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Keywords:

  • automobility;
  • banal nationalism;
  • contestation;
  • identity;
  • license plate

Abstract.

In the early 1900s, U.S. state and Canadian provincial governments began to register automobiles and issue license plates to their owners. Within several decades of the first issuance of license plates, state and provincial governments began to use these plates for advertising purposes, such as promoting local economies and tourism. In recent decades, however, governments have used license plates to promote national identities and nationalist ideals. Using examples from the United States and Canada, I examine how governments have used such banal signifiers of place as license plates to craft and promote these identities and how drivers have contested that usage.