One of the delights of traveling is seeing what foreign countries put on their currency (it’s even better when the exchange rate works in your favor). For no real reason, here are some shots of the leftover bills in my possession.

• It goes without saying that Kemal Atatürk should appear on the obverse of all Turkish bills (he’s on all the coins too).

Other people only appear on the back, like Aydın Sayılı, historian of science.

It’s nice how they vary the portraits of Atatürk, and how many of them have him smiling (unlike, say, those of Mussolini or Lenin).

On the reverse of the twenty lira note, a portrait of Ahmet Kemalettin, designated Mimar Kemalettin (“Kemalettin the Architect”), who was active in the late Ottoman and early Republican periods.

• Egyptian bills have two sides, which I would designate “tourist” and “local.” The tourist side features motifs from ancient Egypt, English writing, and western numerals.

The local side features Arabic writing, real Arabic numerals, and Muslim architecture, in this case the Al-Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo (which I saw; it is beautiful and actually houses the tomb of the last Shah of Iran).

The fifty pound note follows the same pattern: the tourist side has the Temple of Edfu…

…the local side has the Abu Huraiba Mosque (according to Wikipedia, anyway – I did not get to see it).

By the way, here is a clock face from the Cairo metro, showing the full range of Eastern Arabic numerals. Prior to this trip I had no idea there were such things, but they are widely used in Egypt, including on automobile license plates. Interestingly, you read them left to right, even though Arabic script itself goes right to left.

• I think Israel has the best designed bills. The most recent fifty New Shekel note features Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky.

It is nice of them to include Arabic and English on the reverse. (Actually, this trip revealed to me just how lucky we Anglophones are, that our language is the world’s lingua franca – perhaps I should say lingua anglica? An Egyptian man marries a Japanese woman, and they communicate in English. A Palestinian shopkeeper speaks to a Turkish customer – in English. An Egyptian tour guide leads a group including Chinese, Indonesians, Argentinians, and Brazilians – English is the language everyone knows. There was a time when French held this position, and indeed I got to speak some French with an Egyptian nun who had been educated in that language. On account of the American Empire, however, practically everyone is now obliged to learn this originally obscure German-French hybrid with three present tenses and a really bizarre spelling system. USA! USA! USA!)

• Finally, just for fun: I met a German couple in Istanbul who gave me this note. It is a real note, with a serial number and all the security features, it’s just worth zero Euros. Apparently the EU will allow the printing of them from time to time as souvenirs, to commemorate various things – in this case, the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. The caption, “God’s mercy is free,” goes very well with the fact that the bill itself is “free.” Thank you, Bertold and Anne Stegemann!

The reverse includes the usual EU hodgepodge. I see Germany (Brandenburg Gate), Italy (the Coliseum), France (Eiffel Tower), Spain (Sagrada Família) and Belgium (Mannikin Pis) represented. I don’t know who belongs to the tower on the left.


Even though the United Kingdom has always been a reluctant member of the European Union, I was surprised as anyone about the results of their June 23 referendum on continued EU membership, largely for the reason Megan McArdle articulated: “The status quo is a powerful totem. People don’t like jumping off into the unknown… I assumed that we were seeing the usual pattern: People flirt with the new, dangerous outsider, then come home and marry the familiar boy next door.” The successful “Leave” vote has opened up a can of worms: how will the exit be accomplished? Will there be another Scottish referendum? Will Northern Ireland finally be united with the Republic – or will the Troubles reignite? Will Spain get Gibraltar back? Etc. (I don’t think this is exactly a “constitutional crisis,” as some would have it, but it will require some creative improvisation or simply “muddling through.”)

I will say that I appreciate Tim Stanley‘s view of things. Here is a historian who understands the proper use of history.

There is no historical case for leaving the EU. There is no historical case for staying in. That’s because this isn’t an existential matter. It’s a practical decision. Do you think your country is better off in or out? I think the latter. So I’m voting for Brexit.

The vast majority of historians probably want to stay. This doesn’t surprise me. Most of my colleagues are social democrats of the Roy Jenkins variety – which is dandy. What is frustrating is the idea, encouraged by the media, that historians have some special, purely objective insight on the modern world thanks to their familiarity with the past. We don’t. Knowing the ins-and-outs of 17th century Westphalia does not make you an expert on EU agricultural policy. Most academics – good academics – are specialists to the point of loners. Go to a historical conference and you’ll find a room full of people who don’t know what each other is talking about.

I’m not saying that history isn’t fun, illuminating, thought provoking. It’s all of those things. But when it becomes mixed with politics, it becomes mythology. Nothing wrong with that, by the way. So long as you know that what you’re reading is prejudiced.

More at the link.