All posts tagged: American culture

“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 …

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 …

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 …

“From Stars to Microbes:” The Natureness of Nature

“What is nature?” This may seem like a strange question. It is early spring in Pennsylvania and you would be hard pressed to find someone who is not talking about or thinking about nature in some manner these days. “The weather is beautiful today!” “Oh awesome – I can’t wait to go for a bike ride after work.” “Do you want to go to dinner where we can sit outside?” “Yes! Definitely. Let’s go to that restaurant with the great tree in the backyard.” “I am so happy that my bulbs are finally appearing. I love spring.” Ok. OK. So, I made these conversations up on the fly. But I guarantee someone in PA is saying something like this right now. I have the “what is nature” question on my mind often these days because it is the driving force behind my academic work. So, out of curiosity, I posted the question to my Facebook friends this afternoon in a seriously unofficial “poll.” The first answer appeared within seconds from a long-time friend: “Bugs!” I …

“Trees and the Wild”: Matt Pond, the American Pastoral and the Sublime [Condensed Version]

*The article below is a shortened version of a conference paper of the same name that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference held in New Orleans, LA on April 4, 2015. Additionally, the presentation is portion a longer work exploring the role of musicians in the twenty-first century speaking to the idea of the landscape in American culture. Scholars show that American culture, in part, developed around the people’s reaction to nature and the wilderness. Americanist Henry Nash Smith describes the pull of the frontier in Virgin Land (1950), Perry Miller depicts a nature-manipulated change in the Puritan mind in Errand into the Wilderness (1956), and cultural variations are explored in Roderick Frazier Nash’s meticulous search for American interpretation and interaction with the outdoors in Wilderness and the American Mind (1965). This nature-driven response permeates American cultural production. American nature, and the wilderness, serves as an unavoidable topic of discussion when asking the question, “Who – or what – is America?” In the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected on …

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 …

Some Thoughts on the Landscape in American Culture

Rarely do humans stop thinking about nature for large swaths of time. More specifically, we continually think about the landscape – what it looks like, what is on it, and our interaction with it. Sometimes we desperately pull ourselves toward the landscape, as if its power could make us whole. Other moments we push and push and push away, settling our gaze on human-made artifacts embedded with promises of physical and mental improvements. Maybe we can transcend our humanity for true perfection. Either way, we define our place in the world in relation to the land we walk upon. The push-pull underscores human history and its future. Who are we? Where do we live? What are our limits? How can we burst through those restrictions? To say Americans have an affinity for the natural world may be an understatement. The first settlers and explorers arrived with the belief that the land was a wilderness. (Though, before we raise criticism and remind ourselves that there were thousands of humans living in the Western hemisphere, remember that …