Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Clinton B. Allison


This study analyzes the social construction of identity in geography schoolbooks published in the United States between 1802 and 1897. A growing literature on recognizing differences among varying and shifting identities informs this dissertation. During the nineteenth century, the United States was in the process of constructing a self-image or national identity, and the social, cultural, political, and economic interests of this time shaped the character of this national identity. The public education system was one site where this image construction took place. Through its construction and maintenance in schools, particularly in textbooks, a national identity was passed on to succeeding generations. Geography schoolbooks emphasized people and places, delineating identities by establishing a Eurocentric, middle-class, masculinist, Protestant norm, and then specifying variance and deficiencies from and to that norm. After examining over three-hundred geography schoolbooks, I chose nineteen textbooks that I decided reflect the overall character of nineteenth century geography schoolbooks published in the United States for common schools. Geared towards younger learners, these books contained representations of the world for the student. Content analysis of visual and written representations allows us to see how the variables of class, religion, gender, and race intersected and influenced each other as they were used to construct an ideal national identity for the United States. Visual imagery often regarded as decorative enhancement for the written text receives much attention in this study because visuals convey immediate information. Graphic images in these schoolbooks sometimes enhanced written text, but quite often they stood alone as the single source of information, thus they deserve critical analysis. vu Representations both visual and written, were used to construct a national identity that encouraged the nation's youth to see explicitly what they were and what they were not. Through the images depicted of the United States and the world beyond, geography schoolbooks molded Americans' views of themselves by describing and defining the United States as well as by highlighting supposed differences between their country and other parts of the world.

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