Canadian Modernity as an Icon of the Anthropocene

In Made Modern: Science and Technology in Canadian History, edited by Edward Jones-Imhotep and Tina Adcock, 348-357 (UBC Press, 2018)

Abstract: When I was asked to write a closing reflection on this volume on science and technology in Canadian history, I immediately thought of paper money as a symbol of modernity and one specific currency issue in particular: a Canadian five-dollar bill from 1935. This banknote was part of the first series of banknotes issued by the Bank of Canada. The notes were designed by security printers in consultation with the federal government and issued in English and French versions. This five-dollar bill encapsulates the confluence of science, technology, and the modern in the form of an allegorical image of electrical power on the back of the banknote.

1935 Canadian 5-dollar bill, issued by Bank of Canada in both English and French variants

Beginning in the nineteenth century, many of the images on currency from Western Europe and North America were allegorical, a visual choice linked to the interrelationship of culture and economics. Representations of personified nature, industry, virtues, and vices were standard cultural images of the time made recognizable and legitimate through wide circulation. Allegorical images, particularly those invoking the Greek and Roman classical past, were associated with empire and authority, so they often appeared on the currencies of countries wanting to claim autonomy and significance in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. This particular visual genre was part and parcel of claiming the nation-state as modern while building on Western cultural heritage. In the Canadian five-dollar bill allegory, bodies, technologies, and environments converge to speak to the making of modern Canada.

Read more about the book from UBC Press here.

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