Imaging Hoover Dam
The Making of a Cultural Icon

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Author: Anthony F. Arrigo

Format: Cloth
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780874179538
Published Date: 2014

The mighty Hoover Dam, starting as a dream of land developers and farmers, became the most ambitious civil engineering project of the Great Depression. This landmark in the middle of the Mojave Desert, holding back the largest man-made lake in America, also became, like Mount Rushmore or the Empire State Building, a visual and cultural icon. The power and meanings of this icon came not through a single image but via myriad visual representations, in government propaganda, advertising, journalism, and art. Even before it was built, these images were used to shape the public’s perception of the project and frame the dam as the linchpin to an expanding American economic empire in the desert Southwest.

Anthony F. Arrigo has researched a wide array of primary sources and archival materials to trace the project from its earliest representations in illustrations to the documentary photography of its construction and later depictions of the structure in commercial promotions, fine art photography, and paintings. Analyzing Hoover Dam through the trajectory of imagery across several decades, rather than the narrative of its construction, illuminates the underlying cultural and ecological imperatives in the drive to build it, including the influence of religious doctrine and the American agrarian movement. Arrigo also discusses various portrayals of laborers, women, minority groups, nature, and technology in this imagery. In time, the visual icon of power and domination was commercialized to sell cars, vacations, and more.

Imaging Hoover Dam is an important work in both visual rhetoric and cultural studies. It will also intrigue readers interested in such varied topics as the history of the American Southwest, the Great Depression and the New Deal, social and environmental issues, and American popular culture.

Author Bio
Anthony F. Arrigo is assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where he specializes in visual communication, rhetorical theory, and cultural studies.

“Arrigo’s Imaging Hoover Dam makes an important contribution to the field of visual rhetoric. The author’s arguments are clear and insightful. Both scholars and general readers in American cultural studies will enjoy this fascinating account of the making of a major icon of industrial modernism.” —Carole Blair, Professor of communication studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Hoover Dam is not only a physical structure; it is also a powerful cultural symbol. Anthony F. Arrigo offers an archivally rich, visually comprehensive treatment of how the dam was depicted before, during, and after its construction. Conceptually informed by theories from rhetoric and visual culture studies, his critical analyses of government photographs, maps, advertisements, art, and other visual imagery illustrate how the production, reproduction, and circulation of images contributed to the dam’s iconicity. A key strength is his sensitive attention to the ways in which images of the Hoover Dam communicate complex ideas about nature, culture, labor, race, gender, sexuality, nation, and citizenship. His work will be of immense value to scholars of visual culture and rhetoric, the history of the U.S. West, and the complex relationships between nature and technology.” —Cara A. Finnegan, author of Picturing Poverty: Print Culture and FSA Photographs and coeditor of Visual Rhetoric: A Reader in Communication and American Culture

“In Imaging Hoover Dam, Anthony Arrigo shows how government and business used photographs to shape public opinion, while the difficult living and working conditions of laborers and racial discrimination in hiring remained private, untold stories.” —Jerrie Clarke, director, Lost City Museum, Overton, Nevada

"The author's innovative approach leads readers to a deeper understanding of the work of images as discursive tools that significantly shape the construction of public knowledge." —Journal of American History

"Arrigo achieves a fitting memorial to those who labored and lost to build a world wonder."—Rhetoric & Public Affairs