American Images: Star-Spangled Banner & a Flag on the Moon

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series American Images
Click this photo to see our entire Images of America gallery.

Click this photo to see our entire Images of America gallery.

A single image can evoke emotions, memories—and entire eras.

As part of the unfolding United America book launch, we’ve assembled a magnificent gallery of over 100 images of America. I love them all, but today I picked my favorite one—Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. flag on the moon. My reasons are biographical and scientific, as I will explain below.

Take a look at our new gallery: What’s your most meaningful image of America?

First, a few words about the gallery itself and how you can use it. Every image comes from Wikimedia Commons, which means that you can freely download and use the gallery images. We’ve used these images in small groups as an effective ice-breaker to begin discussions about our core values, based on my new book United America. However, the exercise doesn’t require anyone to have read the book beforehand. (We also provide free downloadable instructions for running this exercise.)

Why is this image my favorite?

I was 15 years old in 1969 when the first lunar landing took place. I was enthralled. I read everything I could find about the astronauts and the mission. Neil Armstrong took this iconic image. It symbolized so many positive American attributes and was of historic significance for all humankind. Years later, I met Michael Collins—the command module pilot—and I thought I had met a rock star.

This image is also my favorite because it represents the core value of symbolic patriotism—an emotional attachment to country evoked by such national symbols as Old Glory and the national anthem.


TONIGHT, Monday February 17 at 8 PM Eastern time, you can tune into the musical performance of Poets and Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Organized by University of Michigan music historian Mark Clague, this performance presents “a musical history of the U.S. national anthem to celebrate the release of a U-M funded recording project that tells the story of an English tune becoming America’s anthem.” The event is part of the elaborate celebration of the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s writing of what became our national anthem. (The performance tonight is open to the public and will be live-streamed.)

What did The Star-Spangled Banner sound like in 1814? Quite different from the tune we know today!

You can hear the 1814 rendition at the performance tonight and on YouTube right now. The 2-CD set includes the 1814 rendition, the English drinking song on which it was based, and 35 others tunes from early American history. (To learn more and to access a wealth of resources, visit

Does seeing the American flag flying or hearing the national anthem make you feel good?

What are your reactions to the image I selected today?

What is your favorite image of America?

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  1. Terry Gallagher says

    Thanks for including a picture of the Voyager Golden Record ( I have long been fascinated by the way it was coded so that any sentient being should be able to figure out how to decode it, and cue up the record and play it at the right speed to hear the messages contained there. But I had a friend who objected to the inclusion of “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry as a sample of American popular music. He said Elvis’s “Don’t be Cruel” was a far more appropriate message to send to the the spacemen who might find it, way out in outer space: “If you can’t come around, at least please telephone.”