Capitol Gateways


The "Gateways" are meant to serve, first, as general essays on the origin, development, and significance of a set of 'icons' central to the national pantheon. They are also to serve as navigational tools, directing the reader to other iterations and related icons within The Capitol, and to the proliferation of supporting and/or contesting icons outside it.

I suggest that, at this stage in the project, we confine ourselves to The Rotunda. It contains a remarkably suggestive group of iconic elements: statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, Garfield and Baker, paintings of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the surrenders of Cornwallis and Burgoyne, the embarcation of the Pilgrims and the Discovery of the Mississippi, the landing of Columbus and the baptism of Pocahontas; the Brumidi fresco, "The Apotheosis of Washington" along with the great Rotunda frieze by the same artist; Randolph Rogers bronze Rotunda doors on the life of Columbus; and a set of reliefs depticting Daniel Boone, William Penn, the Pilgrims, Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas, John Cabot, and Columbus. And, of course, there is Rotunda itself, with its invocation of the Enlightenment idea of America as guardian of the clasical ideal.

It is most important that each Gateway essay be governed by a coherent concept of these icons as social constructs. To that end, each should certainly include 1) treatment of the central object and its provenance; 2) discussion of the nature of the the individual(s) referenced with particular attention to their own "self-fashioning;" 3)treatment of the development of the image through time and over space a) as a response to specific cultural needs and b) with attention to the complexity and contradiction this process entailed; 4) each should attend to the various channels of transmission (elite, popular, folk) as well as the various agents of transmision ( oral, literate, and mass media). In additon, each should inclued "intelligent links" (links whose interpretive significance is spelled out) to a) other iterations and b) supporting or contensting iterations within the building. Finally, since each icon is only a local, concrete and specific instance of an 'image' held -- with varying degrees of clarity and sincerity -- in the public mind, you should include iterations and counter-iterations from outside the building in order to suggest some of the ways in which the icon stands at the center of a larger, culture-wide array.

The project should be understood as synoptic rather than original, something like a critical essay on the critical literature rather than a research essay; There is actually a fairly extensive, pretty reliable, and relatively compact body of scholarship on each of the icons -- save, possibly, that of Mr. Baker. The challenges, thus, seem likely to be 1) establishing a paradigm for the nature, origins, and function of the icons; 2) maintaining focus and economy in the exposition; 3) choosing the most appropriate images or texts for purposes of illustration or amplification. (This last challenge is offset somewhat by the fact that much of the primary material is in the public domain, some of it even already digitized.)