PAST Journal

Volume 32, 2009

Table of contents

Print this article

40th Annual Conference | Baton Rouge, La | October 16 – 19, 2008

Abstracts of Papers Presented

Architecture as a Second Language: Immigrant Homeowners and Historic Neighborhoods

Catherine Barrier, Tulane University

Much of the nation’s historic residential architecture is located in lower-income urban neighborhoods. Educational efforts on the part of historic preservation non-profits and government agencies to assist lower-income homeowners in understanding appropriate maintenance and adaptation strategies for historic homes have become commonplace. In a number of urban centers, however, a new issue has come to the fore in the management of historic neighborhood fabric: increasing numbers of foreign-born homeowners unfamiliar with traditional American architectural idioms and with cultural assumptions about their homes and home life which may be at odds with those of their native-born neighbors. These cultural dissonances present new challenges to the management and preservation of historic neighborhoods and districts. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina a large population of Hispanic laborers in the construction industry has relocated to New Orleans on at least a semi-permanent basis. This paper attempts to predict the types of issues that potential homeownership by these populations may bring to the city’s historic neighborhoods by examining examples of cultural misunderstandings and clashes in American cities already struggling with similar problems.

Milneburg: Federal Actions Bury a Recreational Landscape

David Benac, Southeastern Louisiana University

The first railroad completed in Louisiana and arguably in the Deep South was a line running from New Orleans to Port Pontchartrain, also known as Milenburg. This railroad, dubbed Smoky Mary, ran from 1831 to 1932. The lakefront terminus of this line is the subject of this paper. In its peak years Milneburg helped in the creation and evolution of jazz and witnessed a unique mingling of races and classes. Sharky Bonnano and Louis Armstrong were among the many luminaries who played the dance halls and saloons. The area also hosted restaurants, hotels, fishing camps, and rental facilities.

The focus of this paper is the decline of the community during prohibition. How did this socially diverse community with much to offer respond to its imminent demise? This denouement is directly traceable to federal actions. Prohibition destroyed the jazz scene and a waterfront reclamation project buried the previously off-shore community under a new beach. The history of this potentially significant community promises to provide insight into how a community was deemed dispensable and wiped off the map. This is a case of a landscape placed at risk and eliminated.

Hillcrest Building: A Case Study of the First Psychiatric Hospital for the Criminally Insane in America

Trevor J. Blank, Indiana University

What makes a building worthy of preservation? While aesthetics, landscape, and adaptive reuse issues are significant, the true nature of every historic preservation battle boils down to the ownership of the purported collective memories of our history.

The fight to save the Hillcrest Building, the first structure in the history of America to be designed specifically for the containment and rehabilitation of criminally insane patients, is an example of the litigious nature of the preservation field and shares a narrative of the ever-changing philosophies and challenges that influence the restoration politics of structures with contentious pasts.

Although noteworthy for its initially unprecedented mission, the Hillcrest Building could not reign in a consensus of its worthiness as a structure appropriate for preservation when it came under siege, especially due to its controversial role in servicing the “criminally” ill. It was ultimately razed in 2007, but the story of the Hillcrest Building (and its preservation campaign) serve as a case study of the rationale behind preserving contested structures and also as a report of the methods used in an attempt to save the structure and preserve its history.

From Mental to Material Pattern in Louisiana Boatbuilding

C. Ray Brassieur, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Hurricanes and coastal erosion accelerate the decline and loss of traditional boats and boat types within Louisiana’s coastal landscapes. But, if these artifacts are endangered, so are the traditional skills and techniques needed to produce them. This paper looks at folk boatbuilding processes, beginning with mental templates and proceeding to material products. Proportional models are employed in some cases, but often, more ancient processes of modeling-in-full, or “whole moulding,” are used. Some traditional builders refer to the latter as “building by hand and by eye.” An argument is made that the most valuable and endangered resource in the coastal landscape may be the intangible knowledge that belongs to the heritage of boat builders. Most examples described here derive from my personal observations of Louisiana boatbuilding during the past twenty-five years.

Light’s Out: The Rise and Fall of Red-Light Districts in New Orleans and Savannah

Kelly Bressler, Savannah College of Art and Design

It was not uncommon in turn of the century port cities to have large and often prominent red-light districts. These areas often had distinctive urban plans and architectural features. Vice districts contribution to their cities development is undeniable. New Orleans’ red-light district, “Storyville” and the district in Savannah, Georgia were both important institutions to their cities, and were both lost in the mid-twentieth-century. Women’s reform movements and the strict enforcement of laws lead to the dismantling and eventual destruction of these districts. In an effort to forget a “seedy” past both cities attempted to “erase” all traces of these districts from memory. The loss of these areas represents the loss of a slice of historic fabric, and represents the kind of editing that is unacceptable in history.

Row Houses and Shotgun Shacks; Two Different Ways to Solve a Similar Problem

Wayne Brew, Montgomery County Community College

The problem: how does one fit as many structures as possible on narrow urban lots with street access? Philadelphia solved this problem with row houses and New Orleans did it with shotgun shacks. These structures have very different origins and morphologies, but both solve the problem of fitting as many houses as possible on urban streets. This presentation will look at the origins, different styles, and diffusion of these buildings with an emphasis on stylistic changes. Since the morphology of these structures is set, changes in style must be applied to the front façade. Dating row houses and shotgun shacks using the visual evidence of style applied to the façade will also be explored.

