Representing Main Street (MSA 14, Oct. 18-21, 2012

full name / name of organization: 
Kirin Makker/Hobart and William Smith Colleges
contact email: 

During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama repeatedly referenced Main Street, a place of equality economically, socially, politically—an intimate space where differences might be put aside for the greater good of the nation, an economy where a minority of corporate capitalists do not reign, but a majority of everyday Americans prosper. Recently, Obama remobilized this rhetoric in his 2012 State of the Union speech, describing a vision of America where "everyone has a fair shot and everyone does their fair share." Obama's rhetoric corresponds to the space and imagery of the Main Street trope, animating and sustaining a lasting mythology about access to an American dream, an idea of home, an origin narrative about the space of American values and ability. Main Street is the ultimate middle landscape; it encompasses an ideal urban/countryside lifestyle that everyone can enjoy, rich or poor, visitor or native.

President Obama's use of the Main Street trope is only the most recent mobilization of a concept that has been recycled repeatedly throughout the twentieth century, whether by politicians, preservationists, developers, media moguls, popular illustrators or literary authors. Public consumption of Henry Ford's Greenfield Village, Disney's Main Street U.S.A., New Deal and New Urbanism towns, Norman Rockwell paintings, and countless other representations of Main Street demonstrates unfailing respect and admiration for the concept's idealistic overtones despite its promotion during vastly different moments in American history. From offering us a myth of isolationism in the years following World War I in Sinclair Lewis's bestselling novel Main Street to providing Americans with a myth of homogeneity and sameness during World War II in a short propaganda film about small town life produced by the U.S. War Information Office to the wide distribution of Rockwell's painting of Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas during the late 1960s which offered Americans a vision of social cohesion in a time of great social unrest and conflict, no other American scene has had the ability to be a source of popular comfort and assertion of American prosperity in such profound and monumental ways.

This panel seeks papers that attempt to unpack the Main Street trope, its mythology and meaning as mobilized through visual and/or literary representations.

Please send an abstract (250 words) and a short bio to Kirin Makker ( by April 5th.