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Pastoral and Monumental

Dams, Postcards, and the American Landscape

Donald C. Jackson

Publication Year: 2013

In Pastoral and Monumental, Donald C. Jackson chronicles America’s longtime love affair with dams as represented on picture postcards from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Through nearly four hundred images, Jackson documents the remarkable transformation of dams and their significance to the environment and culture of America. Initially, dams were portrayed in pastoral settings on postcards that might jokingly proclaim them as “a dam pretty place.” But scenes of flood damage, dam collapses, and other disasters also captured people’s attention. Later, images of New Deal projects, such as the Hoover Dam, Grand Coulee Dam, and Norris Dam, symbolized America’s rise from the Great Depression through monumental public works and technological innovation. Jackson relates the practical applications of dams, describing their use in irrigation, navigation, flood control, hydroelectric power, milling, mining, and manufacturing. He chronicles changing construction techniques, from small timber mill dams to those more massive and more critical to a society dependent on instant access to electricity and potable water. Concurrent to the evolution of dam technology, Jackson recounts the rise of a postcard culture that was fueled by advances in printing, photography, lowered postal rates, and America’s fascination with visual imagery. In 1910, almost one billion postcards were mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, and for a period of over fifty years, postcards featuring dams were “all the rage.” Whether displaying the charms of an old mill, the aftermath of a devastating flood, or the construction of a colossal gravity dam, these postcards were a testament to how people perceived dams as structures of both beauty and technological power.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

Over the past thirty years I have interacted with hundreds of antique postcard dealers and ephemera merchants to gather the images in this book. But in other respects the creation of Pastoral and Monumental constituted a solitary endeavor involving little direct collaboration with colleagues or friends. That caveat aside,...

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Chapter One: Pastoral and Monumental

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pp. 1-36

When someone invokes the word technology, what first leaps to mind? Most likely the Internet, ever-smarter phones, or a maelstrom of gigabyte-driven social media. But what about the physical world that sustains us, and the role played by hydraulic technology in defining how human cultures interact with the environment...

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Chapter Two: Postcard Culture

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pp. 37-88

Picture postcards seemed to arrive with great suddenness in early twentiethcentury America, but they only flourished because of cultural and technological innovations brought to fruition in the prior century. First and foremost, the U.S. Postal Service created an expansive network allowing for rapid, reliable, and...

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Chapter Three: Materials, Design, Construction

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pp. 89-113

An array of questions arises when someone sets out to build a dam. Some relate to location, topography, and geology, some to purpose, and many concern what and how. What materials will be used to build the dam? What will be the size and shape? And how will it be constructed? Later chapters deal with the why...

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Chapter Four: Disasters

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pp. 114-131

Humans are fascinated by the misfortunes of others. Cars slow down at accidents so motorists can gape at gruesome wrecks. Mine shaft cave-ins captivate huge audiences across media platforms. And when a wall of water crashes through a village, or a low-lying urban district is inundated by a collapsed levee, people...

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Chapter Five: Using Dams

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pp. 132-217

People build dams because they want to use water for some purpose or in some new way that natural conditions will not allow. A great many of these uses—and the transformations they brought to riverine environments—were recorded in photographs and postcards disseminated to a broad audience of Americans in the...

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Chapter Six: The New Deal

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pp. 218-262

The market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s brought dam building into the public consciousness in new and significant ways. The changes were not always immediate, and they often involved projects planned prior to economic hard times. Nonetheless, the coming of the New Deal represented...

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Chapter Seven: Fish and Environment

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pp. 263-279

By the start of the twenty-first century dams were widely viewed as having a negative impact on the environment. Such perceptions did not spring out of the ether but had roots extending back more than two hundred years, to a time when dams were first blamed for blocking seasonal fish runs. As early as the...

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Chapter Eight: Snapshot Culture

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pp. 280-291

At midcentury picture postcards were entrenched as essential components of American culture, but their status had changed dramatically since the golden age of 1905–1915. Postcard collectors and postcard clubs survived, but more as a hobbyist niche and not as a broad-based movement engaging people across the...

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pp. 292-297

At midcentury monumental dams were but one among many landmarks and structures that people experienced and consumed through postcards, snapshots, and a welter of mass media. By the 1960s dams were still being built and expansive water control and supply systems remained an integral part of America’s...


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pp. 299-304

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 305-321


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pp. 323-330

Back Cover

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pp. 346-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780822978596
E-ISBN-10: 0822978598
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944263
Print-ISBN-10: 082294426X

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 398 photos
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867739982
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pastoral and Monumental

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Subject Headings

  • Dams -- United States -- Pictorial works.
  • Postcards -- United States.
  • Dams in art.
  • Landscape photography.
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