Iberville, Louisiana: What Happened to a Rural Community When the Post Office Moved Away?

Marty Cannon, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Iberville, Louisiana was a small agricultural community straddling the railroad tracks along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The place was home to generations of different cultures that had one thing in common–the name of the local Post Office. Beginning in the 1960s, the Postal Service began streamlining its operations and in so doing closed smaller Post Offices which erased Iberville, Louisiana from the official list of places. This paper addresses the changes a bureaucratic decision had on a small Louisiana community and the people that called it–home. Official United States Postal Service records, the Louisiana State Archives, and interviews of those residents that still live in what was formerly Iberville, Louisiana are used to tell the story of how a community disappeared when the Post Office moved away.

Using Clues from the Physical and Cultural Landscape to Aid in Geoforensic Investigations

George J. Castille, III, GEC

The physical and cultural landscape can be viewed as a three-dimensional, temporally sensitive puzzle and the more pieces that are collected the better we can understand what probably happened and when.  As practicing geographers, we sometimes question whether basic geographical field methods are well suited for conducting the various types of investigations that we are engaged in.  A review was made of a field book written during a geographical field methods course taken in 1971. The author attempted to determine how many of the observations and instructor’s comments have proven beneficial in various forensic investigations conducted in Louisiana over the last twenty years.  Among the tools emphasized in the course were aerial photo analysis, historic map analysis, historic document research, reliance on field guides for identifications, on-site inspection, and on-site documentation of the local landscape.  Several examples of forensic investigations are illustrated, including vegetation analyses to aid in identifying historic shoreline changes, examinations of old fence lines to locate claimed property boundaries, documentation of changes in cypress swamps that were logged many years before, location and identification of old plantation landscape features, and conducting interviews of old-timers to fill in the gaps that the historical record can not adequately address.  Most of the methods that have proven invaluable for forensic investigations were covered in the basic geography field methods course.

The Changing Landscape of America’s Dairyland

John A. Cross, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

The farming landscape of America’s Dairyland is undergoing tremendous change. Wisconsin lost 32,000 dairy farms over the last thirty years, and the character of the surviving farmscapes has dramatically changed. With the decrease in farm numbers, many barns have disappeared. Besides the abandonment and collapse of many traditional barns, there have been dramatic increases in size of many surviving dairy operations.

With the rise of megadairy operations, huge free-stall barns have been built and feed is often stored in bunkers. New ways of silage storage have resulted in the loss of silos but added giant plastic covered rolls of feed strewn across the farmyard. Many dairy operations, and all of the megadairies, house their cows indoors, with the grazing of herds in pastures largely confined to smaller family farms.

Urban expansion has resulted in the abandonment of thousands of dairy farms. At the same time rural areas have seen the arrival of Amish and Old Order Mennonite families. Together they now comprise one-tenth of all Wisconsin dairy farmers and have altered the dairy farm landscape. By spring 2007, Amish dairymen comprised the majority of all dairy operators in eighteen Wisconsin towns, five Minnesota townships, and 41 Michigan townships.

Natchez: A Survey of Antebellum Plantation Cottages and How They Prosper in the 21st Century

Michael W. R. Davis, Eastern Michigan University

In the decades immediately before the Civil War, profits from cotton-growing attracted investors, some even from Northern states. In the summer, low-lying plantation properties were dangerously infested with mosquitoes and disease, so the planters erected elaborate “cottages” high above the Mississippi River among the bluffs of Natchez, Mississippi, where they enjoyed busy social seasons. Northern architects and even construction crews were imported to build some of these structures, including a landmark octagonal house never completed when Secession intervened. The presentation covers a field survey of numerous examples of these magnificent, mostly Greek Revival houses and explains how–unlike those of Vicksburg, further north along the river–they survived the War. Today Natchez and its antebellum homes prosper in the 21st century as center of a “cottage industry” of re-creating mid-nineteenth century ball gowns, worn by hostesses for the city’s tourist-attracting semi-annual Pilgrimage House and Garden Tours.

From High School to Office Building: The Fate of Oklahoma City’s First High School

Ajax Delvecki, Oklahoma State University – Stillwater Campus

The 1970s version of urban renewal has come to symbolize demolition of historical properties. But what happens when an abandoned building is a state historical site and a fondly remembered school?

Central High School was located in downtown Oklahoma City and became a victim of urban blight. As Oklahoma City expanded, businesses and residents moved away from the urban center. Plummeting enrollment, a deteriorating building, and school mismanagement led to the school’s closing. In 1982, the building was entirely renovated by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in a successful plan to couple historic preservation with the needs of a modern office. This presentation will focus on the multiple uses of the building before and after renovation.

