Landscape Narrative Project

My research spans a number of topics including human-environment interaction, cultural and narrative studies, qualitative research methods, and Appalachian regional studies, amongst others. Unifying my work in these areas is the theme of human geography, a perspective built upon the assumption that human activity is continuously inscribed upon Earth’s landscapes and that social relations and cultural meaning are necessarily spatial in nature. My work explores the ways in which landscapes, both real and imaginary, shape and are shaped by the intersecting relations composing human societies as well as the meanings we individually and collectively invest in the places to which we are attached.

Along these lines, this project-page is an opportunity to share the co-constructed narratives of residents living in two dramatically changing landscapes: Central Pennsylvania’s post-industrial Appalachian ‘Rust Belt’ and Southern Appalachia’s peri-urbanizing Blue Ridge province. While at first glance, these landscapes appear to have little in common – the former politically-neglected, declining economically, and increasingly culturally isolated; the latter experiencing substantial amenity-based in-migration, real estate and eco-services investment, as well as climatological and other environmental change – both consist of residents who have forged a deep, if at times ambivalent attachment to the places they call home. Resident narratives evince these attachments, as well as record details of the ways in which these landscapes are changing from the perspective of residents’ non-expert, everyday, and geographically-embedded observers. Significantly, these landscape narratives also enunciate the hopes, fears, and desires for (different) change held by those who dwell there.

The narratives published here have been constructed from lengthy, in-depth interviews I have conducted with local residents, and rely heavily on participants own wording, phraseology, and narrative-order. Where words have been inserted by myself, they are bolded so the reader can be aware of where I have made substantial additions or in some cases directed participants’ words to express what I have cautiously interpreted to be their intended meaning. Where possible, participants have been consulted on the final product and, of course, names of people and some place-names have been obscured out of respect for participants’ anonymity.

Finally, this is an evolving project. In the coming weeks, my methodology (which generally follows the models set for by narrative analysts like Donald Polkinghorne, Catherine Riessman, and Kay Inkle) will be more concretely discussion, and each of the two subject landscapes will be summarized at greater length. In the meantime, I appreciate your interest and patience and welcome your input.