National parks are the places that present ideas of nature to Americans: Zion, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone bring to mind quintessential and awe-inspiring wilderness. By examining how rhetoric—particularly visual rhetoric—has worked to shape our views of nature and the “natural” place of humans, Observation Points offers insights into questions of representation, including the formation of national identity.
As Thomas Patin reveals, the term “nature” is artificial and unstable, in need of constant maintenance and reconstruction. The process of stabilizing its representation, he notes, is unavoidably political. America’s national parks and monuments show how visual rhetoric operates to naturalize and stabilize representations of the environment. As contributors demonstrate, visual rhetoric is often transparent, structuring experience while remaining hidden in plain sight. Scenic overlooks and turnouts frame views for tourists. Visitor centers, with their display cases and photographs and orientation films, provide their own points of view—literally and figuratively. Guidebooks, brochures, and other publications present still other ways of seeing. At the same time, images of America’s “natural” world have long been employed for nationalist and capitalist ends, linking expansionism with American greatness and the “natural” triumph of European Americans over Native Americans.
The essays collected here cover a wide array of subjects, including park architecture, landscape painting, public ceremonies, and techniques of display. Contributors are from an equally broad range of disciplines—art history, geography, museum studies, political science, American studies, and many other fields. Together they advance a provocative new visual genealogy of representation.
Contributors: Robert M. Bednar, Southwestern U, Georgetown, Texas; Teresa Bergman, U of the Pacific; Albert Boime, UCLA; William Chaloupka, Colorado State U; Gregory Clark, Brigham Young U; Stephen Germic, Rocky Mountain College; Gareth John, St. Cloud State U, Minnesota; Mark Neumann, Northern Arizona U; Peter Peters, Maastricht U; Cindy Spurlock, Appalachian State U; David A. Tschida, U of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; Sabine Wilke, U of Washington.