Recent Trends in Material Culture Studies in Anthropology

Jay D. Edwards, Louisiana State University

In this review we shall follow some of the principal trends occurring in anthropological material culture studies over the last quarter century. In this period studies have begun to move away from the earlier contextual emphasis on artifact aesthetics and on charting the heritage and the meanings of artifactual materials. New concerns, include the social responsibility of material culture studies and their social and public policy implications. Studies are increasingly framed in the setting of ethnic and national political considerations. Nevertheless, the focus on relative power considerations, gender, social structure and ethnicity all continue to play important roles in both archaeology and in living material culture studies. Another interest which has arisen recently is the concern with globalization, set in the increasingly conflicted new paradigm of creolization studies and studies of the Atlantic and colonial worlds. A new interest in local community history views transformations in the uses of material possessions against a background of international and corporate dynamics, a broadened perspective on culture flows, and a more dynamic vision of culture change.

The Shotgun House in New Orleans: An Endangered Cultural and Historic Asset

Jay D. Edwards, Louisiana State University

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had more shotguns than any other urban place—over 60,000 shotgun houses. No less than eleven forms of shotgun houses, each represented by dozens or hundreds of surviving examples, are to be found in New Orleans. Shotguns were densely grouped into low-lying areas of the city. The loss of a large portion of the city’s most colorful and exuberant architectural legacy threatens to leave a major gap in the world-recognized toute ensemble of this cultural landscape.

Despite the fact that the shotgun family (including derivatives such as Doubles and Camelbacks) is the dominant form of architecture of Orleans Parish, no systematic study of the type has ever been undertaken. This lowly form of architecture has been poorly interpreted in the standard architectural histories of the city. Important unanswered questions in the architectural history of the shotgun house abound. For example, why did a tiny and temporary form of folk house which lay scattered around the peripheries of the city in the first decades of the nineteenth century suddenly rise to become the dominant house form in the Victorian period—a form adopted by people of every ethnic group and social class in the city? In this historical/cultural geography of the shotgun form, questions such as this will be addressed.

A Historical Geography of Pilot Whaling in North America

Russell Fielding, Louisiana State University

The practice of hunting long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) by the technique known as a drive fishery existed in communities along the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada from the time of first European settlement until the late twentieth century. Entire pods, or family groups, of pilot whales were herded at sea and driven ashore by men in boats working cooperatively. Once stranded, the whales were killed and processed for their oil and meat. Using data gathered from archives in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, as well as first-hand interviews with former whalers in Newfoundland, this paper will present a historical geography of pilot whale drive fishery in the U.S. and Canada and will explore the cultural, economic, and ecological effects of its closure.

Risks Realized: the Aftermath of the June 11, 2008, Tornado in Chapman, Kansas

Russell Graves, Cameron University

On June 11, 2008, an EF-3 tornado ripped a one-half mile path through the heart of my hometown, Chapman, Kansas. The twister destroyed approximately one-third of the city’s homes, as well as all three schools and the Methodist and Lutheran churches. Many of the historic homes and buildings damaged date to the 1890s through 1930s, and their reconstruction and restoration seems unlikely, as their limestone-block walls crumbled under the force of storm winds and fallen trees. Also, much of the damage zone lies within the floodplains of the Smoky Hill River and Chapman Creek, both of which submerged over one-half the town during the floods of 1993. Thus, those making the decision of whether to rebuild or not have to comply with updated federal rules regarding new construction in a floodplain. This paper will provide an overview of the tornado damage to historic properties in Chapman, Kansas, using first-hand accounts, interviews, and photographs. Additionally, I will assess the potential for restoration of the local cultural landscape in a town faced with multiple landscape risks.

Whistle at Your Own Risk: The Changing Landscape of Music in New Orleans During the Civil War

Ralph Hartsock, University of North Texas

In pre-Civil War New Orleans, a booming metropolis, several cultural activities flourished, including opera, symphony, and folk music. Classical performers from afar performed here, including Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps, and Norwegian violinist Ole Bull. The troupe, Theatre d’Orleans, led by John Davis, toured the northeastern United States from 1827 to 1833. The Classical Music Society was founded in 1855. The French Opera House, site of 17 American premieres of European operas, opened in 1859. New Orleans also had its own musicians of international stature, including Louis Moreau Gottschalk. At the beginning of the Civil War, brass bands and military music flourished in the city.

Publishers in pre-Civil war New Orleans included Paul Emile Johns, William T. Mayo, Philip P. Werlein, and Louis Grunewald. Beginning in 1860 A.E. (Armand Edward) Blackmar issued more Confederate music than any other publisher in New Orleans, including early editions of Dixie, The Bonnie Blue Flag, and Maryland! My Maryland! In 1862, General Benjamin Butler took control of New Orleans, and confiscated all music at Blackmar’s publishing venture. As he was escorted to jail, Blackmar whistled The Bonnie Blue Flag. Hence, singing or even whistling the tune would be grounds for a fine.

