Monday, March 8, 2010

The American Revolution through stamps in 66 seconds

In 1971 Richard Nixon announced the beginning of the United States Bicentennial Era to commemorate the American War of Independence. As part of the many commemorative activities that took place, between 1971 and 1987 the National Postal Service released around 30 issues of stamps, resulting in over 120 unique pieces. I recently examined these stamps and gave a brief presentation on their commemorative aspects. An invaluable resource to my research was the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, which has a fantastic online catalogue that anyone interested in philately must browse.

Many of the stamps issued for the Bicentennial portrayed important Revolutionary symbols such as the fifer, drummers, George Washington, Valley Forge, and iconic pieces of art by such artists as John Trumbull, Charles Willson Peale, and Emmanuel Leutze and Eastman Johnson.

Since the 1970s the United States Postal Service has maintained the policy that commemorative stamps will only be released for anniversaries in fifty year increments. As a result, stamps memorializing the 200th anniversary of the Revolution issued between 1971 and 1987 created a chronological timeline of the birth of United States. As part of my presentation I wanted to show how history might be told through those stamps alone, and prepared a slide presentation using iconic images in stamps to tell the story. This was the result.

How effective were the stamps in promoting an educated social memory about the American Revolution? Probably not very. Spread over 16 years, the stamps typically would not have been seen often enough to tell a historical narrative. Furthermore, only 4 of the 122 stamps that I looked at had any sort of explanation regarding the subject matter, which opens the door to misinterpretation and the reinforcement of preconceived, possibly ahistorical view on the period. The greatest achievement that can likely be said about the stamps is that they promoted awareness of the Bicentennial Era, and hopefully prompted some individuals to take a deeper look into their nation’s history.

Some of the technology I used to create this slide show include:
  • PowerPoint.
  • iTunes to download Stars and Stipes Forever by Knights Bridge (please don't sue me).
  • Audacity, an open source sound editor that I used to convert the song to an MP3, to cut the song down to 1:06 and to taper the ending.
  • SlideShare, to upload the PowerPoint presentation to the web and add music.

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