Flags are something we witness every day in American culture. Whether it's outside of our houses, outside of high schools, or even at the White House, flags are a way to convey symbolism with identity or
What do flags represent?
In contemporary times, flags have come to represent a wide variety of communities, nations, and causes. a notable example of this is the purpose of flags in the LGBTQ community; there is the iconic pride flag known for its rainbow stripes, but there are also a handful of flags representing different aspects of the queer spectrum. The colors play a role in determining which flag is which, what it represents, and what it means to the community. These purposes transform the flag from a symbol of identity to a symbol of pride. This can also be used for identifying with nations—it is common practice for nations to hang flags of other nations when a diplomat or representative is visiting. Though it may look that way, this is not just a courtesy; national flags can be just as much a part of a country's identity as its history, with each flag often having a distinct history behind the creation or multiple versions of their flag. The U.S.A. is a great example of this, as our flag went through many changes before settling on our current version.
When an official flag was made for the country in 1777, it was meant to be made of thirteen stripes (representing the union) and thirteen stars (representing the idea of a constellation). This would quickly change, though, as the country went through many changes both in number of states and designs. The modern flag wasn't officially decided on until 1959 after a long lineage of changes and decisions made to reach that point.
Have flags always been used this way?
Though they are most well-known today for their aforementioned contemporary use, flags have a deep history filled with different purposes outside of identity. For example, in ancient times (B.C.), flags were used in war as field signs, meaning that they were used for warriors to be able to tell if somebody is an ally or an enemy. This was an opening to flags being used for more utilitarian purposes, with explicit goals that flags are supposed to signal. This is different than the modern approach because of how it is not as abstract; instead of representing identity, flags mainly represented signals.
The use of flags for strictly military purposes would continue until about the 17th century, when the advent of sailing would bring around more nationality-oriented purposes. People sailing ships would hoist a flag up to indicate which country they were from, something that is thought of as the beginning of our modern concept of a national flag. This would still be a slow climb to our explicitly modern usage, though, as it took until the 19th century for nations to have flags no matter what.
Questions and Answers:
Understanding the many usages of flags is a nuanced topic. Here are some questions you may be wondering about the significance or history of flags to help you understand the subject better:
Q: Why do some national flags look similar?
A: Many nations took inspiration from other countries for their flags. For example, Denmark's flag is known to be the oldest flag of its kind, with the cross design inspiring the construction of many other flags. In a similar manner, the tricolor design is also popular with many countries (such as Italy, Belgium, and Germany), but its earliest usage can be traced back to the 9th century in the Netherlands.
Q: What are some uncommon uses of flags?
A: Some flags are used to identify languages, though that is not as common as nationality or identity.
Q: Are there any modern usages of flags that are less abstract?
A: Absolutely! Flags flown at car races to indicate a finish line are examples of this.