Change and Adaptation among Alabama Gulf Coast Fishing Communities: Two Case Studies

Ginny Jones, University of West Florida

In the late twentieth and early 21st centuries, fishing communities along the United States Gulf Coast faced drastic changes as they adapted to a number of internal and external influences. These influences included environmental legislation, labor shortages, urban sprawl, and increasing globalization. In the midst of the upheaval in these mostly small, insular communities, Hurricane Katrina again made change a reality in the lives of the members of these communities. Hurricane Katrina only worked to greater illuminate the deep and complex issues faced by these small communities. This paper will provide the audience with a greater understanding of these issues as demonstrated in two Alabama Gulf Coast fishing communities. While this paper will only address a few of these issues, it will also discuss the roles that history and the environment have played in the unique evolution of each community and the factors that continue to influence the communities after Hurricane Katrina. Methods used in this study include field surveys and field interviews conducted by the author in the weeks and months immediately after Hurricane Katrina, technical reports written from before and after the storm, and finally, a variety of secondary and primary sources.

Popular Culture/American Studies and Material Culture Studies

Margaret J. King, Ph.D., Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis

All cultural studies programs partake in various agendas based on political, aesthetic, social, and psychological approaches to the spectrum of cultural icons, ideas, artifacts, acts, and landscapes. Culture is the longest-running human invention alive: it embodies a evolving intelligence passed between generations. It is the shared brain that informs thinking and behavior for all homo sapiens since human history began. Within that system of interlocking concepts is material culture, along with the shared values that drive the technology, tools, techniques, and impulses to create and critique “culture made visible.” Material culture is considered from a set of values; the “art” approach distinct from the “anthropology” approach to selecting and studying icons. Authenticity, rarity, selectivity, and uniqueness compete with archetype, model, and “aggregate” artifacts. The theme park is a key case highlighting these differences as an icon central to popular culture studies.

Recent research based on cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral science has opened up this art/anthro dualism by means of cultural analysis, a direct approach to studying cultural issues and ideas through material evidence.

Louisiana Bousillage: Field Observations on the Permanence of an Impermanent Vernacular Building Tradition

Heather A. Knight, Tulane University

Bousillage is a vernacular nogging technique indigenous to Louisiana and other neighboring Gulf Coast environs. Liaisons between Native American, French, Acadian and African populations influenced its evolution. Bousillage can be comprised of mud, retted or non-retted Spanish moss, straw and prairie grass. It is packed in loaves over barreaux(lath) wedged between timber framing.

Bousillage is under siege as few practitioners remain. A primer for the conservation and maintenance of bousillage does not exist. Through the collection of field surveys and oral histories to research the regional variations of nogging, timber framing, protective finishes and barreaux placement, the author hopes to produce a primer with a colleague.

Forgotten Pilgrims: The Impact of the Wends Upon the Cultural Landscape of Texas

Matt Levenson, University of Georgia

In December 1854, a party of 600 Wendish immigrants arrived at the port of Galveston, Texas. These immigrants—members of a small Slavic minority from eastern Germany—made up a separatist congregation which had left Europe in search of a place to prosper and to preserve their culture, identity, and traditional Lutheran religion. Over the following half-century, the Wends established an area of cultural influence throughout south-central Texas, anchored by the town of Serbin. However, by the mid-twentieth century the Wends had been assimilated into the German-Texan and American cultures—though not without leaving their distinctive mark on the Texan cultural landscape.

This paper seeks to demonstrate the impact of Wendish settlement upon the cultural geography of Texas. Drawing on religious statistical data, secondary historical and ethnographic sources, and the publications of extant institutions with Wendish Texan heritage, it aims to elucidate the historical geography of this influential but under-studied frontier ethnic group, and to analyze the enduring influence of Wendish settlement upon the ethnic and religious landscapes of Texas. Despite their small numbers and short-lived cultural independence, the Wends had a significant impact upon the ethnic and religious geography of Texas. Despite decades of assimilation, the legacy of the Wends is still evident in Texas today.

Material Culture in Anthropology

Tom Loftfield, Barbados Museum and Historical Society

Material culture is a misnomer, for culture is behavior, and materials do not behave, at least not on their own, usually. Nonetheless, any student of culture must address the issue of materials used to actuate and realize the needs of culture in the physical sphere. Anthropologists explore material culture from the perspective of idea-raw materials-manufacture-use-discard as evidence of how culture comes into being and re-invents itself generation to generation. Material culture can also assist in defining the boundaries between one culture and another, both across space and across time, and thus, by definition, can assist in determining patterns of population movement and the acculturation that often results from that movement.

An Early Twentieth-Century Homestead in Northeastern Nevada

Marshall E. Bowen, University of Mary Washington

The desert lands of northeastern Nevada are dotted with the remains of abandoned homesteads. One of the best preserved is the former home of George E. Wickizer and family, who lived south of the small town of Tobar from 1909 to 1913. By combining field work with archival research, it is possible to reconstruct the Wickizers’ lives before, during, and after their homesteading venture. This paper explains why Wickizer chose this site, describes the homestead and the activities that took place here, follows the family’s footsteps after they left the area, and provides a glimpse of what the place is like today. It shows that homesteading was not always carried out by people who originally came to Nevada’s new settlements with the sole intention of farming, that crop failure was often caused by more than inadequate precipitation, and that survival frequently depended on income derived from off-homestead employment.

