All posts filed under: American Studies

A Photograph and a Painting: William Henry Jackson, Thomas Moran, and Capturing Yellowstone Vistas

  William Henry Jackson is one of the best-known photographers of the nineteenth-century, publishing images of the Yellowstone wilderness as a member of the government-sponsored Hayden Survey before it was a national park and documenting the White City during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for tourists and posterity. He became a legendary figure in the narrative of National Park history, and living to almost one hundred years, served as a link between the twentieth-century obsession with the west and the myth of the frontier. Through the antebellum era there was a widespread assumption that the West was uninhabitable for “civilized men.”[1] It was too desert-like to be worthwhile. Eventually, this belief gave way to a large-scale welcoming of frontier expansion by the general population for Euro-American settlers as a result of conclusions derived under the directorship of Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829-1887) during the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. These surveys helped to “[destroy] the myth of the desert and legislat[e] the myth of the garden in its stead.”[2] Hayden approached Jackson in …

NIGHTSCAPES at Longwood Gardens or, Thinking About the Ways We Use Landscape (Again)

Something interesting happened this weekend. I watched landscapes transform in front of my eyes. I witnessed trees alter their purpose to enfold new meanings. I visited Longwood Gardens’ Nightscape, an artistically-driven exhibit that interlaces light and color with the foliage after dark. [Watch the Nightscapes trailer] During the show (which in July begins at 9:30 P.M., August at 9:00 P.M. and September at 8:30 P.M.), the visitor can start at one of four sites on the grounds: the large lake on the east end, the flower garden walk, the topiaries in the center, or the conservatory on the west side of the park. In total, there are nine separate viewing locations. Longwood Gardens is located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a short drive from Philadelphia. After a long, partially sunny/somewhat drizzly day of trekking through meadows, exploring coniferous groves, and peering into the faces of blossoms, we relaxed a bit at the outdoor beer garden, specifically established for the run of the exhibit. Cold drinks in hand and bluegrass in the air, we were excited and …

About That Woman in the News…

Hey, everyone! Did you hear the news about Bruce Jenner this week? …said (hopefully) no one ever. Of course we heard about Caitlyn Jenner! If you are reading this, you most likely have an attachment to social media and you certainly participate in the digital world. In the United States the top news story of the week is not the gas station explosion in Ghana killing 100 people, the expiration of the Patriot Act, or even the sad news about Beau Biden’s death. No. The inspirational story/fascinating celebrity gossip/horror-inducing sin of the week (depending on your perspective) is Caitlyn Jenner. And my, oh, my – is it ever complicated. If anyone states that the issue(s) surrounding the story is clear-cut, they are not fully paying attention. When news like this breaks, the story no longer becomes “the news.” Media coverage, community reactions, activist commentary, and political positions all become The News. It is my goal in this article to discuss a few of the ideas floating around the core of the Jenner news that reflect …

A Few Days at Mount Rainier, A Mind Transformed

Life is at its best when a person is seized by an experience or idea that completely alters everything that came before. These moments are few and rare, which is why they work so beautifully. On top of this, the moments do not always occur as a result of a major Hollywood-worthy event, but may be a result of a simple look up. A complete alteration in the way I think about the world happened almost two weeks ago and the disruptor is called Rainier. My consort and I planned a trip to the west coast months ago. The convenience of attending WAWH 2015 in Sacramento followed by a travel break before a summer studying for the comprehensive exam was just irresistible. It is not our style to relax on the beach with a Mexican-style lager in hand (though, we have fond memories of deflating ourselves along the sandy shores of Virginia for a week at a time), but found that travel – real exploration of a particular area – is what we like best. …

