State symbols have long been regarded as a subject for trivia fans, librarians and school kids working on book reports. In fact, there are more than 1,500 official state flags, flowers, mammals, fossils and other symbols, and there are some rather interesting stories behind some of them. There’s also a psycho-political angle that few authors mention.
A Brief History
The first state symbols reference was State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols by George Earlie Shankle. Though it’s a classic found in libaries across America, it was first published in 1934, when Alaska and Hawaii weren’t even states, making it a virtual fossil.
Shankle’s book was followed by State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide by Benjamin and Barbara Shearer. Though more current, it’s still woefully out of date, last published in 2001.
Both books can be described as typically stuffy library references. The lack of pictures alone is frankly amazing.
I began gathering information about state symbols in the early 1980’s. After moving to Seattle, I created the first website focusing on state symbols (Geobop’s Symbols). It was by far the most popular of my websites, but I had a hard time developing and maintaining it, partly because I was juggling too many projects.
In the meantime, other websites focusing on state symbols popped up. Wikipedia also began adding more information about state symbols (though some of its state accounts are grossly inaccurate). Some of these websites are much better sources of information than any existing library reference, which may explain why the Shearers’ book hasn’t been recently reprinted.
The Next Chapter
In the spring of 2017, I finally decided to finish what I started three decades earlier and write the definitive book about state symbols. I’ve been working on it daily for about fourteen months, and I’m estimating that it will be finished sometime in June 2018.
Geobop’s State Symbols will tentatively be priced at $75 and can be purchased only via this website. I’m also planning on creating a companion volume for younger readers selling for $25. Though lacking many of the features found in the “big book,” this smaller version will still be better than any other existing state symbols reference in print. But can either book compete with the Internet?
Below is a list of ten things that make this project special.
- Definition—Geobop’s State Symbols gets off to a great start by defining state symbols. Many other references include everything from state capitols to sports teams and even beekeepers. Though such things may have great symbolic value, it’s a bit of a stretch to call them state symbols.
- Classification—Even some of the most popular state symbols websites list each state’s symbols alphabetically (e.g. bird, flag, flower), which is absurd. I was the first to divide state symbols into symbols of state (flags, mottoes, songs, etc.), ecosymbols (plants, animals and earth symbols) and what I loosely call “cultural symbols.” Wikipedia adopted my basic classification scheme, but I’ve greatly refined it while working on this project.
- Current—Geobop’s State Symbols is the only up to date state symbols reference in print. There are some websites that do a good job of keeping up with the latest symbols, yet even they make occasional mistakes or miss out on a symbol here and there (a problem that plagues anyone who endeavors to keep up with the ever evolving menagerie of state symbols). My project is supported by a website where readers can keep up with the latest symbols.
- Genuine Epub—While other state symbols references have been converted to epubs/ebooks, very little effort has gone into taking advantage of the features that make ebooks more powerful than traditional print books. Geobop’s State Symbols is designed for the web.
- Navigation—I’ve put a lot of work into a first class navigation system that makes it easy to switch back and forth between topics and sections.
- Pictures!—Unlike existing print references, Geobop’s State Symbols is illustrated with hundreds of pictures beyond flags and seals. It also features a series of maps featuring locations associated with each state’s symbols, a feature found in no other reference, in print or on the web.
- Biased? You bet!—Rather than passively describe state symbols (many of which were poorly chosen), Geobop’s State Symbols points out plenty of problems and offers plenty of solutions. Of special interest are numerous new state flag proposals.
- Report Cards?—That’s right, Geobop’s State Symbols is the first reference to feature a grading system for each state’s roster of official symbols. Rather than simply campaign for whatever state that catches their fancy, students can now learn about ways they can actually improve their state’s image and educate fellow students to boot.
- Multiple Perspectives—Geobop’s State Symbols includes a section focusing on various groups of symbols (e.g. state flowers), followed by a section focusing on regional symbols, which is in turn followed by a section featuring well designed lists of symbols of each of the fifty states. All of these complement and interact with yet another section focusing on each of the fifty states.
- Conspiracy!—Just to make sure my book isn’t mistaken for another stuffy reference, I’ve packed in a lot of controversial (and educational) fodder, including articles about racist state symbols (which are hardly limited to Conefederate symbols), militaristic symbols (e.g. Tennessee’s official sniper rifle), manipulation of symbols by propagandists and even a conspiracy involving the Wright Brothers.
The image below, taken from the Vermont account, illustrates the book’s organization and navigation features, which include both vertical and horizontal navigation.
The image below illustrates some of the integrated features that make Geobop’s State Symbols a mini-encyclopedia.
Numerous tables—including various categories of symbols organized by state, dates of adoption and taxonomy—will give you plenty of material for book reports, research or leisure browsing.
Geobop’s State Symbols is not a book that will ever be made into a movie, but it is a valuable reference that embraces both a nostalgic view of Americana and cutting edge criticism of some surprisingly bad symbols. In other words, it’s a book that can be best appreciated by mature adults.
Libraries, teachers, parents and people who just want to be better informed citizens should buy a copy. The companion volume is a better choice for children. However, teachers and parents should consider buying the main volume as well, as it will give them many insights into state symbols that they can share with their children or students.
Geobop’s State Symbols will tentatively be sold for $75 only on this website. The companion volume will tentatively sell for $25 and will be available on this site as well as iBooks, Amazon and perhaps other online booksellers.
Thanks for stopping by.
David W. Blomstrom