In Standards of Value, Michael Germana reveals how tectonic shifts in U.S. monetary policy—from the Coinage Act of 1834 to the abolition of the domestic gold standard in 1933–34—correspond to strategic changes by American writers who renegotiated the value of racial difference. Populating the pages of this bold and innovative study are authors as varied as Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Washington Cable, Charles Chesnutt, James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Ralph Ellison—all of whom drew analogies between the form Americans thought the nation’s money should take and the form they thought race relations and the nation should take.
A cultural history of race organized around and enmeshed within the theories of literary and monetary value, Standards of Value also recovers a rhetorical tradition in American culture whose echoes can be found in the visual and lyrical grammars of hip hop, the paintings of John W. Jones and Michael Ray Charles, the cinematography of Spike Lee, and many other contemporary forms and texts.
This reconsideration of American literature and cultural history has implications for how we value literary texts and how we read shifting standards of value. In vivid prose, Germana explains why dollars and cents appear where black and white bodies meet in American novels, how U.S. monetary policy gave these symbols their cultural currency, and why it matters for scholars of literary and cultural studies.