Catching Up with the Farragut Hotel

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I took this when I walked by the site on Wednesday afternoon, mostly because of the shiny new “Coming Fall 2017” Hyatt banner.

I can’t remember how much I’ve covered the Farragut Hotel and its intersection with the Ben Irving Postcard Project, but from what I can tell, he stayed there at least once in 1935 and then possibly again in 1940. That’s really all I could ascertain from the notes and the dates on the cards.

Regarding the development’s news, the Knoxville News Sentinel published this article last year about the official development plans, which stated their plan was to reopen during the summer of 2017. So, knowing the pace of development in Knoxville, I looked forward to being able to see their finished product in late 2019.

I was fortunate to be able to visit the project as it currently sits when Knox Heritage had a special event there last Fall. I took several pictures while wandering around the construction site and I never did anything with them in October, so I figured I would post some highlights here. Forgive any unintentional trespassing I may have done.

Knox Heritage has been teasing a follow-up event where their members will get a free preview of the hotel when it’s ready to officially reopen this fall. I’ll do my best to recreate these photos, but I can’t make any promises with the ones of gigantic death-hazard holes. I imagine they’ll patch those up.

Recommended Reading on Music Streaming and Data Mining (Robert Prey)

‘Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening’
by Robert Prey

If you know me, you probably find it as no surprise that Knoxville has made me prouder in the last 72 hours than it has in the three years I’ve lived here. I would expect some form of solidarity in uncertain times, but I never imagined it would be quite like this. Not to minimize the efforts of the millions who marched around the country and world today, but I know you didn’t come to this site to read my thoughts on those issues (not directly, anyway… plus, if you are anywhere near a device capable of accessing the internet, you’re probably fairly caught up by this point). I just wanted to include that preface to acknowledge the gravity of the times before changing tracks to sharing a great recent chapter on… [ready?] streaming music.

On one of many great tracks from his latest album, Jeff Rosenstock (ex-Bomb the Music Industry!) sings

Born as a data mine for targeted marketing,
and no one will listen up
until you become a hashtag or a meme
but hate’s not a fad that dies with its virality.
They want you to be a ghost
when they rob you of your hope,
but you’ve got power when they’re not expecting anything.

Rosenstock is (finally) well-known (enough) for his iconoclastic approach to making, marketing and selling music, so him singing about frustration over the squandered potential of social media is nothing surprising. But that first line is particularly biting, especially since few people in the developed world exist outside of that matrix, and the ones who were too old to embrace social media have been dying out. Tell me the idea of being a “data mine” from birth doesn’t make you shiver at least a little bit. But, here we are.

Anyway, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and others have undergone heady analysis from social scientists and independent marketing firms. This chapter by Richard Prey in the new book Networked Music Cultures (link up above, citation down below) presents a new window into the data mining that’s become inextricable from streaming music listening. I’m not too familiar with Prey’s work, but he begins the chapter with an anecdote about Theodor Adorno, whose name you cannot have a single philosophical discussion about music, film, or television without mentioning at some point.

He goes onto pick apart how Spotify and Pandora manicure their profiles on users, which includes both individual listeners and businesses. So many shops, doctors’ offices, and eateries have actually dumped commercial radio in favor of Spotify and Pandora that it’s strange that Clearchannel and other corporate interests that have ruined consolidated radio haven’t mounted a more visible campaign against them (then again, I could be overlooking something).

If I had more time to flesh out my thoughts, I would provide a more comprehensive list of everything I dislike about streaming music. Aside from their tacit devaluing of music, their abject disregard for audio quality, and an even more insidious brainwashing of consumers into guilt-tripping other consumers for actually spending money on music (that sociological “Apple effect” is the worst one for me, honestly), Prey’s chapter provides a great overview of how Spotify, Pandora, and similar services integrate something as enjoyable as listening to (and discovering, on occasion) music into the data mining superstructure. How prescient Adorno’s rantings about “the culture industry” were. Enjoy the chapter and feel free to pass it along when someone looks at you funny and asks you why you don’t use Spotify.

Also, I’m aware of the irony of me posting this on various formats of social media in order to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.

Prey, R. (2016). Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening.In Nowak, R., & Whelan, A. (Eds.) Networked Music Cultures (pp. 31-48).Palgrave Macmillan UK.

 

UT Geographer Dr. Henri Grissino-Mayer discusses TN Wildfires with CNN

It’s always cool to see someone in your department speaking with the national press, especially at such a teachable moment for local policy-makers and an educational moment for those of us who didn’t realize quite how prone regions like this have always been to wildfires.

I can’t re-blog the CNN Post, so I’ll link the original post (with the video) here, and I’ll post the article text below. All the best wishes to those affected by the wildfires in Gatlinburg and the surrounding area.

