Framing Nature: The Creation of an American Icon at the Grand Canyon

Youngs, Yolonda. Framing Nature: The Creation of an American Icon at the Grand Canyon. University of Nebraska Press. (book project in progress)

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Framing Nature explores the Grand Canyon’s cultural metamorphosis from a place once known as an “altogether valueless” location (Ives 1861, 110), to a national park that attracts over five million visitors a year to Arizona. This tourism draws on a deep cultural, visual, and social history that shaped the Grand Canyon’s environment into one of America’s most iconic representations of nature. Yet the canyon is more than a vacation destination, a movie backdrop, or a scenic viewpoint; it is a real place as well as an abstraction that may be easily summoned in the minds of readers through their emotional and intellectual responses. The Grand Canyon, or the idea of the canyon, is woven into the fabric of American cultural identity and serves as a cultural reference point—an icon.

This book traces the arc of that idea and how people came to know the Canyon through a journey behind the scenes of popular imagery and into the cultural, social, and spatial process of creating a national park as an iconic place. I trace an iconographic arc of nearly one hundred and forty years of Grand Canyon photographs, postcards, maps, and films (1869 – 2014) as an instrument to tell the broader cultural and social story about how people construct nature through visual representations.

 Framing Nature includes numerous historic and contemporary images of the canyon and a detailed analysis of how these images shaped tourism, environmental perception, and natural resource management at the canyon over time. My findings are based on research in local, state, and federal archives; fieldwork along the rim, trails, and Colorado River; repeat photography; cultural landscape reconstruction and evaluation; visual content analysis; and geospatial analysis.