Presenting America's World: Strategies of Innocence in National Geographic Magazine, 1888-1945, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Presenting America's World

Strategies of Innocence in National Geographic Magazine, 1888-1945, 1st Edition

By Tamar Y. Rothenberg


208 pages

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National Geographic magazine is probably the most visible and popular expression of geography in the USA. Presenting America's World presents a critical analysis of the world portrayed by National Geographic, from its formative years in the nineteenth century, through to 1945. It situates the National Geographic Society's development within the context of a new American overseas expansionism, interrogates the magazine as America's ubiquitous source of wholesome exotica and erotica, examines the ways in which it framed the world for its millions of readers, and questions its participation in the cultural work of US global hegemony. The book argues that National Geographic successfully employed 'strategies of innocence', a contradictory stance of representation which simultaneously asserts innocence - either the innocence of 'just watching' or the innocence of altruistic behaviour - while naturalizing Western hegemony. Presenting America's World not only considers the world that National Geographic presented to its readers, but also examines the magazine’s own institutional world of writers, photographers and editors. Particular attention is paid to Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the magazine's editor for over 50 years, Maynard Owen Williams, a writer and photographer who worked on nearly 100 articles from 1919 to 1960 and Harriet Chalmers Adams, a freelancer, explorer and Pan-American activist who contributed 21 articles.


’An important contribution to the history of geography. It provides real insight both into how a small group of well-connected Americans was able to articulate and disseminate a cultural and geopolitical vision of the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, and why geography became thought of by Americans as a popular� rather than an academic subject. ’ James S. Duncan, University of Cambridge, UK ’With energetic prose, Rothenberg analyzes not just the National Geographic’s text and photographs, but some of its most important authors, editors, and photographers as well. The result is a sustained look into the inner workings of one of the most influential magazines of the twentieth century. Presenting America’s World is a welcome addition to the literature on popular geography.’ Susan Schulten, University of Denver, USA ’…Rothenberg engages conversationally with archival material, maintaining transparency and liveliness and underscoring the need to perpetuate dialogue between past and present. Recommended.’ Choice ’Histories of geography largely ignore the role of the National Geographic and similar magazines in their focus on the academic discipline. Yet such media have been major forces influencing the development of popular geographies�…Thus understanding how those popular geographies� have been produced through the ideologies of the owners and editors of those magazines is key to a full appreciation of geography’s trajectory as both subject and discipline. Tamar Rothenberg’s book is a worthy addition to the small literature undertaking that task, providing major insights into the people who fashioned a magazine that has played a considerable part in structuring Americans’ world views.’ Geografiska Annaler B: Human Geography 'This book is an interesting, critical, and admirable contribution to the rematerialising Cultural Geography series from British-based publisher Ashgate.' Patricia Baldwin

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: the picture of innocence; National Geographic in the new world order; Picturing the world, imagining the nation; Picturing human geography: orders of science and art; Maynard Owen Williams: contradictions of a 'seeing man'; Harriet Chalmers Adams: intricacies of class, gender and gusto; Afterword; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Tamar Y. Rothenberg is editor of New Youth Connections.

About the Series

Re-materialising Cultural Geography

Re-materialising Cultural Geography
Nearly 25 years have elapsed since Peter Jackson’s seminal call to integrate cultural geography back into the heart of social geography. During this time, a wealth of research has been published which has improved our understanding of how culture both plays a part in, and in turn, is shaped by social relations based on class, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, age, sexuality and so on. In spite of the achievements of this mountain of scholarship, the task of grounding culture in its proper social contexts remains in its infancy. This series therefore seeks to promote the continued significance of exploring the dialectical relations which exist between culture, social relations and space and place. Its overall aim is to make a contribution to the consolidation, development and promotion of the ongoing project of re-materialising cultural geography.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / Geography