All posts filed under: Research

“The Consumption of Scenery:” Ideas on Nature and the Digital Screen

“By emphasizing visitor convenience, expediency, and comfort, we have made the national park synonymous with the theme park. In the national park the theme is scenery, not experiencing the environment on its own terms. Park visitors consume scenery in our national parks as much as they consume the obviously synthetic scenery in a Disney World jungle. The experience is easy and painless, no matter the visitor’s age, physical condition, or mental preparation for his visit. Under such circumstances, park visitors are not meaningfully in the natural environment so much as watching the environment, as if it were on television instead of before their eyes.” John Miller, Egotopia: Narcissism and the New American Landscape (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1997): 59.   Ken Burns calls the National Parks, “America’s best idea,” but it might be an idea that slipped our minds. Since the 1800s, the American system inspired countries all over the planet to create preserved spaces, sacred to the people and in protection of increasingly vulnerable wildlife. Lately, I devote my time to perusing …

We Lost a Tree: Pioneer Cabin Giant Sequoia and Collective Sadness

“In California, in Calaveras Big Tree State Park, the historic giant sequoia known for the tunnel in its base came down during the heavy rain…” (NPR Hourly Newscast, 9 January 2017) My sleepy ears perked up at the information during my brief drive home on this frigid Monday morning after dropping off my son at daycare. It is not every day that we get news about trees in the NPR hourly broadcast, but this one is special. A storm that may be the worst in a decade is pummeling areas of northern California and Nevada. People lost homes and there is tragic loss of life. But the loss of a tree is an exceptional news bit. A quick Google search shows that most major national news outlets are covering this story and my own response this morning caused me to wonder, “Why is this prompting such an emotional reaction?” Most reporting of the event references the historic characteristics of the tree. While we do not know the exact age, most of the giant sequoias in …

“Rape of the Land:” 21st Century Ecofeminism and Environmental Rape Culture

One of the primary theoretical driving forces in the emergence of ecofeminism in the 1980s is the “rape of the land” concept. Essentially, ecofeminists argued that the root of contemporary ecological problems rested in a patriarchal society – one that placed a lower value upon the “other,” which was anything outside of the perceived norm: anything not male, not white, not heterosexual, and not “civilized” culture. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and homosexuality all fell under this category. The realization that nature was also in this group was the work of early ecofeminists like Carolyn Merchant, Susan Griffin, and a slew of other creative and bright minds. The idea that a patriarchal society could “rape the land” stemmed from two theories: 1. That it is the nature of a patriarchal society to dominate and control entities that fall outside of established rules of culture. 2. That women could reclaim imagery of the goddess in nature (or, Mother Earth) as a source of power. A few of the ways in which it was perceived …

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 …

“Proud – I’ll Say!”: Images of Patriotic Service and Domestic Responsibility in World War II

When asked, “Why did you volunteer for military service?” very few female veterans will say that it was a propaganda poster which inspired the commitment. Common responses reflect a brother/cousin/friend’s enlistment or conscription. That they felt it was their duty and responsibility as a citizen of the United States. Moreover, female friends who wished to join, or had done so already, encouraged the decision. Frequently women felt their lives needed a change and they saw potential for independence and education with the military. Volunteerism was exciting, but also many thought it was necessary. At the core of all volunteer military enlistments is patriotism. Yet, visual imagery had a major impact on their decisions. As curators William L. Bird, Jr. and Harry R. Rubenstein write, “World War II posters helped to mobilize a nation. Inexpensive, accessible, and ever-present, the poster was an ideal agent for making war aims the personal mission of every citizen.”[1] It seems the advertising firms behind the messages seem to have done their job well, since few veterans acknowledge the poster as …

The Identity-making Experience of Whole Foods

While browsing my social media feeds today during lunch I came across this story on New York Magazine’s GRUB STREET: “Whole Foods Under Investigation for ‘Routinely’ Overcharging Customers” by Alan Systma. The expensive luxury grocer is a kind of joke in my mind because people actually flip out about the place… Like, flip. Out. There is certainly a cult following, though it is not singular because Trader Joe’s gives WF a run for its money. In an era of greater awareness of the horrors of Monsanto and foods that will kill you, Whole Foods is banking on the fears of our people. Trader Joe’s is like crippled claw emerging under the cover of our blindness within the American culture of consumption. This might sound extreme (and I am only half-kidding) but the multilayeredness of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and retail stores like Anthropologie and Terrain, not to mention a slew of organic and natural brands, are so widespread in contemporary culture that they require a thoughtful consideration. We must ask why we are so drawn …

How Do Landscapes ‘Work?’ (Part 1)

I think about landscapes… a lot. I think about what we do on them, how we name them, the ways we reproduce them as images in song and canvas. I think about how we move between them. I think about the methods we use to divide them. I think about the layers of history that are identified with landscapes that create deep and emotional meaning. I think about how we separate ourselves on them – how we split as individuals and as groups. I think about what we do to manipulate landscapes to serve our cultural and political purposes. I think about what we do to keep people away from particular landscapes to “preserve” its integrity. I think about the love, fear, anxiety, and spirituality connected with the landscapes we inhabit – and even the ones we do not. As I write this I look out to a sea of green beyond my home office window, where I purposely placed my desk to seek academic and spiritual inspiration during my workdays. The window is open …

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 …

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 …