The Material Symbolism of Yellowstone Park, 1869-1872

Eric Malczewski, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This paper concerns the transformation of wild and virtually unknown lands into a material and symbolic representation of American greatness, national dignity, and political sagacity. This event is the creation of Yellowstone Park – the exemplar /sans pareil/ of aesthetically potent and symbolically resonant images of the physical landscape, or what I term iconic nature. The examination of the creation of Yellowstone in its significance as iconic nature offers leverage on questions concerning the character and function of material symbols, the role of general theory in the social sciences, and the course and consequences of American nationalism. This paper focuses on the case of the landscape artist Thomas Moran in helping visualize what has been called the “awful grandeur and sublimity” of certain lands in Wyoming and Montana Territories. Analysis of this case employs and critiques the theory and methods of the burgeoning field of material symbolism (or materiality) in sociology.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 62. Classification and Consecration