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Consuming IdentitiesVisual Culture in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco$
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Amy DeFalco Lippert

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190268978

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190268978.001.0001

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“These Lofty Aspirants of Fame”: The Making of the Gold Rush Legend

“These Lofty Aspirants of Fame”: The Making of the Gold Rush Legend

(p.29) 1 “These Lofty Aspirants of Fame”: The Making of the Gold Rush Legend
Consuming Identities

Amy K. DeFalco Lippert

Oxford University Press

San Francisco constituted the epicenter of the vibrant image production and printing industry that produced visualizations of the gold rush experience for miners and their far-flung audiences around the world. This chapter examines the artist-rendered representations of the gold rush, especially in the form of illustrated letter sheets—the precursors to the modern postcard. Letter sheets, and the notes that miners scrawled on them to the folks at home, stressed the irreplaceability of direct experience through the popular metaphor of “seeing the elephant.” Gold rush illustrations crafted an archetypal (white, male) miner identity and juxtaposed it with depictions of nonwhite groups like the Chinese and California Indians, who were cast as visual exotics.

Keywords:   letter sheets, “seeing the elephant”, gold rush miner, archetypes, stereotypes, greenhorn, masculinity, Chinese miners, California Indians, gold rush humor

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