Teaching Our Journal

The Role of Pictures in Promoting the Mexican-American War and Modern Wars

By Mark A. Bernhardt, Jackson State University

Exercise 1

Similar to the influence seen in newspaper illustrations about the Mexican-American War, ideas about US expansionism, masculinity, and race influenced American artwork. Look at the paintings below and consider how they link these ideas in their subject matter.

Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way (1862) by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way (1862) by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

The Attack on the Emigrant Train (1856) by Charles Ferdinand Wimar

The Attack on the Emigrant Train (1856) by Charles Ferdinand Wimar

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851) by George Caleb Bingham

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851) by George Caleb Bingham

American Progress (1872) by John Gast

American Progress (1872) by John Gast

Questions

Compare the male American emigrants in each picture. Would you describe them as conforming most closely to martial manhood or restrained manhood? In what ways does the artist suggest they will help further US expansionism?

Compare the female American emigrants in each picture. How would you characterize the role of women in US expansionism as presented by these artists? What types of relationships do the women have with the men in the different pictures?

Compare the Native Americans in The Attack on the Emigrant Train and American Progress. How do the artists portray them? What is their place in US expansionism?

What is the purpose of US expansionism presented in each painting? What does the land into which the American settlers are traveling look like? In what ways do the artists suggest American settlement will change the environment?

Exercise 2

Ideas about race and masculinity remained linked to US expansionism through the rest of the nineteenth century. Just as with the Mexican-American War, this was reflected in the illustrations published by newspapers with reports first about westward expansion and then overseas expansion. Compare illustrations included with the reports about the Mexican-American War to illustrations from the press coverage of other nineteenth-century conflicts and efforts to acquire territory – specifically the Sioux Wars (or any war against Native Americans), the Cuban Revolution (1895-1898), the Spanish-American War, the quest to annex Hawaii, and the effort to colonize the Philippines. Use the Library of Congress Historic American Newspapers collection (available online), ProQuest Historical Newspapers database, or the newspaper collection at your university to search for images.

Questions

Compare the illustrations of Mexicans from the press coverage of the Mexican-American War to illustrations of the Sioux (or other Native Americans) published with accounts of the war fought with the United States. What do these pictures tell us about how white Americans perceived Native Americans as a race? What do they reveal about the perceived “masculinity” of Native American men? How are Native American women portrayed? Do newspapers present the conflict and Native Americans differently? What is the purpose of US expansionism presented by the coverage of conflicts with Native Americans like the Sioux Wars? What does the land the United States would acquire look like? What benefits do the illustrators imply the United States would gain from expansion? Is there a difference of opinion on whether expansionism is beneficial?

Compare the illustrations of Mexicans from the Mexican-American War and Native Americans from the United States’ wars with native peoples to illustrations of Cubans published with accounts of the Cuban Revolution and Spanish-American War. What do these pictures tell us about how white Americans perceived Cubans as a race? What do they reveal about the perceived “masculinity of Cuban men in comparison to American men? How are Cuban women portrayed? What do they suggest is the purpose of US involvement in the conflict? Do newspapers present the conflict and Cubans differently?

Compare the illustrations of Mexicans from the Mexican-American War and Native Americans from the United States’ wars to illustrations of Spaniards published with accounts of the Cuban Revolution and Spanish-American War. What do these pictures tell us about how Americans perceived Spaniards? What comparisons are made between Spaniards and people of races white Americans deemed inferior? What do they reveal about the perceived “masculinity of Spain’s men in comparison to American men? Do newspapers present Spaniards differently?

Compare the illustrations of Mexicans from the Mexican-American War and Native Americans from the United States’ wars with native peoples to illustrations of Hawaiians and Filipinos published with accounts of the annexation of Hawaii and the effort to colonize the Philippines. What do these pictures tell us about how white Americans perceived Hawaiians and Filipinos as races? What do they reveal about the perceived “masculinity of Hawaiian and Filipino men in comparison to American men? Do newspapers present Hawaiians and Filipinos differently? What do pictures of Hawaii and the Philippines suggest are the benefits of acquiring these territories? Is there a difference of opinion on whether acquiring these territories is beneficial?

Sources

Library of Congress Historic Newspapers collection: https://www.loc.gov/newspapers/collections/

Exercise 3

By the twentieth century, photography had changed the way the press depicted wars and the people involved in them. Nevertheless, the choices editors made about which photographs to publish reveals that ideas about race and masculinity still influence our views of war. Examine photographs from newspapers and newsmagazines to see how ideas about race, masculinity, and the motives for US involvement in twentieth- and twenty-first century wars are connected. Use the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database or the newspaper and magazine collection at your university to search for photographs published with news articles about World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War.

Questions

How are US soldiers depicted in comparison to those they are fighting in different wars? What similarities and differences are there in the depictions of European enemies compared to enemies of other races?

All of the wars in which the United States has fought in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been outside the nation’s borders. What do photographs from different wars reveal about the type of relationships US soldiers have had with the civilian population in the lands in which they are fighting? What similarities and differences are there in the depictions of European civilians compared to civilians of other races?

How do photographs help explain the objectives of US military intervention? What do the photographs lead you to believe were the objectives of the various wars the United States has fought?

Are you able to identify any changes that have taken place over time in the way the press visually presents wars?