Posts Tagged ‘American Icon’

1886, in the New York Harbor, workers are building the Statue of Liberty. At about 800 miles away, another great American symbol was about to be born…

The pharmacist John Pemberton, an ex civil war officer was wounded during the war and like many other he became addicted to the morphine used to relieve pain. His curiosity to find an alternative led him to experimenting with coca and formulate by trial and error the well known beverage “Coca-Cola”. (more…)

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Presented by Carlos Canizales, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Gilles Goulu, University of Angers at France


What can make a location iconic within the region of a country is how the place influences the importance of its role from its human and environmental history. The aspects of the region influences the ideas of how people think about the environment that marks the importance of conserving and preserving the resources of the nation, as well as evoking part of its historical preference. Yellowstone National Park is no exception of such aspect. Since it discovery, the American people established Yellowstone region a National Park for numerous reasons, but the aspects of the park is was made this place so iconic. People from around the world became so attracted to the beauty of the wilderness at Yellowstone National Park and become one of the famous national parks to visit. Not only this national park is iconic for its beauty of the landscape, but also for its human history upon discoveries and imageries.

Although many travelers discovered the Yellowstone Valley in the early 1800s, many documented discoveries and expeditions occurred between 1869 and 1872. These expeditions involved people traveling to the region and came back to the eastern states with “engravings, sketches, paintings, photographs, and lithographs” that provided the “medium for the recording, translation, and construction of knowledge about the American West”.[1] One of the examples of paintings that illustrate Yellowstone National Park is Thomas Moran’s The Grand Canon of the Yellowstone, published in 1872 by the U.S Department of the Interior Museum. His painting was positively reviewed by editorials in the U.S, especially by Gilder who described it as “the most remarkable work of art which has been in this country for a long time.”[2] He described his painting that contains “the startling character of the geological forms, the brilliant colors, the manifold planes of distance presented by the view”[3]. Similar paintings that were published at the U.S Department of Interior Museum from the 1870s like Moran’s clearly amazed many Americans that motivated them to visit the region and preserve the historical landmark for other people who wish to see it. This tells us that many people wanted to see the attraction of the waterfalls, forests, geysers, and other features from the beautiful landscape. Because of its geographical features, it helped defined the meaning of the American West as having attracting landscapes that brings people from across the world together to enjoy seeing such beautiful scenery.


The Bison

Many Americans thought that the bison serve as a secondary iconic aspect for Yellowstone National Park that defines the American West. History tells us that Native Americans who settled in these areas thousand of years ago used bison as their resource, which “provided food, clothing, fuel, tools, shelter, and spiritual value.”[4] When American settlers traveled west, the bison were once popular for hunting sports in the 1800s. Since then, these animals “became a marketable commodity and great numbers were killed so their hides could be exported to the eastern United States and Europe.”[5] When Yellowstone became a national park, Congress established their goals “to preserve cultural and natural resources, and bison became a symbol of this ideal.”[6] So the bison that occupied in the Yellowstone Valley region served an important role of preserving the natural landscape and their species because they represent the historical discovery of the great geographical location in the American West. United States wanted to show to the world that preserving and protecting the endangered animals is just as important as preserving and protecting their historical landmark that recognizes the nation.



I would like to thank my french colleague from the University of Angers at France, Gilles Goulu, for us working together on this blog post about Icons of The West, and Dr. Clinton for giving us this great opportunity during our Spring semester. We hope that this educational findings can make you visit Yellowstone National Park and learn more about its historical origins with your family and friends.


[1] John, Gareth E. 2007. Yellowstone as “landscape idea”: Thomas moran and the pictorial practices of gilded-age western exploration. Journal of Cultural Geography 24 (2): 9.

[2] John, Gareth E. 2007. Yellowstone as “landscape idea”: Thomas moran and the pictorial practices of gilded-age western exploration. Journal of Cultural Geography 24 (2): 2.

[3] John, Gareth E. 2007. Yellowstone as “landscape idea”: Thomas moran and the pictorial practices of gilded-age western exploration. Journal of Cultural Geography 24 (2): 2.

[4] White, P. J., Rick L. Wallen, and David E. Hallac, eds. “Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society.” Yellowstone Association, 2015, 132.

[5] White, P. J., Rick L. Wallen, and David E. Hallac, eds. “Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society.” Yellowstone Association, 2015, 135.

[6] White, P. J., Rick L. Wallen, and David E. Hallac, eds. “Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society.” Yellowstone Association, 2015, 135.


John, Gareth E. 2007. Yellowstone as “landscape idea”: Thomas moran and the pictorial practices of gilded-age western exploration. Journal of Cultural Geography 24 (2): 1-29.

White, P. J., Rick L. Wallen, and David E. Hallac, eds. “Yellowstone Bison: Conserving an American Icon in Modern Society.” Yellowstone Association, 2015, 1-265.

