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Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images

By: Finis Dunaway(Author)

344 pages, 73 b/w photos

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | Mar 2015 | #221550 | ISBN-13: 9780226169903
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NHBS Price: £27.99 $36/€31 approx

About this book

American environmentalism is defined by its icons: the "Crying Indian," who shed a tear in response to litter and pollution; the cooling towers of Three Mile Island, site of a notorious nuclear accident; the sorrowful spectacle of oil-soaked wildlife following the Exxon Valdez spill; and, more recently, Al Gore delivering his global warming slide show in An Inconvenient Truth. These images, and others like them, have helped make environmental consciousness central to American public culture. Yet most historical accounts ignore the crucial role images have played in the making of popular environmentalism, let alone the ways that they have obscured other environmental truths.

Finis Dunaway closes that gap with Seeing Green. Considering a wide array of images – including pictures in popular magazines, television news, advertisements, cartoons, films, and political posters – he shows how popular environmentalism has been entwined with mass media spectacles of crisis. Beginning with radioactive fallout and pesticides during the 1960s and ending with global warming today, he focuses on key moments in which media images provoked environmental anxiety but also prescribed limited forms of action. Moreover, he shows how the media have blamed individual consumers for environmental degradation and thus deflected attention from corporate and government responsibility. Ultimately, Dunaway argues, iconic images have impeded efforts to realize – or even imagine-sustainable visions of the future.

Generously illustrated, this innovative book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of environmentalism or in the power of the media to shape our politics and public life.

"Dunaway's Seeing Green is a path-breaking cultural history of environmental policy debate. With careful argument and crystalline prose, Dunaway brilliantly shows how the iconic imagery of the environmental movement has shifted the public focus from structural to individual solutions, shielding corporate polluters from the critical scrutiny they deserve. Few historians have connected photography to politics more imaginatively, or with more illuminating results."
- Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920

"Finis Dunaway's Seeing Green is not just a brilliant study of the ways images have shaped environmental debate. It's also a provocative analysis of the reasons why the environmental movement hasn't made more headway since the first Earth Day in 1970. Everyone working to address the challenge of climate change should read this book!"
- Adam Rome, author of The Genius of Earth Day

"Dunaway clearly agrees with contemporary arguments that environmentalism has been defined narrowly and wrongly as only a white middle-class, post-war, suburban-based elite movement. But he goes further to ask why post-war environmentalism has been defined that way and how it was produced culturally and politically as exclusionary to working class and non-white Americans. It's easy to condemn environmentalism as elitist. It's harder and more important to figure out, culturally, how it got that way, and Dunaway is among the first to dig into that at this level of fine-grained scholarship and analysis [...] This is an important and powerful work of scholarship on modern environmentalism."
- Kathryn T. Morse, Middlebury College

"Compelling and original, Seeing Green surveys the relationships among visual images and American environmentalism from the Cold War 1950s to the eco-consciousness of today, looking at a wide variety of images and media sources including ads, photo-essays, movies, cartoons, and comic books, and contextualizing them within larger discussions about affect, public life, environmental citizenship, and the limits of visual democracy. This accessible and informative book is sure to appeal to numerous readers including those in American history, American Studies, geography, media studies, and environmental studies."
- Erika Doss, University of Notre Dame

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Finis Dunaway is associate professor of history at Trent University, Canada, where he teaches courses in US history, visual culture, and environmental studies. He is the author of Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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