‘Gatlinburg was made to burn,’ professor says

Gatlinburg, Tennessee (CNN)

The devastating wildfires that struck this week in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, could not have been stopped, experts say. Sudden winds reaching near-hurricane force caught people off guard, separated them from loved ones and forced thousands down tiny, winding mountain roads in pure panic. At least 11 people were killed and more are missing, some 700 structures have been lost and more than 17,000 acres have burned — most of them in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“The conditions that we normally experience in this region are not conducive to wildfires,” park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said. “We are a temperate rain forest.”
When not in a drought, the National Park Service has a very difficult time even doing a controlled burn because of the humidity in the air. Soehn says natural fires are very rare in the park.
But according to a local fire ecologist in the area, wildfires in the region weren’t always a rarity.
“If you look for it, you can find evidence of past wildfires in and around Gatlinburg,” said biogeographer Henri Grissino-Mayer of the University of Tennessee. “You can’t really prevent forest fires.”

‘Gatlinburg was made to burn’

Grissino-Mayer has studied wildfires for over 30 years and, more specifically, those in the Southeast for 20.

“Gatlinburg was made to burn,” he said.
He says he’s been predicting a fire in the area for 15 years. Residents need to know that they are living in a very fire-prone region because of its proximity to a national forest, he explained.

“This area in the Southeast especially is what we call the wildland-urban interface,” an area where large uninhabited lands neighbor urban development. That region, especially Gatlinburg, “is a very dangerous place.”
Being next to this big, uninhabited forest is the reason people build here, Grissino-Mayer says.
“This is the Southeast at its best,” he said.
And people want to have that rustic feel, he says, so they build beautiful wood homes on a hillside in the forest. Looking over the Great Smoky Mountains outside Pigeon Forge, Grissino-Mayer points out older trees that have been charred by wildfire in the past four years.

Next to one charred stump, a log cabin is being built. Then he notices a fence that was recently installed alongside the charred remains of the old one. He says people will buy this cabin without realizing that the one before it burned in a wildfire.
“This is fuel,” he said, pointing to the woods. “Everywhere around us is fuel, everything: trees, grass, shrubs, weeds. Everything. … All of this is fuel, and then guess what: All of this fuel butts up to a house made of fuel.”

History in the trees

Tourism in the area really kicked off with the foundation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Many displaced mountain families moved into town to develop new enterprises or take jobs in new hotels and restaurants.”
Tourism increased after World War II, about the same time wildfires started to diminish.
Grissino-Mayer is one of the world’s leading experts on tree rings. Looking at tree rings across the Great Smoky Mountains, he and his team have found a long history of wildfires. A slice of a tree has a series of rings, each one representing a year in the growth period of the tree. In the year of a wildfire, the fire leaves a scar along that ring. By looking at the scars, you can count the number of years between wildfires.

Grissino-Mayer runs his finger along one slice of a tree. From the early 1800s to early 1900s, he says, there was a “low-intensity fire” about every seven years. These aren’t the kind of fires we are used to seeing today: They didn’t roar. Instead, they crept along the understory, the area beneath the tree canopy, near the ground. Fires were smaller because there wasn’t enough fuel on the ground to make them any bigger.
That is, until the 1930s and ’40s. He points to an area near the edge of the slice that has almost no imperfections. This clean area represents almost a century without wildfires.

“We now have, after the last fire, 80 years of fuels built up,” Grissino-Mayer said. “And that means when fires return, it will be much more intense. We call that the Smokey Bear effect.”

Smokey Bear: More harm than good?

“Smokey the Bear is probably one of the best educational tools a federal agency has ever come up with,” Grissino-Mayer said.

The US Forest Service’s ad campaign has informed the public that we need to be aware of wildfires and to be better stewards of our forests. However, he said, “Smokey has done his job too well.”
It is now the public perception that wildfires are bad. Actually, he said, they’re beneficial. Forests need fires to recycle nutrients and clear the understory. Many species even require fire to thrive, he says, such as yellow pines, which must have a fire to regenerate. Dana Soehn agrees — when you talk about fire in relation to the ecosystem, there can be a mixed message when using Smokey the Bear.

However, there have been times that Smokey is a good reminder of what things can cause a wildfire — like cigarette butts and campfires. Recently, Dolly Parton — who owns Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, near Gatlinburg — joined Smokey for a public service announcement that taught people how to prevent wildfires.

Could Gatlinburg fires have been prevented?

“I don’t think (the wildfire) could have been prevented,” Grissino-Mayer said.
Soehn and others working the incident also believe there was nothing that could have stopped the extreme winds that rapidly spread the flames.The fire had been slowly creeping through the understory for days, said Soehn. By Monday morning the fire had only grown to 35 acres and the National Park Service alerted the surrounding communities. By the afternoon, based on the forecast winds, fire breaks were bulldozed around neighborhoods thought to be in the path of the fire. By 5 p.m. the fire had reached the city limits. When the winds started topping out at 80 mph, fires started spotting — carrying embers very far away and igniting new fires. The wind even knocked down power lines, which, in turn, sparked new fires. Just one hour later, Soehn says, the Gatlinburg Fire Department was battling 20 different structure fires.

“These were very rare and unprecedented conditions that lead to the destruction,” she said. “The opinions that I have heard from the scientists around me this week say that this is completely unpredictable.”

