NATIONAL SYMBOLS & LANDMARKS
A national symbol is a symbol of any entity considering itself and manifesting itself to the world as a national community: the sovereign states but also national and countries in a state of colonial or other dependence, (con)federal integration, or even an ethno-cultural community considered a ‘nationality’ despite having no political autonomy.
National symbols intend to unite people by creating visual, verbal, or iconic representations of the national people, values, goals, or history.
These symbols are often rallied around as part of celebrations of patriotism or aspiring nationalism (such as independence, autonomy or separation movements) and are designed to be inclusive and representative of all the people of the national community.
In many ways, well-known sights in a country can also be seen as national symbols, as can traditional items of handicraft, folk costumes, national epics and national myths, as well as symbols used by national sports teams and their supporters.
The Great Seal of the U.S.
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson “to bring in a device for a seal of the United States of America.” After many delays, a verbal description of a design by William Barton was finally approved by Congress on June 20, 1782. The seal shows an American bald eagle with a ribbon in its mouth bearing the device E pluribus unum (One out of many). In its talons are the arrows of war and an olive branch of peace. On the reverse side it shows an unfinished pyramid with an eye (the eye of Providence) above it. Although this description was adopted in 1782, the first drawing was not made until four years later, and no die has ever been cut.
The U.S. Flag
In 1777 the Continental Congress decided that the flag would have 13 alternating red and white stripes, for the 13 colonies, and 13 white stars on a blue background. A new star has been added for every new state. Today the flag has 50 stars.
The bald eagle has been our national bird since 1782. The Founding Fathers had been unable to agree on which native bird should have the honor-Benjamin Franklin strongly preferred the turkey! Besides appearing on the Great Seal, the bald eagle is also pictured on coins, the $1 bill, all official U.S. seals, and the President’s flag.
The image of Uncle Sam, with his white hair and top hat, first became famous on World War I recruiting posters. The artist, James Montgomery Flagg used himself as a model. But the term dates back to the War of 1812, when a meat-packer nicknamed Uncle Sam supplied beef to the troops. The initials for his nickname were quite appropriate!
The United States National History Landmark Program is designed to recognize and honor the nation’s cultural and historical heritage. The program was formally inaugurated with a series of listings on October 9, 1960; as of April 22, 2014, there are 2,532 designated landmarks. A National Historic Landmark (NHL) is a building, site, structure, object or district that is officially recognized by the United States government for its national historical significance. A National Historic Landmark District (NHLD) is a historic district that is recognized as an NHL. Its geographic area may include contributing properties that are buildings, structures, sites or objects, and it may include non-contributing properties.
The program is administered by the National Parks Service (NPS), a branch of the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service determines which properties meet NHL criteria and makes nomination recommendations after an owner notification process. The Secretary of the Interior reviews nominations and, based on a set of predetermined criteria, makes a decision on NHL designation or a determination of eligibility for designation. Both public and privately owned properties can be designated as NHLs. This designation provides indirect, partial protection of the historic integrity of the properties via tax incentives, grants, monitoring of threats, and other means. Owners may object to the nomination of the property as a NHL. When this is the case the Secretary of the Interior can only designate a site as eligible for designation.
All NHLs are also included on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), a list of some 80,000 historic properties that the National Park Service deems to be worthy of recognition. The primary difference between a NHL and a NRHP listing is that the NHLs are determined to have national significance, while other NRHP properties are deemed significant at the local or state level.
The United States has 114 protected areas known as national monuments. The President of the United States can establish a national monument by presidential proclamation, and the United States Congress can by legislation. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the president to proclaim “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as national monuments. Concerns about protecting mostly prehistoric Indian ruins and artifacts—collectively termed antiquities—on western federal lands prompted the legislation. Its purpose was to allow the president to quickly preserve public land without waiting for legislation to pass through an unconcerned Congress. The ultimate goal was to protect all historic and prehistoric sites on U.S. federal lands.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, on September 24, 1906. He established eighteen national monuments, although only nine still retain that designation. Sixteen presidents have created national monuments since the program began; only Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did not. Bill Clinton created the most monuments, nineteen, and expanded three others. Jimmy Carter protected vast parts of Alaska, proclaiming fifteen national monuments, some of which later were promoted to national parks.
Thirty states have national monument, as do the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Minor outlying Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Arizona, with eighteen, has the largest number of national monuments, followed by New Mexico with fourteen and California with eleven. Fifty-eight national monuments protect places of national significance, including eleven geological sites, seven marine sites and five volcanic sites. Twenty-two national monuments are associated with Native Americans. Twenty-nine are other historical sites, including twelve forts. Many national monuments are no longer designated as such. Some were changed to national parks or another status by Congress or the President, while others were transferred to state control or disbanded.
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Seven federal agencies in four departments manage the 114 current U.S. National Monuments. Of these, 107 Monuments are managed by a single agency, while seven are co-managed by two agencies. Only 79 of the NPS’s 80 National Monuments are official units because Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument overlaps with Lake Mead National Recreational Area.