Child, Jack. Miniature Messages: The Semiotics and Politics of Latin American Postage Stamps. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
The original purpose of the postage stamp was to prove that postage had been paid and eliminate the requirement that the recipient pay for the postage. By the twentieth century, however, it was apparent that postage stamps also carried "messages of an economic, political, or ideological nature" (p. 191). In Miniature Messages: The Semiotics and Politics of Latin American Postage Stamps, Jack Child successfully applies the basic principles of semiotics and politics to analyze the messages carried by Latin American postage stamps. Child's examination of Latin America postage stamps, which includes the South Atlantic Islands and the South American quadrant of Antarctica, provides the reader with keen insights into the history, politics, culture, and national identity of the Latin Americans.
Child, a professor in the Department of Language and Foreign Studies at American University, was raised in Argentina by American parents. At an early age, Child developed an interest in philately that was expanded upon in graduate school. As a teacher, the author also conveys the significant meanings of postage stamps to his students. Child contends that these "miniature messages" represent the "smallest icons of Latin American popular culture" (p. 2). Since the introduction of postage stamps in Brazil in 1843, the Latin Americans have issued over 50,000 different postage stamps. Child argues that these stamps are official government documents and meet the criteria of a primary source. The study of postage stamps, therefore, offers an "alternative window" into the study of Latin American history, economics, and culture (p. 3).
Child explains that Latin American governments, especially authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, have used postage stamps as a propaganda tool for over 150 years. He points out that one of the best examples of "the use of stamps for political purposes over an extended period of time" was in the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961 by authoritarian leader Rafael Trujillo (p. 58). The dictator's megalomania is apparent in the dozens of stamps that depict Trujillo, his extended family, and the self-heralded triumphs of the regime. Child also points out that stamps have been used...