Letters from the Inside: One Man’s Perspective on the Louisiana Home for Lepers

Claire Manes, Remington College

Before Carville, Louisiana, was a site for sprawling chemical complexes, it was the site of unstinting courage, painful isolation, and medical miracles in treating leprosy or Hansen’s disease. Some patient memoirs relate life in the United States Public Health hospital in Carville, but all are written in retrospect and none exist for the hospital prior to 1921 when it was the Louisiana Home for Lepers run by the Daughters of Charity under the state of Louisiana. Furthermore, none have been letters giving immediacy to life in the institution. The problem becomes one of recreating life at the home and the hospital from the view point of the patients.

This presentation uses family letters discovered in 1977 from Norbert T. Landry, Carville patient from 1919-1924, to offer one man’s account of his life in the Louisiana Home for Lepers. A close reading of Norbert’s letters, supplemented with research from other scholars, gives this one man’s experiences in the facility which proved to be more home than hospital.

Uneven Justice in Louisiana

Chris Mayda, Eastern Michigan University

Justice across the American landscape has been uneven. Some places are more uneven than others. Louisiana is not necessarily the worst of the lot, but Katrina revealed a vulnerable underbelly and an historical geography that promoted uneven justice. The big picture story has to do with time, place, and a sustainable future.

The local picture that this presentation focuses on is about small Louisiana towns that continue to fight for environmental justice along the Mississippi River.

Nineteenth Century Industrial Buildings of the Teche Corridor

Robert McKinney, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Rural and small town nineteenth century industrial and agricultural buildings are endangered due to time and changing economics. This paper examines three culturally and architecturally significant structures that have been documented for the Historic American Building Survey. Each is located along the Bayou Teche corridor from Washington to New Iberia, Louisiana. Beginning with the Steamboat Warehouse in Washington, the Barn at the Academy of Scared Heart in Grand Coteua and the Lutzenburger Foundry and Pattern Shop in New Iberia, Louisiana. Each of these masonry structures were built during an era when the prairies of Southwest Louisiana were being settled. The bayou was the main highway and the Teche corridor leading to Washington was the furthest west one could travel inland. A journey from New Orleans to Houston brought you through this corridor. The agricultural and industrial buildings of the past are at risk of disappearing as they become obsolete and fall in disrepair. These structures serve as markers in the history of the area recording building traditions and craftsmanship that contribute to an understanding of the area.

The Death Valley Shoshones and the National Park Idea: Building Toward a More Collaborative and Indigenous-conscience Approach to Landscape Preservation

Mark Edwin Miller, Southern Utah University

The problem this paper addresses is how to best preserve national parkland environments in light of aboriginal land claims and traditional Native American land-use practices. The analysis focuses upon the Timbisha Shoshones, a small unrecognized tribe that lost its lands with the creation of Death Valley National Monument in 1933. It traces National Park Service efforts to curtail, and ultimately end, indigenous subsistence activities within the preserve and remove the people to nearby reservations. In methodology, the work utilizes archival sources, oral interviews, and secondary sources to examine the events leading up to the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act of 2000. This landmark agreement between the tribe and the National Park Service created a reservation within Death Valley National Park and allowed aboriginal land uses on federal parklands for the first time. The paper ultimately concludes the homeland act reflects changing notions of preservation, wilderness, and “natural” landscapes---one that acknowledges aboriginal land-use practices as compatible with the “national park idea” and environmental stewardship.

Selectively Remembering Slavery in Paradise: Recreating a Historic Landscape through Loss in St. John

E. Arnold Modlin, Jr., Louisiana State University

Significant historic structures in areas controlled by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands are in danger of being lost forever. These historic locations have the potential to help us understand much about the experience of enslaved individuals in the Caribbean, as well as to help us understand the uniqueness of the slave experience for St. Johnian slaves, an experience that led some slaves to participate in one of the longest slave revolts in the Caribbean. The NPS with its limited resources faces what are at times conflicting goals–protecting certain flora and fauna while preserving historical and cultural assets in the park for future use. Presently, the NPS is focusing special care on certain historic sites such as the ruins at Annaberg Plantation, while letting lesser known–yet equally important–sites continue to decline. Using information gathered through onsite visual surveys, I highlight some of the historically significant sites in danger of being lost and how this landscape change could impair our understanding of the uniqueness of the slave experience in St John.

Folklore/Folklife and Material Culture Studies

Alice Reed Morrison

The origin of the discipline of folklore studies in the early nineteenth century stemmed from two separate areas: philologists like Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm studying oral folk narratives and collectors of rural antiquities in England. These diverse interests were both referred to as the study of folklore by the mid-nineteenth century. The term “folklife” emerged in the mid-twentieth century because some material culture scholars within the field felt that the study of oral literature dominated the discipline and that the word folklife better described the whole panorama of traditional culture. An exploration of the contemporary folklorist’s approach to material culture studies reveals certain central concepts originally derived from the study of oral folklore: variation within a tradition, continuity of traditional motifs and themes through time and across space, and the dynamic between individual creativity and conservative tradition.

