquities business of her father has brought her into continuous contact with coins and other historical objects. “Holding an old coin in your hand makes you appreciate history in a new way,” she says. “I will never forget what a thrill it was when my father put a denarius of Julius Caesar in my hand for the first time. We had just been studying Roman history and the change from Republic to Empire in school.” It is no surprise, then, that Shanna Berk-Schmidt has now become one of the founders of the History in Your Hands Foundation, whose goal is to encourage other people too, especially students, to handle and learn from old coins.

Students at the Benito Juarez High School examine actual ancient coins for the first time.

Students at the Benito Juarez High School examine actual ancient coins for the first time.

The Foundation’s first attempts to integrate coins and other historical objects into classroom teaching in Chicago have been highly successful. The Benito Juarez Public High School in Chicago is just a normal district high school, but has a staff of engaged teachers who have worked closely with the History in your Hands Foundation. 

This student was amazed by the tiny size of some ancient coins.

This student was amazed by the tiny size of some ancient coins.

Classes there have been shown old maps in addition to old coins. The results have been impressive, according to the teacher Andy Pascarella: “As a result of the History in Your Hands Foundation, my students started to identify bias and politics in early map making. My students no longer see historical maps as objective information but rather as tools to promote an agenda. Recognizing the point of view, purpose and audience of these maps will make my students more critical readers and consumers of contemporary media as well.”

Shanna Berk-Schmidt hands

Shanna Berk-Schmidt hands "a piece of ancient history" to a student at the University of Chicago.

The students of the Department of Classics at the University of Chicago have of course already learned much about the historical background of ancient Greek and Roman coins. But according to their professor Alain Bresson, having actual coins before them to pick up and examine was an enlightening experience for them too. 

The students at the University of Chicago were enthusiastic about this enhancement of their classwork. At the far left are Aaron Berk, Alain Bresson, and Shanna Berk-Schmidt.

The students at the University of Chicago were enthusiastic about this enhancement of their classwork. At the far left are Aaron Berk, Alain Bresson, and Shanna Berk-Schmidt.

“Although the students were of course better prepared than an audience of non-specialists,” Bresson said, “it was for them of exceptional interest to have ‘coins in their hands,’ these coins that we had been talking about for weeks. The artistic achievement of an early electrum coin came as a real surprise. Another surprise was to discover silver obols: it is one thing to speak of them as ‘small change,’ and it is another to discover that actually they were so small! The day will certainly remain in the memory of every participant!”

The History in Your Hands Foundation hopes to grow, and is currently looking for volunteers to organize similar events at schools and universities in other U.S. cities too. Financial contributions will also be very welcome.

In order to support its mission, the History in Your Hands Foundation is also organizing two annual fairs, whose net proceeds from ticket and booth sales will be donated entirely to the foundation. The first Chicago Coin Expo will be held from April 5-8 2017 at the Chicago Cultural Center, which was originally built as the first Chicago Public Library in 1897. Many well-known coin dealers from the United States and Europe have already signed up for this show. And in October 2017 Sammy Berk’s Fourth Chicago International Map Fair will take place at the same Chicago Cultural Center in downtown Chicago, for the first time at this location and with its ticket and booth sale profits benefiting the History in your Hands Foundation.

The income from these two fairs should put the History in Your Hands Foundation on a solid financial basis. And it will be easy now for coin dealers and coin collectors to support the expansion of numismatics! Their attendance at the Chicago Coin Expo will help provide the means to hold further classroom events like those at Benito Juarez High School and the University of Chicago.

Please find the website of the History in Your Hands Foundation here.

CoinsWeekly already reported on the Foundation here. 

And here you can have a look at more pictures taken during the Foundation’s visit at the Benito Juarez High School. 

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