The Western Association of Women Historians 2015 Conference, Sacramento

Ok, folks. Here is a brief run-down of the conference I attended May 15-16, 2015. Many bits of conversations from this trip will find their way to a future AD blog posts. I love that I was able to talk through ideas with other scholars and feel inspired to pursue both academic writing and “on the side” blog topics on various issues. Until then, here is the Western Association of Women Historians 2015 conference, in brief. Historian Jane DeHart (emerita, UC Santa Barbara) declared, “Research and writing is a collaborative effort.” This contradicts much of what the public perceives of as the historian’s burden. In fact, it challenges the typical working experience of many intellectuals! But I trust the words of an incredibly successful academic when she proclaims that relationships are of utmost importance to the researcher-writer. (Additionally, one might notice a grammatical error in the statement. Are “research” and “writing” two separate actions? Deeply and somewhat obviously, no. If one writes, one researches, and vice versa.) So, here I am at the Western Association …

Why Know History? A Case for Spatiality

This week I was lucky enough to assist a friend/colleague with an end-of-semester classroom activity. Tiffany Weaver [@tileenweaver] teaches Popular Culture to freshmen and sophomores (and the random senior seeking additional credits) at Penn State Harrisburg. Each semester she concludes with a poster session that showcases the students’ final projects. As groups they are asked to evaluate a decade in American culture through the broad themes of music, film, or television and are required to create an argument that identifies features of that decade, and to integrate this with class materials. The students seem to love this project. I participated as an “official judge” and was able to talk to the students directly about their work. Clearly, they were excited about their topics – that they could “study” music or television or film history and it would actually count as a class!! Typically, when I speak to students about their assignments in my American studies courses, or when I see them in an arena like the poster session, I present a question to get at …

ASEH 2015: A Grad Student Walks into a Room…

In the following days after the ASEH I began to think more broadly about the experience in Washington D.C. with the environmental historians. Somehow, I need a way to debrief myself from the event and file the most important information in my memory within close reach. It might sound like hyperbole, but the weekend was a kind of renewal for me as a scholar – a scholar who is in the “mid life crisis” portion of her doctorate: finishing coursework, preparing for the comprehensive exam, and on the cusp of the dissertation. After eight years of college, my brain is fried and there are moments where I feel emotionally and mentally dry. How can I begin the dissertation process if I feel like this? Well, the ASEH was the answer and I will tell you why. My venerable advisor constantly points over his shoulder and tells me “the conversation is out there.” And proceeds to elaborate on the frustration of the graduate school myth of settlement. We are not in grad school to find our …

ASEH 2015, Day 4: It’s what you DO.

From my perspective, the final session day of the 2015 American Society of Environmental History national conference connected general threads of conversation, rounded the jagged edges of exchange, and ultimately set us up for new work this year. National conferences are fantastic because clearly they function as the literal meeting ground for wide-scattered scholars. Colleagues who worked together for decades “caught up” socially and professionally, while newbies like me met other graduate students and season veterans, and we cherish these connections. The sessions I attended today seemed to tie up loose ends and touch on topics that might be on the periphery, but also topics that hold a continual place in academic conversation. This was a long week and the morning sessions materialized early. Early. Normally a morning person, there was a real struggle to get out of the hotel bed. I was glad I did, though, because the EnviroTech breakfast was well worth it. I had the opportunity to talk with numerous ASEH members – professors and graduate students alike – which is extremely …

ASEH 2015, Day 3: Questions of Activism and Engagement

All are getting into the groove of the American Society of Environmental History 2015 conference. Today contained a half day of sessions and followed by an afternoon of field trips. Unfortunately, I did not attend an excursion, but can speak to the morning panels. From the talk in the lobby (an exciting gathering that lit up the lounge like a house party on a dreary Friday afternoon) it sounds like the trips were a success, even in the rain and cold. The downside to a conference like the national ASEH is that one cannot hear each and every paper presented. There must be a way to access the content in our twenty-first century digital world. I implore the organizers of ASEH to consider posting abstracts on their website for the benefit of attendees. Alas, this synopsis will contain only the sessions I attended, but again – I was not disappointed. “Art into Activism, Activism into Art,” Chris Wilhelm (moderator, College of Coastal Georgia), Elizabeth (Scout) Blum (Troy University), Michael Commito (McMaster University), and Britanny Luby …