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Riverscapes and National Identities

Tricia Cusack

Cloth $29.95s    |    978-0-8156-3211-5    |    2009

"Tricia Cusack provides a timely reminder how vital rivers have been to the lives of communities, places and nations. A work of significant historical research, imagination and erudition Riverscapes and National Identities fills no preconceived gap in scholarship, but promises to renew aesthetic, political and ethical studies of material and visual culture within a framework that is multidisciplinary in scope and environmental in outlook. This is required reading for everyone concerned with how the natural environment has brought us all, individuals and societies, to where we are today."
—William Taylor, author of The Vital Landscape, Nature and the Built Environment in 19th Century Britain

Painted riverscapes such as Claude Monet’s impressions of the Seine, Isaak Levitan’s Volga views, and Thomas Cole’s Hudson scenery became iconic not least because they embodied nationalist ideas about place and about culture. At a time when nationalism was taking root across Europe and the United States, the riverscape played an important role in transforming the abstract idea of the nation into a potent visual image. It not only offered a picture of a nation’s physical character, but also, through aspects such as style, the figures portrayed, and the nature of the implied spectator, it presented a cultural ideal.

In this highly original book, Tricia Cusack explores the significance of painted riverscapes for the creation of national identities in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe and America. Focusing on five rivers—the Hudson, the Volga, the Seine, the Thames, and the Shannon—the author shows how just as ancient river mythologies served the ends of powerful religious and political groups, modern riverscapes incorporated dominant, often religious conceptions of the nation. Drawing on the symbolic potential of rivers to represent life and time, the riverscape provided a metaphor for the mythic stream of national history flowing unimpeded out of the past and into the future.

View other series books on Space, Place, and Society

Tricia Cusack is a lecturer at the Centre for European Languages and Cultures at the University of Birmingham. She coedited Art, Nation and Gender: Ethnic Landscapes, Myths and Mother-Figures and has published numerous articles in anthologies and journals including National Identities, Nations and Nationalism, and Art History.

6 x 9, 224 pages, 40 black-and-white illustrations, notes, bibliography, index

Riverscapes and National Identities

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