Dissertation Spotlight:  A Forest of Fire: Limming Materiality and Interpretation in the Morphology of the Longleaf Pine Forest as a Cultural Landscape

The Longleaf Pine Forest is a cultural landscape that has been shaped by human presence throughout time. The researcher discusses both human interpretations and material practices to further understand this landscape. The researcher uses a neo-Sauerian methodology when utilizing Richard Schein’s (1997) conception of landscape as “discourse materialized” as the base model for this research. This is further extended to discuss the cultural landscape literature beyond humanity to understand the forest as a cultural landscape. This is all in an effort to bridge the gap between the materialized landscape and its expression of culture.

Schein’s research discusses mainly symbolic interpretation and material reality while Westbrook’s research seeks to extend this idea towards the relationship between the interpretive and material practices in creating natural landscapes. Throughout time, human presence has shaped the forest through the study of fire regimes and cultural fire practices; this was the origin of fire ecology. Fire ecology seeks to understand how fire’s long-lasting effects may alter a landscape within the future. With this research, Westbrook studies human interactions within the forest in order to describe the morphological landscape process that occurs through vernacular and scientific cultures.

 The researcher takes multiple approaches in order to further analyze the forest as a cultural landscape. One example is the hermeneutic approach, which analyzes different ideas and conceptions of the cultural landscape and the effects these have had on the forest, both positively and negatively. With further research, the forest is classified as a pyrogenic ecosystem. This is vegetation that evolves with recurring fire and species that might even require fire to complete their life cycles. This research has thus transformed landscape management practices.  

These examinations further interpret how material human cultural practices intertwine with the material landscape through the observation of the Longleaf Pine Forest and theorizing new approaches towards examining cultural landscapes. The usefulness of a neo-Sauerian methodology is highlighted throughout this research in that it addresses the gap in discussing cultural landscapes. Furthermore, the cultures of science and their geographies in relation to fire ecology and practices allow for additional understanding of the forest’s cultural landscape in relation to material and the expression of culture.

Dr. Eric Westbrook is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Eric’s dissertation, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Madison Riccio.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.