Cultural Geography and Material Culture Studies

Allen Noble, University of Akron

One of the greatest rewards for a cultural geographer who works in Material Culture Studies is the interaction with scholars trained in other disciplines.  However, geographers often employ the term “settlement landscape” rather than “material culture” to describe the scope of their research.  Their work often focuses on the contribution of objects to the makeup of the landscape.  The research of the geographer is quite often on a regional scale, rather than on specific and local objects.  One vital consideration is a clear understanding of the differing research requirements of all scholars who study material culture.  Several challenges arise out of these significant differences.

Outdoor Living: the “Rules” of Liminal Spaces

Jamie O’Boyle, The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis

The domestication of the outdoors has been a prime project of professional and vernacular builders from the beginning of civilization, and is the act used to define it. The built environment mediates between the outdoors and the indoors and their respective demands and advantages. Americans today spend ninety percent of their time in working and domestic spaces, but liminal spaces (in-between states) are key for defining the functions of both inside and outside as interconnected domains.

Drawing examples from ancient to modern life, this cultural overview defines the basic decision-making principles that drive us in navigating in and out of nature. This navigation involves behaviors and values that must cross the many divides between public and private, group and individual, conscious and instinctive, and cultural and biological.

Working for FEMA in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Mary Ann Olding

On November 6, 2005, about six weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I began working for FEMA as an historic specialist. After a week’s training and badge clearance, I began a 60-day assignment that was extended until early March 2006. At first, we worked 11 hour days six days a week researching and surveying the damage and assessing the historic value of the structures in New Orleans and surrounding parishes. The assessment was necessary according to federal requirements for the release of FEMA funds. After teams of specialists were organized, the first buildings my team examined and recorded were those owned by the police and fire departments. Other teams focused on hospitals, government buildings, and utility departments still attempting to suck out the water that remained in low-lying area. Within a few months, our team was sent into the Lower Ninth Ward to assess the damage caused by the hurricane, broken levees, and smashed dreams. We were armed with FEMA badges, GPS units, maps, steel-toed boots, hardhats, and hand sanitizers.

After three weeks at home in March, a representative from the Dewberry Consulting firm from Fairfax, Virginia, called. I was deployed the first of April to the FEMA Biloxi-Gulfport office on the Gulf Coast where I stayed until May 10, 2006. There the 37-foot high surge destroyed the first four blocks along the 26-mile coast from Bay St. Louis, past Biloxi and Ocean City. On Sundays, I volunteered a half-day at the animal shelter relocated to a concrete building in a ruined shopping mall that was filled with scared animals and overworked rescuers. The PowerPoint presentation will cover notes from some of my experiences and observations gleaned from journal entries and digital images recorded during the six-month period in disaster work.

La Canna da Zucchero: Italians Immigrants in Louisiana Sugar Parishes

Ryan Orgera, Louisiana State University

In the United States, we commonly associate Italian culture with New York or Boston, when in fact it existed on a large scale in Louisiana. Louisiana Italians played a role first as the laborer then as an entrepreneur. Their skills proved invaluable to the sugar boom of the 1890s. In the parishes of Iberville and Ascension, both sugar parishes, Italians arrived in the hundreds and thousands in order to work during the famed zucarata, or cane season. As census records reveal, many Italians called the sugar parishes home. This paper explores census data to determine the number of Italians who settled in these parishes, arguably having a greater effect on the cultural landscape of Iberville and Ascension parishes than more migratory workers. These contadini harvested and refined sugar year in and year out, eventually opening stores and businesses; Italian grocery stores, delis, and restaurants once peppered the banks of the Mississippi. Yet Italian culture never endeared itself to the landscape as it did in the North End or the Bronx. Few traces of the Italian immigrants remain save a few faded signs, ornate graves, and sparse surnames. This paper will also explore these cultural vestiges in order to explicate the disappearing Italian cultural landscape in South Louisiana.

Art/Architectural Approach to Material Culture Studies

Philippe Osźuścik, University of South Alabama

Two approaches to the study of material culture in the fields of art and architectural history will be presented: the preparation provided to my generation, to which the greater part of this paper is dedicated. Secondly, the preparation provided to today’s students in these fields will close this study because the latest generation of students are receiving a broader coverage of architectural traditions than in my generation. However, both approaches still exist and advise to young students will conclude this essay.

Advantages and disadvantages in various fields will be compared to my training because art and architectural historians were left behind in the areas of folk and vernacular studies by the mid twentieth century with the pioneering efforts of Fred Kniffen and Henry Glassie, for examples. Furthermore, scholars of varied fields, such as Art History, Architectural History, Cultural Geography, Cultural Anthropology, Historic Archaeology, American Studies, Folklife Studies, Museology, Preservation, History of Interior Design, etc., sometimes have difficulties in understanding each other but Material Culture Studies have brought these fields together.

