I think they both reinforce and challenge today, and philatelists themselves challenge this notion by forming their own clubs and associations–see section 2 on Building Philatelic Communities. This might somethign that I treat better in the afterword.
Yes! It’s a little tricky because I am trying to talk about both here because then I then focus solely on US collecting for the duration of the project. My reasoning here is to acknowledge that there is a global context even if this project doesn’t go in that direction.
That’s not a bad idea to re-arrange that paragraph to go from empire to ways stamps also help in the decolonization process.
Thanks for jumping in, Clarissa!
Yes, the chronological study is 1880-1940. Good point, will address.
That is a good way of reframing this question. I would guess they’d see themselves more like a curator of natural history objects–who would collect noted specimens and care for those collections, organize them by taxonomies.
These authors are usually collectors, and not affiliated with USPOD. I’ve thought about these pieces as helping to sell the paper to attract new readers.
I hope that further reading clarifies what I’m setting up here. But, I may need to be more specific about those relationships earlier on in this chapter.
Definitely, as an engine of the government, the USPOD has an investment in perpetuating these types of myths, because it helps to foster a sense of national identity. But, I don’t think postal officials saw these as myths, necessarily. Or, it didn’t matter if those were myths, because the images and stories offer positive messages.
Yes, and that is in the next chapter.
Good suggestion, I’ll take a look at this again. Your point about tension is well taken, especially as I think about these stamps being collected and cared for as the real thing–as pieces of national identity–vs traces of the real vernacular things–HABs documentation.
Good things to consider. Conclusions/Afterwords are always hard for me. Interestingly, on Pinterest, there are pinned images of decorating and craft ideas with saved postage stamps–not unlike what was found in women’s mags from the 1880s! Websites, yes. And there is definitely lots of selling on eBay. I should probably incorporate that a little more.
What about the Smithsonian National Postal Museum? How do the academic discussions happening here compliment/challenge the “eccentric collector” narrative?
You’re trying to talk about both international and US stamp collecting at the same time, but in my opinion this (the US) is the more interesting part. Maybe get here faster if possible.
Connection to empire is fascinating when one thinks about flows between metropole and outposts. Perhaps, rather than leading with “establishment of a newly-independent nation” in the string of examples, you might emphasize “imperialistic tendencies” by giving example that underscores function in asserting colonies’ ties to empire? Of course, your example speaks to stamps’ roles in decolonization process so, perhaps, it is listed last?
Yes, I, too, think it essential to the period you cover to draw these connections to imperialism. Coming from an American Studies perspective, it is essential to consider the US “in the world” in order to nibble away at that narrative of American exceptionalism.
Personal preference but I would be careful about aligning only official culture with patriotism; that’s often the hegemonic power’s club, i.e.,casting other national narratives as “unpatriotic” thus situating them as oppositional to national interests, Maybe an adjective other than patriotic?
Excited to be commenting on your work. Already see points of resonance with my own research and methodological interests so far as the need to bring material culture and visual studies traditions into more effective dialogue when approach subjects such as this. Stamps, as a circulating, physical medium of exchange and as artworks in miniature present such an opportunity. Currency, of course, has similarities and so, will be curious to see how you might draw on and extend work done in that arena.
Question: is 1880 to 1940 the span covered by your study? Might be useful to make chronological coverage clear up front.
The flow from paras 16-19 works really well and gives readers a clear mental map of the terrain you’ll cover in the remainder of the book–and a sense of the complex links you’ll explore.
Hope you’ll excuse my tendency to offer suggestions for line edits. (Old habits from my editorial past die hard, but I’ll try to minimize in favor of bigger picture comments.) To address grammatical and sentence structure issues, the opening sentences might be recast. One possibility:
It is my hope that readers of Stamping American Memory will see that stamp collecting in the early-twentieth-century United States was not an insignificant hobby practiced by a few obsessed individuals. Rather, it drew millions of Americans and the federal government into conversations about national life. Because traces of these conversations remain, in collectors’ albums, [other source], and [other source, etc.], the study of stamp production and collecting practices provides, like the stamps themselves, a series of windows into the complex nature of cultural memory and its place in every day life.
I riffed at the end but you get the idea.
One question I have as I read –and I came back to the introduction after reading a bit into the text– is how does stamp collecting fit with class? Where does it fit with the “high/low/middlebrow” culture divide? As consumers can purchase reproductions and “abridged” classics and representations of the “real” thing –in the form of stamps in the case of your study– what kind of cultural position do they assume? I guess I want to know who these collectors are and how they are perceived over time.
This is my favorite paragraph so far! This seems very connected to Theodore Roosevelt’s language about “manliness” which is ALSO connected both to imperialism (which requires rugged manliness) and to consumerism (which is –I may only be presuming– one of the maladies of urban middle class life, presenting a danger to virile manhood.)
This is really interesting because there is a kind of divide among collectors –those who belong to a philatelic association are perhaps more “legitimate” than those who simply collect stamps.
