The American South, Fibonacci and the origins of money

collage with map, graphic and fresco

AandS teaser.jpgA title that would make an extraordinary single article [or film], but this triumvirate of stories in the media over the weekend featuring Franklin College faculty provides a handy illustration of the breadth of arts and science scholarship.

Professor emeritus of history James Cobb in TIME magazine:

During the 1950s and ‘60s, New York-based publications like TIME, Newsweekor Harper’s regularly devoted special issues or special sections of regular issues to the South. All of them focused in one way or another on assessing the region’s progress in surmounting the barriers of racism, poverty and educational backwardness that continued to separate it from the rest of the country—meaning, effectively, the northern states, which had long served as the embodiment of American ideals of virtue, enlightenment and prosperity.

This was no random practice. After all, America was in the throes of a civil rights movement whose primary objective at that point was toppling the institutionalized Jim Crow system that still set the South apart. By the middle of the 1960s, however, forces were already stirring that would soon shatter the perception of a southern monopoly on racism and cast serious doubt on the presumption of superior northern virtue. However unwittingly, the editors’ southern focus in the 1960s might have served another purpose as well, for, in retrospect, developments then underway offered a glimpse into a future marked by dramatic and unforeseen change, not just for the South but for the nation as a whole.

And on the wonderfully harmonious numerical pattern:

The Fibonacci Sequence, also referred to as the Fibonacci Series, is nature’s numbering system. Nikhat Parveen, a biochemist at the University of Georgia, says this mathematical order — the Fibonacci numbers — is hidden in the “seeming randomness” of the natural world.

“They appear everywhere in nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pine cone, or the scales of a pineapple,” she writes. “The Fibonacci numbers are therefore applicable to the growth of every living thing, including a single cell, a grain of wheat, a hive of bees, and even all of mankind.”

And anthropology professor Stephen Kowaleski adds to the conversation about conflicts at the center of the history of money:

City-states in ancient Mesoamerica, the region from central Mexico through much of Central America, appear to have created their own monetary systems around the same time as Europeans and Asians started making coins, says anthropological archaeologist Stephen Kowalewski of the University of Georgia in Athens. Kowalewski has conducted a review of what’s known about state sizes, political organization and marketplaces where goods were exchanged in ancient Greece and Mesoamerica.

 As an increasing number of Maya researchers now believe, Old and New World societies independently created their own monetary systems and currencies, he says.

Ancient American societies that circulated perishable currencies didn’t enable some individuals and families to accumulate wealth on the scale of the ancient Greeks, perhaps the best known early coin minters, Kowalewski asserted at the archaeology meeting. In the Greek world, individuals could amass and sell land, goods and slaves as private property. That enabled some Greeks to go from humble beginnings to great wealth. In Mesoamerica, farming communities regulated land holdings, especially in places with the most fertile soil, Kowalewski said. That made it harder for individuals other than royalty to become wealthy.

So many fascinating subjects tied up in just these three stories. The arts and sciences, helping us understand the world, and ourselves.