The Role of Imagery in Shaping Environmental Thought and Politics in American Society.

Daniel Clifford, Union College - Schenectady, NY


Throughout the majority of the history of the United States, imagery has played a significant role in shaping the way that American society perceives and thinks about nature and the environment. This relationship between nature and imagery, starting with the rise of American Landscape paintings, has evolved with American society and culture in its capacity to shape the manner in which Americans value the environment through the enlistment of imagery to endow landscapes with deeper meaning and value. As technological advancements of the camera have evolved, so has the influence that images of nature and the environment from its first use in surveying the West throughout the 1860s and 1870s up until today with the democratization of the camera with smartphones, and the opportunities allotted by social media and the internet. It is the objective of this paper to analyze this relationship between imagery and the environment throughout the nation's history, examining its ability to influence and shape the way in which American society thinks about the environment. As such, this paper will analyze five eras of American history being: Rise of American Landscape Painting, the Introduction of Photography in the Progressive era, The New Deal Era, and Rise of Environmentalism in the 1960s and 1970s. By comparing the manner in which images have been used in the past in shaping thought, policy, and legislation regarding the environment, we may better understand the role that social media has in influencing the present and future perspective of the environment.