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Abstract

Visual rhetoric has been an area of growing interest for those within the communication field, and this study aims to add to that body of work. One area within the study of visual rhetoric is the everyday, mundane images produced by nation-states, and more narrowly, the images on a nation’s currency. Traditionally, scholars who study images on currency have seen them through the lens of state-as-pedagogue—in other words, that the state is using that “sacred space” to teach their citizenry. Political theorist and scholar Jacques E.C. Hymans (2204, 2010) challenges this notion, and instead posits that nation-states try to connect with their citizenry through a state-as-legitimacy-seeker approach in which the goal is to connect, not by teaching, but by capturing the spirit of the age. This study applies Hymans’ methodology to the images on the obverse side of the US dollar coin from its inception in 1794 to the beginning of the Presidential dollar coin collection in 2011. It was found that Hymans’ method holds promise for studying nation-state motivations behind the images on money, and more broadly, for visual rhetoricians interested in the intersection between nation-states, messages, motivation, and image.

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