What’s Old is New: Preserving Ranch Community Landscapes Amidst Exurbanization in the Colorado Front Range

Chris Post, Kent State University–Stark Campus

The Garden Park and Beaver Creek valleys of the Colorado Front Range have experienced tremendous amounts of exurbanization over the past dozen years. This development risks dwindling lands, financial security, and a special landscape for the valleys’ oldest ranching residents whose families have been in the area for over a century. These landscapes at risk of survival—particularly vernacular cemeteries memorials and one-room schoolhouses that reflect the economies, social life, and values of the ranchers—are being actively preserved as a seeming statement of place, attachment, and identity. This paper utilizes landscape analysis, area archives, and personal interviews with residents from two primary social groups in the valley—ranchers and exurbanites—to synthesize the meaning of this preservation movement in the valley and what it means to these social cohorts as they define their place within it.

There’s No Place Like Home: Rebuilding Community in the Lower Ninth Ward

Amy Potter, Louisiana State University

In December of 2007, actor Brad Pitt made national headlines, announcing his plan to build 150 green homes in the Katrina devastated area of the Lower Ninth Ward through his philanthropic project called Make It Right 9. His efforts are part of a larger phenomenon taking place across the country in which areas destroyed by natural disasters are rebuilt using green architecture and technologies. This study seeks to understand through semi-structured interviews, service learning and archival research, how one neighborhood’s complex definition of community includes the built environment and how these philanthropic projects ultimately contribute to or work against the community rebuilding process, particularly in the Lower Ninth Ward. This paper will focus on the Make It Right 9 and Global Green Project in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area of New Orleans with traditionally strong communal bonds. I will conclude this paper with speculations on the future of this neighborhood in light of these “Green” philanthropic projects, showing that while many of these efforts have supposed good intentions to rebuild homes in the area, the building plans not only will erode the traditional architectural style in the neighborhood but increased property values could financially force out those families with whom they are trying to help.

Tennessee’s Log Buildings: A Legacy Lost?

John B. Rehder, University of Tennessee

In forty-one years of observation, I now have a data set of just over 4,200 log structures in forty-two Tennessee counties. Ironic, isn’t it, that the numbers are so similar and that I am lamenting the loss of log structures from such a huge inventory? But as I speak, Tennessee’s log buildings are disappearing at some undetermined rate. An estimated fifty percent loss since the 1970s in some counties has not been unusual. When I first came to Tennessee from LSU in 1967, Fred Kniffen warned me that our treasured folk structures were going fast. I did not believe him then; I do now. My paper briefly tells the story of this journey in fieldwork: some of my how-to methods, the spatial findings, and the vivid results of decades of observation.

Betwixt and Between: Threatened Creole Dancehalls in the Agricultural Landscape of Louisiana

Deborah Marcella Rehn, Historical Architect/Independent Scholar

The enduring heritage of live music and dancing as fundamental in the cultural life of Louisiana Creoles is widely recognized. It would follow that the material culture generated to house these expressions, the Creole dancehall, would be equally important. Suburbanization, cultural shifts, aging owners, and absent family support are threatening the survival of these buildings and their settings. Understanding the meaning of these places and their significant place in history is a first step toward preserving them.

Over fifteen years of research, observation, and “fieldwork” at zydecos informed my reading on the history, culture, architecture and music of Louisiana Creoles. Oral history interviews with owners and musicians added primary contemporary focus. Investigation and analysis of specific landscapes, sites, and buildings, supplied geographical context and enlightened meaning.

Creole dancehalls are iconic places that physically express the continuity of colonial culture along with the social and economic circumstance of the Louisiana Creole people in the twentieth century. The two primary dancehalls analyzed are unique inventions that create a community space close to home, between historic house dances and modern night clubs or jook joints. Further study is proposed for a broader and deeper appreciation of this unique architectural composition.

Poised Between Continuity and Vulnerability: New Orleans’ New Marigny Historic District

Bethany Rogers, Louisiana State University

The New Marigny is a National Register Historic District in downtown New Orleans. Comprised of the Saint Roch and Seventh Ward neighborhoods, the New Marigny contains a notable collection of late nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth century buildings, mostly variations of the shotgun house type. This section of New Orleans is also significant historically, because it housed most of the city’s Creole and African-American architectural craftsmen. Despite this architectural and artisan legacy, the built fabric of the New Marigny has suffered severe decline over the last few decades and these trends have been exacerbated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Through architectural documentation, archival research, and in-depth interviews, this paper will produce an outline of the historical and contemporary factors that have led to the vulnerability of the area’s architectural and historical resources, from outmigration starting in the 1960s to post-Katrina government assistance for housing demolition. Findings will also be presented on current strategies to revitalize the district and restore its historic housing stock, namely the consideration to instate local historic district regulations.

Burial Landscapes of Colonial Dutch Settlers in Vermont

Scott C. Roper and Patricia van der Spuy, Castleton State College

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Dutch colonists settled along New York’s Hudson River, eventually branching out and establishing communities as far east as Vermont.  To date, only a handful of scholars has documented the landscapes left by the Dutch in Vermont, and an even smaller number has considered Dutch burial patterns in the state.  Unfortunately, the passage of time and the tendency of Dutch colonists to bury their dead in family plots (as opposed to community graveyards) have led to the disappearance of many Dutch gravesites.  As part of a larger project comparing the burial patterns of the “global Dutch” in colonial South Africa and the northeastern United States, and employing the identification system devised by Brandon Richards, we document remaining Dutch gravesites in eight Vermont towns.  In the process, we also attempt to place these landscapes into the context of global Dutch settlement patterns in general.