Grissino-Mayer believes that education would’ve helped saved lives and structures.
“There could have been more of an awareness of the danger that wildfire poses to Gatlinburg,” he said. “There could have been more education, more efforts to inform people of what to do and what to look out for and to be more wary.”
Soehn says the park service is proactive when it comes to education.
“With the way the conditions and winds were in this situation I don’t think this would have helped,” she said.
Grissino-Mayer says Gatlinburg could have probably been evacuated sooner, even though he understands how fast the fire flared.
“It is too soon” to begin to evaluate how things were handled, Soehn says. “But anytime there is a situation like this there is going to be learning points that come out of it.”
After the incident is over there will be teams that evaluate and review response and recovery efforts, she said. Grissino-Mayer says people must be aware of the environment and the forest in which they live, and they must understand that fire always has been and always will be a part of these forests.

Pecha Kucha Night, Knoxville. November 17th.

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I’m excited to announce that I’ll be presenting at the next Pecha Kucha night in Knoxville, Volume 21. The event will be held on Thursday, November 17th (doors at 6:30, 7pm start) at the Mill & Mine (227 W. Depot Ave) for the first time after holding many volumes at the Relix Variety and Bijou Theaters. Incidentally, the new venue’s founder, Ashley Capps, will be another one of the presenters, along with the Cattywampus Puppet Council (who I am crossing my fingers the producers don’t make me follow).

My subject will be retracing the depression-era journey of my great-grandfather, Irving Hurwitz (pictured here, standing with the violin, at the premiere of WTIC radio in Hartford in 1925). That’s all I’m giving away here, for now.

Pecha Kucha comes from Japanese slang which means chit-chat. It consists of nine presenters, getting 20 slides apiece and 20 seconds per slide to present their ideas. These events have spread to about 900 cities around the world; often times they have a slide show of crowds at PK nights around the globe running during intermission, which I love.

See you there!

GEOG 320 Visit to the East TN History Center ‘Come to Make Records’

My Cultural Geography class paid a visit to the Come to Make Records Exhibit at the East Tennessee History Center this Tuesday as part of our unit on musical geography. Photographic evidence below. We got there a few minutes late because we relied on the Vol Trolley (now the Orange Line) for transport from campus and had to navigate around more than one construction pit downtown, but otherwise the excursion was a complete success and the students enjoyed it. Special thanks to Eric Dawson of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS) for giving us a great tour, talking about how important the site and situation of Knoxville were in the St. James Hotel recording sessions of 1929 and 1930.

The exhibit runs through the end of October (last day on Sunday, October 30th), so you still have one week to go and see it if you haven’t yet. Admission is only $5 for non-members, and free on Sundays.

Help Map a Historically Black Cemetery in East Knoxville

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Attention people interested in GIS and small-scale mapping!

My good friend Maegan Dennison from the UT-Knoxville Anthropology Department is heading up a new service project that will spearhead field mapping, GIS, and web mapping for the Odd Fellows Cemetery in East Knoxville. The field work would take place in the Spring before the vegetation starts growing back so likely January – March 2017. I’ll be passing this announcement on to my students in GEOG 320, but I wanted to get the word out here in case anybody may be interested in learning more about, and contributing to, this historically black cemetery.

If you’re interested and/or looking for more information, you can email Maegan at mdenniso [at] vols [dot] utk [dot] edu.

GEO 320: Core Concepts in Cultural Geography (Fall 2016)

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I’m excited to announce here that I’ll be teaching Geography 320, our department’s core upper-level cultural geography course, this coming fall. This class has no prerequisite, though general proficiency in global geography (GEO 101, for example) is recommended. I’d be happy to have students from other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and ethnomusicology, especially those who haven’t been able to take a geography course yet while at UT-Knoxville.

Cultural Geography, like culture itself, is incredibly fluid. But with this course, I’m aiming to focus on how the relationship between people and place is interpreted through media, popular culture, religion, and public memory. By the end of this course, students should be able to understand and describe the effects of nature of culture, and vice versa.

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East TN music historian Shane Rhyne delivering a guest lecture in my GEO 101 class, October 23, 2014.

Similar to how I connected with the East Tennessee History Center’s “Made in Tennessee” exhibit in my GEO 101 curriculum last year, I’d like to continue that collaboration with their new “Come to Make Records” exhibit. This is one of a handful of interactive projects I’m looking forward to pursuing with this course, in addition to some great guest speakers and elements that students will be pleasantly surprised to find in a geography course. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach it while working on my dissertation.

The syllabus will be a work in progress over the summer, but if you’d like a preview of a some material I look forward to incorporating, check out (1) Duncan Light’s entertaining and informative 2014 piece on place names and (2) this article about Steven Lee Beeber’s research on punk rock’s manifestation of Jewish New York. Hopefully you enjoy this tip of the iceberg; if not, there is plenty more well outside of both those subjects. If you’re a UTK undergraduate student and interested in attending the course, don’t hesitate to write me and ask any questions at SonicGeography[at]gmail[dot]com.

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