Thesis ID: CBB322143622

A Forest of Fire: Limning Materiality and Interpretation in the Morphology of the Longleaf Pine Forest as a Cultural Landscape (2021)


Westbrook, Eric C. (Author)
McCreary, Tyler (Advisor)

Florida State University
McCreary, Tyler
Publication date: 2021
Language: English

Publication Date: 2021
Physical Details: 114

This thesis examines the material and interpretive relations imbricated in the Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) forest as a cultural landscape. Approaching this landscape, I outline and demonstrate the utility of a neo-Sauerian methodology that synthesizes Carl Sauer’s (1925) morphological conception of the cultural landscape with more contemporary thinking on cultural landscapes steeped in critical poststructural theory. Human presence has shaped the longleaf forest through time, and the study of its fire regimes and their relationship to cultural fire practices was the origin of fire ecology. Thus, it is necessary to understand the cultural landscape of the longleaf pine forest in terms of both human interpretations and material practices of intervening in its processes. Making this linkage, I attempt to bridge the lacunae between studies in cultural geography that focus on the discourse of the cultural landscape and those that focus on the landscape as a material expression of culture. I model my research on Richard Schein’s (1997) conception of landscape as “discourse materialized.” Schein’s work has emphasized the importance of linking symbolic interpretation and material reality when analyzing the cultural landscape. However, Schein focuses on distinctly human geographies, built environments, and cultivated lands. I extend Schein’s work to thinking about the relationship between the interpretative and material practices in creating landscapes that people imagine as natural. Thus, I aim to extend dialogue in the cultural landscape literature beyond the human to understand the forest as a cultural landscape. Doing so, I further emphasize the importance of recognizing that dynamic more-than-human processes, such as fire, play a crucial role in constructing the cultural landscapes of the longleaf pine forest. The morphology of this cultural landscape is the hybrid process of human and more-than-human physical processes on the landscape and the representational interpretations of those morphological landscape processes by vernacular and scientific cultures which guide human interactions with the forest. Empirically developing this argument, in chapter two, I employ a geohumanities lens to examine a work of popular environmental writing, Lawrence Earley’s (2004) Looking for Longleaf: The Fall and Rise of an American Forest. Approaching this text, I apply a hermeneutic approach to analyze how ideas of the cultural landscape, and different conceptions of local versions of global authority and value, inform Earley’s narrative. Specifically, chapter two shows how Earley’s historicization of the longleaf forest presents the destruction of the forest in relation to the imposition of European science and extractive logics. Conversely, he stresses how the construction of the material landscape as a locally knowable object informed distinct cultural practices that maintained its morphology. Chapter three focuses on the history of local scientific discourse and practice in the Red Hills and its relationship to the maintenance of the longleaf forest as a cultural landscape. Specifically, the research and fire ecology conferences associated with Tall Timbers disseminated an understanding of the longleaf forest as a pyrogenic ecosystem, transforming landscape management practices. Chapter three positions these developments as a response to cultural conflicts and change over woodland burning practices and the material effects of those conflicts on the more-than-human cultural landscape of the Red Hills area of the longleaf forest in Southwest Georgia and Northern Florida. This thesis contributes to the research on cultural landscapes as well as the history and geographies of environmental writing, fire science, and forestry. It explores the ways interpretive frames and material human cultural practices intertwine in the material landscape and its biophysical processes. Chapter one outlines the need for new approaches to theorizing and analyzing cultural landscapes. Chapter Two and Three present how the longleaf forest landscape became an object of vernacular and scientific knowledge and how the more-than-human cultural landscape of the Red Hills shaped fire science and conservation research agendas as well as narratives of environmental history. Those chapters demonstrate the utility of a neo-Sauerian methodology in addressing lacunae in the scholarship on cultural landscapes. Furthermore, this thesis adds to the literature examining cultures of science and their geographies, adding to an understanding of the histories and practices of fire science.

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Authors & Contributors
Brock, Emily
Brosnan, Kathleen A.
Fox, Paul
Frehner, Brian
Klubock, Thomas Miller
Mathis, Charles-Francois
Environment and History
Ethics, Place and Environment
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal
University of California, Berkeley
Cambridge University Press
Brepols Publishers
Duke University Press
Melbourne University Press
Oregon State University Press
Landscape; landscapes
Nature and its relationship to culture; human-nature relationships
Forests and forestry
Environmental history
Conservation movement
Linnaeus, Carolus
Schama, Simon
Wilson, Edward Osborne
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, early
18th century
Rome (Italy)
North Carolina (U.S.)

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