History and Material Culture Studies

Keith A. Sculle, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Traditional academic historians ironically paid little attention to material culture. Until recently, they have viewed the past as knowable almost completely through written and published records. The agents of events studied were usually individuals of the elite social classes perceived as leaders and the events affected were generally restricted to economics, diplomacy, and politics. Only a few historians touched upon material culture for subjects of interest to them alone and never became part of the main academic stream. Public historians, initially trained in traditional historical scholarship, forged an alternative in the last thirty to thirty-five years upon finding employment in historic preservation. Not until the comparatively recent turn to the role of common people and, even more recently, in the studies of culture has material culture gained some interest among academic historians.

This presentation outlines the reasons for traditional history’s tact. This presentation also broadly outlines the recent divergence, and admittedly, draws upon the presenter’s personal experience with interdisciplinary opportunities such as new-found organizations like the Pioneer America Society afforded.

Capital’s Frontier: Sawmill Townscapes in Western Louisiana

Dean Sinclair, Northwestern State University

As industrialization in America pushed westward towards the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, one of its major expressions, the company town, moved with it. Representing one of the most interesting of capitalism’s landscapes, the company town in America is most renowned for its textile mill villages in New England and the American South. As industrial capital pushed west, however, the economic rationale for the creation of company towns shifted from textiles to sawmilling. Sawmill towns tended to be ephemeral, based on a resource that turned out to be largely nonrenewable under the conditions of early twentieth century lumbering, and many sawmill towns were abandoned and subsequently disappeared once “cut-out” was reached. For several years Louisiana represented the western edge of capital’s frontier, and several sawmill towns from this period still exist. This paper examines three of these townscapes in western Louisiana—Fullerton, Fisher, and Elizabeth—exploring the visual remains and the historic importance of these townscapes left by the lumber industry, and the various efforts that have been made to preserve and protect these landscapes created along capital’s western frontier.

When the Village is Gone: City Planning, Heritage Politics, and Identity Transformation at the St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas

Jodi Skipper, University of Texas

U.S. local, state, and federal government officials have historically redeveloped neighborhoods as part of urban renewal plans and efforts to remedy urban blight. Some of these actions have resulted in drastic changes to neighborhood landscapes, by removing entire communities and their historic structures. Within this framework, this paper examines the past and potential future implications of urbanization on The St. Paul United Methodist Church community in the Arts District of Dallas, Texas. St. Paul is the only active reminder of a traditionally Black neighborhood, profoundly transformed by over one hundred and forty years of city planning, and the church building is one of the few remaining structures built by the North Dallas Freedman’s Community. Members of this church began to secure a place in their neighborhood by obtaining Dallas Historic Landmark status in 1982. They have more recently utilized heritage politics through their roles in the Freedman’s Cemetery Memorial Project and as a registered Texas state archaeology site. I will present my observations on the long-term effects on this institution and examine the diverse coping strategies utilized to assist the St. Paul community with its goal of becoming the most visible church in the Dallas Arts District.

North American Cattle Ranching Frontiers: Views from the Pampas and the Caribbean

Andrew Sluyter, Louisiana State University

Field and archival work in the Caribbean and Argentina elaborates on our current understanding of the trans-Atlantic hybridizations of open-range cattle herding and relationships to North America. Field observation of barely extant rural vernacular architecture and artisanal devices provided the initial stimulus in each of these cases. In the Caribbean, surviving examples and historic descriptions, both textual and oral, of the “Kitchen’ Pens” of Barbuda reveal the details of an open-range cattle herding system in, rather unexpectedly, the Lesser Antilles. Reconstruction of change through time, from the system’s heyday during colonial times to its current moribund state, suggests possible relationships to the South Carolina Cow-pen and avenues for further research. Similarly, in Argentina, surviving examples of mid nineteenth-century water-lifting devices on the Pampas and patent documents from both Argentina and the US suggest possible relationships during the decades before mass-manufactured windmills became dominant following the Civil War.

The Milwaukee Road in Washington State: Rails to Trails… to Rails and Trails?

John V. Ward, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and Nancy B. Hultquist, Central Washington University

The Milwaukee Road was originally built for rail traffic in the early 1900s. By the 1970s a series of financial misfortunes led to its abandonment and acquisition by the State of Washington. Current non-motorized recreational use of the corridor is a result of state rail banking legislation formulated prior to federal legislation created with a similar intent: to provide for the continued existence of former rail corridors, allow for current non-motorized recreation, and keep open the possibility of an eventual return of rails. This legislation also calls for the creation of an alternative cross-state recreational trail to be established should the railroad return. We investigated the possibility of the co-existence of these seemingly non-compatible uses by researching the history of the Milwaukee Road, examining the state rail banking legislation, and utilizing geographic information systems technology to explore alternative corridor options. Our findings reveal an opportunity to preserve both the past and current use of the Milwaukee Road, as well as the history of this unique cross-state corridor, by providing for both rails and trails.


Return to top