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In May, there will be an international symposium on the topic of Icons at the University of Angers. Anyone who is near and far should come to the conference. There will be great presentations on films and places and on Wall Street, The West, hot dogs, and bomb shelters.

affiche_icons _final

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I grew up in a household of cartoons. My father, a super hero fanatic, raised my sister and I on the greats. Even though I have grown up with Superman, Batman, Captain America, the Avengers and so many more, I never really knew the importance. Reading “What Makes Superman so Darned American” enlightened my mind. Now that I think about it the myth of Superman reminds me of my first taste of the social and cultural implications of superheros. My father is obsessed with Captain America. When I was younger I can remember my father searching for the original Captain America comic books. What was special about these comic books was that Captain America was black. I believed my father about the origins of the superhero. To this day, I tell everyone that Captain America was originally black, and honestly I don’t know how true that is. All I know is that my father has the comic books to prove it!

What struck me the most in Gary Engle’s piece, “What Makes Superman so Darned American” was the Popular Culture Formula. Engles states, “The Popular Culture Formula” leads us to examine an artifact for important meaning and significance which might otherwise have been taken at face value. The Formula guides the student of popular culture to question and ponder many of the very things which unenlightened critics dismiss as “mindless entertainment” or “low art.” While reading the article I was shocked that Superman, the quintessential American male was Jewish. Then it occurred to me, I had already known that. But it had not occurred to me, until this exact moment where I learned that. This summer I watched PBS’s documentary series Superheros: A Never Ending Battle. Thinking about both the documentary and Engle’s article it’s like it is finally crystal clear why studying America’s icons is so important. Media, whether it be books, films, comics, photos or tv, really does define the point in history in which it originated. Superman is the perfect example. Shuster and Siegel created a super – human identity that is considered to be Jewish. They made his story one of the conflicts of assmilation and immigration because of their own problems. It is a perfect example of representing a historical era because in a time when the Jewish people were being attacked and demonized all over the world, here was this figure that represented the imagination and dreams of the oppressed group.When one thinks about Superman in this way, he becomes quite beautiful.

Superman is not just about saving the day and being the good guy, but about two boys’, and as a whole, a group’s dream of being accepted. What is also fascinating about not only Superman but also other superheros and popular figures is this ability to comment on current social issues. During the Vietnam war, comic book artists used their character to try to bring the conversation about the war to the masses. It was political commentary at its best – commentary for the betterment of a nation. I believe people with direct communication to everyday people through media should be using their power to enlighten the masses. So in this light, just as the PBS documentary suggests, the battle never ends. Superheros will always be needed to start conversations about popular culture, social issues and the possible contradiction between our idealized identity and our real identity during a specific era.


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Pin-Up Barbie


As I began reading “Forever Barbie” I started thinking about her shape and connection with the time period in America – post WWII. Instantly I thought of a pin-up. To me Barbie resembled the idealized woman during the war. She was every man’s fantasy.  She with every man at war. So when I read that Barbie was based off of “Bild Lilli” a life size doll for men, it all made sense. I have my reservations about Barbie just like anyone else. I’m actually shocked by my sudden praise for her. She is not a realistic role model for girls, especially her figure, but I do think she has her positives. Lord states, “She taught us independence. Barbie was her own woman.” If one thinks of her origins, Barbie is a symbol of sexual revolution for woman. One can argue that pin-ups and as a result Barbie is a symbol of male dominance and hypersexualization – men seeing women only as sexual objects, but pin-ups and Barbie can be empowering. The fact is Barbie emerged one year before “the Pill” was offered to woman and four years before Betty Friedan addressed “The problem with no name” in her book The Feminine Mystique. It was the beginning of women celebrating their sexuality, chasing their dreams, and taking charge of their happiness and lives. I believe that in giving girls Barbies, we must teach young girls the unrealistic nature of her figure, but we must also teach young girls the positive thing she symbolizes – independence.


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Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, leader during the Civil War, and one of the four faces on the side of Mount Rushmore has been used in a variety of ways in the Mass Media. All of them are based off the image of Lincoln as a traditional American Hero, one of our Greatest Presidents. Even an expose piece like the one shown above in Time Magazine still holds a certain reverence for the man. Many people, from the GOP to the Ford Motor Company (a company that prides itself on producing American cars) claims an image of Lincoln. Many of these images that are being claimed can also reflect the times of the people who claim this image.

In the 1930’s, John Ford used Lincoln as an American Hero in his film Young Mr. Lincoln, which was produced during the uncertain times of the late 1930’s, with the tail end of the Great Depression and the early signs of a coming war (for the US anyway, Europe was going to war within months of the film’s release).

The Time Magazine issue is dated back to July 4, 2005. This is still relatively early in the Post 9/11 era, so it’s not surprising in the slightest that an this image of an American Hero like Lincoln, a leader in a time of war and strife, would be evoked.

Steven Spielberg released a movie called Lincoln in 2012 that focused on the Passing of the 13th Amendment. The way the film deals with race and particularly Lincoln’s views on it were whitewashed, making him look more altruistic than he really was. This is ironically done while the film shows him not being afraid to bend the rules of the Constitution and other legal codes to get what he wants. The image of a great American  Hero still remains.

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I think Rocky’s story is of the underdog achieving the American Dream. The movie portrays Rocky as what we would see as an average American pursing his ambition, no matter what society’s view of it might be. At one point in the movie, Rocky knew he could not beat Apollo, but his mentality is captured well in the following quote: “Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” The last 6 words seem very powerful from the quote. Rocky proves what the American Dream is about. He comes from nothing and makes a name for himself by pursing his dreams of boxing.

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