This is fascinating, too. It also seems –in terms of time and context– to coincide with the general trend of “professionalization” in which women’s interests and approaches were deemed too soft and emotional and men’s were seen as scientific and objective. Which makes me ask this: what is the difference between “collecting” and “preserving?” Why did stamp collectors not become “archivists” or is that the function of the term “philatelist?”
I find this stuff about the role of the media interesting, but I kind of want to know more. I can’t quite understand why newspapers would cover stamp collecting. In my own work, I can see that the media played a role in generating interest that led to advocacy –creating public lands, establishing new laws. But what is the motivation here? Who authored these pieces –were they somehow connected to the USPS?
Yep! This is exactly what I was saying/asking earlier.
I did not read this section carefully, but I like the ideas about professionalization, expertise, and legitimacy which are running through the text.
I am not quite sure I understand the connection/transition between the USPOD as a political entity with a PMG who could exert some powerful cultural authority and as a service agency interested in attracting consumers. I think there’s a connection to be made or at least a discussion to be had about how those impulses might have influenced or mediated one another, but I’m not understanding it at the moment. Perhaps the answer is in fleshing out the difference between the Federal Agency and the local offices? Suddenly seems analogous to NPS where official federal policy sometimes (often) conflicts with local relationships between parks and neighbors? Then, the question is: where do the stamp collectors sit in relationship to the federal agent and/or the local post master?
This chapter section is interesting because it demonstrates the authority exerted by the collector. While the USPOD has an agenda and a need, the way collectors respond to the stamps speaks to the unpredictability of cultural authority. Collectors may buy the stamps, but they may reject their “messaging.”
I’m thinking this chapter section would benefit from some reference to scholarship on the Smithsonian itself. Nina Burleig and Heather Ewing’s books are both good, even if they don’t cover the same period. Will Walker’s book A Living Exhibition, too.
This is really interesting to me. In a period where there is so much federal intervention into private life –in an effort to democratize– to have push back in the realm of collecting seems interesting and to raise questions about WHO the collectors were politically as well as socially.
This is fascinating because it is akin to marking historic sites and lobbying for status. To that end, I wonder if you want to push your analysis slightly: collectors and petitioners want to influence the stories that are circulated by the USPOD, thereby shaping the national narrative.
I really like this section because it reveals stamps as discursive space in which various interests are competing for legitimacy to shape national identity and a national narrative. To that end, I’d be interested to know if there was any effort to push for a stamp with an African American subject. Forgive me if you mentioned it. I skimmed lightly here, reading only opening paragraphs to get the gist. If there is, though, you should consider breaking it out into a section. I would not be surprised at all if there was such a movement around Douglass or Banneker.
You might want to cite some books on the specific programs. Taken as a whole, these works describe this as a period in which there was a serious effort to “document” America’s traditions and communities. These efforts were (perhaps ironically) fueled by a sense of urgency –these were disappearing traditions. So, for example, HABS documented historic structures because many would be demolished. Folk stories were collected before memory of them disappeared. There’s a weird tension between the desire to preserve and the belief that progress necessarily erased these vernacular forms of identity. Jerrold Hirsch: Portrait of America; maybe John Rayburn A Staggering Revolution;
Hmmmm…. perhaps I should not ask a question until I read the entire book, huh? This addresses the issue I asked about in the section on vernacular history making.
Your book draws attention to the ways in which collectors operate in a complicated discourse that includes federal agents and a variety of local or regional “officials” in an ongoing effort to negotiate authority and legitimacy in the realm of identity making and the creation of a national historical narrative. I think you could, in your conclusion, draw readers attention there and ask questions about what the arena of discourse looks like now. Do stamp collections appear on pinterest? Are there websites for stamp enthusiasts? Are their collections more valuable because stamps are less ubiquitous? What does all this mean in the long term about the relative power of collectors?
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[…] which were depictions of Martha Washington, and two of which were fictitious women. In the 1930s, controversy broke out over whether the Post Office Department should issue a stamp that portrayed Susan B. Anthony and […]
[…] stamps that portrayed military figures. Anthony’s supporters prevailed, and the struggle in turn inspired a black newspaper to ask why there were no African-American people on U.S. postage. “There should be some stamps […]
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I really like the point you raise with the following sentence: “[S]tamp collecting provides a way to examine how millions of individuals and the federal government participated in a conversation about national life in early-twentieth-century America.” Creating stamps and collecting them are two different processes. I am very interested in what people choose to collect and how they “receive” (or give meaning) to the stamps created by the federal government.
Of course, George Washington was one of the wealthiest men to become president and owned more than 120 slaves at Mount Vernon. As you note, the effort to depict him as a “common man” reflects how postal authorities sometimes engaged in mythmaking with stamps. Do such such depictions advance a democratic culture? Is it better for authorities to acknowledge that Washington was a wealthy elite who, despited his background, felt deeply about fathering the nation?
January 27, 2015 at 4:15 pm
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