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Knowing Disorder: Forestry in the U.S. South during the New Deal

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Abstract:

This paper examines the rhetoric of disorder foresters used to justify reforestation in the American South during the New Deal.  Their documentation of the cut-over, eroded landscapes that characterized much of the region in the 1930s and 1940s placed the blame for environmental devastation on farmers rather than industry.   Images of cut-over lands, with accompanying interpretations that emphasized the detrimental effects of fire and livestock rather than clear-cutting, became powerful tools for industrialists seeking to close the open range and obtain state and federal subsidies for forestry.

To be sure, the policies informed by southern foresters’ documentary work proved enormously successful. Vast pine tree plantations now cover formerly barren landscapes, making the South a global leader in pulp and paper manufacturing. Yet as ways of knowing nature, and especially the human place in nature, the visual evidence mobilized in support of reforestation failed to convey southerners’ historic interaction with their environment and their keen understanding of the agricultural importance of their forests. Instead, New Deal photography of cut-over lands supported a heroic narrative of recovery that took as its baseline the presumed actions of an environmentally unaware people in a degraded landscape.

The paper will place these arguments in the context of white and black farmers who attempted to sell small portions of their timber only to find their contracts manipulated by lumber firms.  Vulnerability before the courts undermined African Americans’ efforts to protect their forest resources. Yet successful lawsuits brought by white farmers show an understanding of natural regeneration that antedates the lumber industry’s pivot away from clear-cutting. Although the lumber and paper industries have effectively defined monocrop pine agriculture as conservation, their success depends on the rhetorical force of mid-century imagery that minimized vernacular alternatives.  Widespread reforestation, in turn, has rendered these local narratives largely invisible.
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Association:
Name: ASEH Annual Conference
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http://aseh.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171147_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Hyman, Owen. "Knowing Disorder: Forestry in the U.S. South during the New Deal" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171147_index.html>

APA Citation:

Hyman, O. J. "Knowing Disorder: Forestry in the U.S. South during the New Deal" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1171147_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: This paper examines the rhetoric of disorder foresters used to justify reforestation in the American South during the New Deal.  Their documentation of the cut-over, eroded landscapes that characterized much of the region in the 1930s and 1940s placed the blame for environmental devastation on farmers rather than industry.   Images of cut-over lands, with accompanying interpretations that emphasized the detrimental effects of fire and livestock rather than clear-cutting, became powerful tools for industrialists seeking to close the open range and obtain state and federal subsidies for forestry.

To be sure, the policies informed by southern foresters’ documentary work proved enormously successful. Vast pine tree plantations now cover formerly barren landscapes, making the South a global leader in pulp and paper manufacturing. Yet as ways of knowing nature, and especially the human place in nature, the visual evidence mobilized in support of reforestation failed to convey southerners’ historic interaction with their environment and their keen understanding of the agricultural importance of their forests. Instead, New Deal photography of cut-over lands supported a heroic narrative of recovery that took as its baseline the presumed actions of an environmentally unaware people in a degraded landscape.

The paper will place these arguments in the context of white and black farmers who attempted to sell small portions of their timber only to find their contracts manipulated by lumber firms.  Vulnerability before the courts undermined African Americans’ efforts to protect their forest resources. Yet successful lawsuits brought by white farmers show an understanding of natural regeneration that antedates the lumber industry’s pivot away from clear-cutting. Although the lumber and paper industries have effectively defined monocrop pine agriculture as conservation, their success depends on the rhetorical force of mid-century imagery that minimized vernacular alternatives.  Widespread reforestation, in turn, has rendered these local narratives largely invisible.


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