Forming National Identity through Commemoration: Representation within Postage Stamps at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

Kate Read

Name: Kate Read
Major: Anthropology
Minor: Art History
Advisors: Dr. Elizabeth Derderian & Dr. Zareen Thomas

This independent study focuses on the idea of forming a national identity through the use of memory. Chapter one introduces the idea that Postage Stamps are a way people can commemorate and remember the past. The United States works to present a certain memory to the American public through everyday objects, such as postage stamps. Chapter two explains the relevant literature I found relating to postage stamp usage. These sources discuss the use of postage stamps as propaganda, in forming a collective memory, and the ways in which museums represent the nation. Chapter three explains the theories I use in my analysis. I particularly focus on Michael Billig’s concept of banal nationalism and Carol Duncan’s concept of the art museum as a ritual site of nation-building. I apply these theories to my understanding and interpretation of the interviews I conducted. In chapter four I discuss my methodology. I lay out all of the interviews I conducted and my interlocutors who assisted in this study. Chapter five is the most important to my study, where I discuss my findings. I specifically focus themes related to nationalism, agency or responsibility, and democratization. I note that the USPS recognizes its authority, requiring it to also take responsibility for equitable representation. I also explain how stamps that enter the museum are given another layer of meaning. Lastly, I discuss my analysis of how the National Postal Museum does not take responsibility for their lack of accurate representation.

Posted in Comments Enabled, Independent Study, Symposium 2022 on April 26, 2022.

7 responses to “Forming National Identity through Commemoration: Representation within Postage Stamps at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum”

  1. David McConnell says:

    It’s great to see this project come to fruition, Kate, and to see how you’ve refined and sharpened the argument. Nicely done! I hope your post-graduation plans are shaping up well, too.

  2. Dante King says:

    Congratulations Kate! This is so interesting!! I love museums and considering curatorial practice, so this is particularly thought-provoking. Wonderful job and thank you for the poster!

    P.S. You know, come to think of it, I mailed a card earlier today, and the stamp had an American flag on it! :O

  3. Tracy Cosgriff says:

    This is a fabulously interesting topic, Kate! I remember when you were first beginning your work with the Postal Museum. It’s so rewarding to see your interests come full circle – congratulations!

  4. Chan Sok Park says:

    Kate, what exciting work! Congratulations, and best wishes for what’s ahead!

  5. Rachel Jones says:

    Congratulations Kate!! I’m so proud of you!!

  6. Beth Derderian says:

    Congratulations Kate!

  7. Mollie Read says:

    Awesome job, Kate! So proud of you. ❤️

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