Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name



Geography and Geosciences

Degree Program

Geography (Applied), MS

Committee Chair

Walker, Margath

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Hanchette, Carol

Committee Member

Hanchette, Carol

Committee Member

Heberle, Lauren

Author's Keywords

oil; discourse analysis; archival methods; visual methods


In a moment of self-representation, Standard Oil New Jersey commissioned a large photo ‘documentary’ project of nearly 80,000 images taken between the years 1943 to 1950. Produced for publication and exhibition, images captured “how oil seeped into every joint” of America, and displayed a specific landscape for post WWII economies. While a stable and centralized industry was ever more tied to the state’s idea of national security, Standard Oil needed a public relations project to address social concerns of big oil. This singular perspective on oil space is problematic. Community histories and social relations are seen through Standard Oil’s own restrictive frame. Representation gives the appearance that Standard Oil is asserting itself in a neutral photo documentary journalism project in post WWII America. However it is the image that deterministically maps out and proliferates economic life under capital. It is the image that flattens out the complexity of spatial – political relations. A discursive read illuminates the productive work of the image and asks questions commonly used by historical materialists: How is the relation to nature being articulated? How is daily life being reproduced? How are social relations being normalized? And what kind of symbolism is being projected? This thesis proposes to show how Standard Oil produces and reproduces national imaginaries and/or identities in the following spheres: 1) visualizations of oil towns, 2) politics of conservation, and 3) discourses on foreign production in Venezuela. This paper focuses on the spatial tactics visual representation uses to acclimate post WWII Americans to the dynamic structures of capitalism.

Included in

Geography Commons