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American Iconographic

National Geographic, Global Culture, and the Visual Imagination

Stephanie L. Hawkins

Publication Year: 2010

Tracing the National Geographic's rise to prominence during the first half of the 20th c., Stephanie Hawkins argues that far from being merely a handbook of Western imperialism or a venue for exotic display, the magazine created a forum for the negotiation of changing attitudes toward national identity, cultural diversity, and global interconnectedness. Its readers responded in complex ways to the magazine's iconic public image and were not at all the passive spectators they have been assumed to be.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Series: Cultural Frames, Framing Culture


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pp. cover-vi


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pp. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-viii

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pp. ix-x

My first encounter with National Geographic is etched indelibly upon my memory. I had lost my first tooth and was in my grandmother’s care while my parents awaited my brother’s birth. To occupy me, Gram let me paw through old issues of National Geographic...

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PROLOGUE: The Rediscovery of Sharbat Gula: National Geographic in the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 1-7

In the years since its 1888 founding as a scientific journal, National Geographic has become not just a cultural icon but a generator of icons. None, most likely, is more internationally recognized than National Geographic’s June 1985 cover photograph titled “Afghan Girl” depicting a nameless twelve-year-old with piercing green eyes, witness to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Seventeen years later, in the aftermath of the ...

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1. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: The Icon and Its Readers

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pp. 8-27

In November 1896, National Geographic published its first nude photograph, a portrait titled “Zulu Bride and Bridegroom.” This was the first of many images to wed the magazine’s reputation to the far-flung and racially erotic. More than a century later, Harvard Lampoon parodied the iconic magazine in its 2008 April Fool’s edition. A comic send-up of National Geographic’s 120-year history, the Lampoon’s cover features tabloid ...

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2. TRAINING THE "I" TO SEE: Progressive Education, Visual Literacy, and National Geographic Membership

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pp. 28-61

Long before Edward Steichen’s famous 1955 exhibit, Family of Man, debuted at the Museum of Modern Art, National Geographic promoted global images of the family. The photograph “Zulu Bride and Bridegroom” (fig. 3) in National Geographic’s November 1896 issue not only inaugurated the iconic nude images historically associated with the magazine, but also established a visual grammar for its educational....

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3. SAVAGE VISIONS: Ethnography, Photography, and Local-Color Fiction in National Geographic

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pp. 62-101

Give us the romance of geography—the lands and the peoples, in little or unknown places,” cried a reader in 1921.1 Tellingly, “romance” here embraces not only the unusual and exotic but the more modern concept of “culture” as pluralistic variety. Before the term “culture” entered the public lexicon as a term denoting human variety—rather than a hierarchy of taste or “civilized” behavior...

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4. FRACTURING THE GLOBAL FAMILY ROMANCE: National Geographic, World War I, and Fascism

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pp. 102-134

In the run-up to U.S. involvement in the First World War and the deployment of American troops in October 1917, National Geographic’s deepening internationalism often took the form—ultimately an iconic form—of photographs of families. Increasingly, ameliorative images of an extended global human family displaced biological language that in previous decades had linked cultural and racial difference to genetic....

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5. JUNGLE HOUSEKEEPING: Globalization, Domesticity, and Performing the "Primitive" in National Geographic

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pp. 135-171

Well into the twentieth century, the primitive jungle, the naked savage, and the lone explorer were potent icons of escapist adventure. In this regard, “Cairo to Cape Town, Overland,” subtitled “An Adven-turous Journey of 135 Days, Made by an American Man and His Wife, through the Length of the African Continent” (February 1925) by Felix Shay is vintage National Geographic, but with a twist...

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6. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S ROMANCE IN RUINS: From the Catastrophic Sublime to Camp

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pp. 172-210

National Geographic’s evolution from scientific journal to popular icon was in large measure a result of the romantic stereotypes it perpetuated. But iconic status had its downside. If in 1896 the magazine’s photographs of the exotic and little-known parts of the world made National Geographic a novelty, by the late 1920s the magazine’s conventions seemed predictable, clichéd. From exotic images of the Far East to local-color ...


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pp. 211-230


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pp. 231-244


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pp. 245-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780813929750
E-ISBN-10: 081392975X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813929651
Print-ISBN-10: 0813929652

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 27 halftones
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Cultural Frames, Framing Culture
Series Editor Byline: Robert Newman See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 755621598
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Iconographic

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • National geographic -- History.
  • National geographic -- Social aspects.
  • Discoveries in geography -- Press coverage.
  • Photography in ethnology.
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