Date Awarded

Fall 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Susan V Webster

Committee Member

Alan C Braddock

Committee Member

Susan V Donaldson

Committee Member

Charles F McGovern


Scholars have studied American advertising in terms of collectible Americana, histories of printing technology, and consumer culture. These approaches leave a gap in our understanding of American advertising in terms of its role as a powerful carrier of ideological value and a critical participant in national discourses on race and American identity. My study examines nineteenth- and twentieth-century advertising imagery and visual culture—including postcards, prints, and other related ephemera—reading such images as conscious commentary on contemporary racial, social, and economic issues. I employ traditional art historical methods to examine advertising imagery and ephemera, bridging the fields of labor, food, health, and race studies to generate a complex discussion of the myriad stereotypes employed to oppress and limit African Americans’ participation in the American dream. I argue that stereotype comprised a potent method—technologically and ideologically—of identifying and qualifying humanity and “Americanness.” Bred by pseudoscience and propagated throughout the first half of the twentieth century, in particular, stereotypes targeting African Americans argued for their supposed inherent backwardness, inferiority, and suitability for the labors and livelihoods considered unsuitable for white Americans. Picturing black figures in American advertising and visual culture as out-of-control, insatiable, unclean, inexhaustible, and nostalgic bodies created a salve for white anxieties concerning the increasing opportunities afforded black Americans socially, politically, and economically. By closely reading advertising cards, postcards, prints, and other related ephemera as contributors to national discourses on race, I shed new light on their creation, use, and dissemination as powerful tools for selling ideologies about human value, identity, and participation in American life.



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