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.

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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