The Westridge 9th grade history class “World Views: Connections Between the Ancient and Modern” was treated to a special guest lecture Thursday from alumna Dr. Ashli Baker ’95, associate professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Bucknell University. Dr. Baker discussed the study of coins (or “numismatics”) with the class—with a focus on ancient Roman coinage—explaining how imagery on coins throughout history can tell fascinating stories about the periods during which they were minted.
"Bucknell was my alma mater and Westridge was Dr. Baker's, and because I was teaching about Greece and Rome, I reached out to her about a possible collaboration," said Upper School History Teacher Jennifer Cutler, who learned about Dr. Baker's work after reading about her in the alumnae section of Surgere magazine. "We were so fortunate to have her, and the students loved the talk."
Distributing coins from different regions and eras (including from the United States, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Spain, and more), Dr. Baker asked students to share their observations about them and discussed the significance of the symbolism used on a few of the coins, including the image of the Winged Liberty Head on the U.S. “mercury dime” and the words “Patria o Muerte” (i.e. Fatherland or Death) on the Cuban peso circa 1960. Her presentation that followed focused on coins minted during the reign of ancient Roman rulers Julius Caesar and Octavian/Augustus, and how they each used coins to spread visual messages and propaganda through Rome.
“So much of the symbolism [on coins] through history remains constant, even though we imagine ourselves to be quite different than the Romans were,” noted Dr. Baker, pointing out the Latin phrase “e pluribus unum” (i.e. out of many, one) that still exists today on the U.S. dime.
“Westridge had a greater influence on the course of my life than anything else,” added Dr. Baker, who now teaches Latin and Greek literature, history, and languages. “I started taking Latin in 7th grade at Westridge and there was something about the language that kept drawing me back. It totally transformed me into a lover of the ancient world and the Latin language.”