Today in GEOG 320: What Makes the South “the South?”

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This was the 5th result when I googled “the South.” (via a listicle-type article on ’19 Reasons why Southern Florida really isn’t “the South.”‘)

This morning in my GEOG 320 class, I introduced and discussed the concept of vernacular regions. That is, large-scale places that tend to be united by an idea rather than political borders (e.g. state lines) or physical borders (e.g. rivers). Because this class meets in Eastern Tennessee (a vernacular region usually defined by the Cumberland Plateau on the West and the NC border on the East) and many students are from this area, we split up into groups and decided to make brainstormed lists of what makes the South “the South.” The responses came from individuals from various points within the South as well as people who never lived in the South until college. The associations all had positive and negative connotations, depending on who you’d ask.

We only had time to get a small sample of each group’s list, but here are a good handful of things that make the south “The South” to get the conversation going.

  • The Mason-Dixon Line
    This formulates “the South” in the classic, antebellum sense, as the British astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew this to settle a border dispute between the Pennsylvania and Maryland colonies in the 18th century. Unsurprisingly, this meaning of this arbitrary line have changed over the years. Most Marylanders, including one member of our class, do not consider themselves Southerners. The same goes for DC, though it does have a big Southern cultural imprint on it.
  • Football & the SEC in General
    More than one group led the conversation with Football. There are few aspects of Southern cultural life that don’t tie into the gridiron in some way. Obviously, this isn’t unique to the South, as many cities outside of the vernacular region (Columbus, OH for example) take great pride in football and their cities transform on any given Sunday (or Saturday…or in some cases, Thursdays now).
  • The “Bible Belt”
    One student mentioned that she worked at an ice cream parlor in Pigeon Forge for some time. They would usually play the local classic rock station in the background, and more than once on Sunday afternoons, an older person would come to the counter and call it “inappropriate” to be playing music (at least something so secular) on the Lord’s day. This was one of many ways that living within “the Bible Belt” (a typically derogatory term) affects people here on that micro level. Again, this is not unique to The South, though stereotypically it’s more present here.
  • Regional Pride
    An abstract idea that’s hardly unique to the South, but it’s something that Southerners of all stripes and throughout the political spectrum have in droves. This often connects with Football.
  • Cooking
    This is a huge one, especially now that Southern cuisine is so popular that it’s even popping up internationally in places like London and Paris. I loved asking people for examples of this, because we heard several fun stories from those who’ve worked in the service industry. Here are some sub-topics within the foods that make the South “the South:”

    • Sugar and Fats
    • “Meat & 3”
    • Cornbread
    • Mac & Cheese
    • BBQ
    • Soup Beans
    • Fried Chicken
    • Shrimp Boils
    • Sweet Tea
    • Biscuits and Gravy
    • French-Influenced/Creole Food (this came from a student who grew up in Southern Mississippi, where Creole culture and Cajun food is much more prominent, closer to the Gulf).
    • “Comfort food” meaning larger people (Texas, we’re looking at you).
  • Clothing
    We didn’t get into this one quite as much, but one student did bring up Chacos and Camouflage, which are both worn all over the world but seem to have a pretty big role in Southern fashion.
  • Upbringing / Economy / Farming
    Although the South has become a major industrial manufacturing center over the past few decades, ideas about “the South” still revolve around the bucolic small-town, rural agrarian community. Farming still plays a big role in Southern legend, and it also feeds into the idea of…
  • Southern Hospitality vs. the “Fast” North
    Life in the South is, by all accounts, slow, and that’s the way many people like it. Cities like New York and DC have people zipping everywhere, but in the South people tend to take it easy. This is, of course, changing with many Southern cities growing at a fast rate, largely due to people migrating in from these smaller towns, as well as big Northern cities. Many of the middle-class people moving down from the North become known as…
  • Nashville (and Atlanta) Hipsters
    This is always a funny conversation. Both of these cities, on either side of us in Knoxville (not to say there aren’t plenty of hipsters here, too) are blowing up and with it come people priced out of Bohemian lifestyles in more expensive cities. Cities like Nashville, Atlanta, Savannah, New Orleans, and more have become cradles of new life for artists from all over the U.S.
  • Less of a Melting Pot / More Racism
    Racism is the unfortunate reality of anywhere less diverse (and even many diverse places as well). But since the South has been slower to diversify than other more urbanized regions, the stereotype of the racist Southerner has persisted. Also, the region’s history of institutionalized racism doesn’t help, but like everything, it’s changing.
  • Conservative
    The past few elections have seen a shift in classically “Red” Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina. This time around, there’s a good chance that Georgia and South Carolina may even go blue, given the growth of Atlanta, Savannah, and Charleston with more progressive population sets. That being said, “the South” is still a largely right-wing and conservative vernacular region, voting for more hard-line candidates and more influenced by the Baptist Church (see: the “Bible Belt.”)
  • Tourism / Guest Workers
    With the summer tourist season, the region attracts tons of guest workers from all over the world here on temporary visa programs, including Russia and Mongolia. One student actually mentioned how many French workers (some here illegally) are in Lexington working on Horse farms there. I had no clue.
  • Country Music / Bluegrass
    Though I did mention Dolly Parton as a symbol of Americana abroad, this one didn’t come up until a student stopped by on her way out of class and added it, since it was on her group’s list and they didn’t get down to it. This is a BIG one, as the music of “the South” has absolutely changed the world. Country Music’s industry is centered on Nashville (though country stars come from everywhere), and Bluegrass music (largely the province of rural Appalachia, much of which “the South” claims) has seen a major upsurge in popularity over the past decade.

It’s fun teaching cultural geography in the South because conversations like this can both teach many concepts in the subject, but can also go on for days. I’m sure that we left out plenty, too.

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Locals and Tourists (Geotagging)

Locals and Tourists #15 (GTWA #47): Santa Monica and western Los Angeles//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

While I am not as much of a cartography expert as I’d like to be, I wanted to share this project by the talented Eric Fischer. It landed on my news feed from Bill Bowen, the longtime chair of the Cal State Northridge Geography program and major benefactor of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographer (who you should hopefully have the chance to meet one day and chat with about the last six decades of Geographic education; he was there in Berkeley in the 1950s).

Anyway, Fischer’s project involves a heavy use of geotagging to cache where people discernible as “tourists” take photos in cities versus where those discernible as “locals” do. The results are not without the logistical issues (also, they are based on data from the beginning of this decade), but the visual output is stunning. It should also be highly intriguing and useful as a way to teach urban geography.

Locals and Tourists #4 (GTWA #3): Paris

Take, for example, the map of Paris above. Many of the red blotches are fairly easy to guess (The Eiffel Tower, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and Notre Dame), but others make for a fun challenge (Père Lachaise Cemetery, Versailles, and ???).

Here, kids, is a tourist.

Here, kids, is a tourist.

I hope you’re all having pleasant Sundays and hope you enjoyed this.

Wanted: Fans of DC Punk and Hardcore in Paris

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For those of you who don’t know me (which is probably many of you), my name is Tyler Sonnichsen, and I’m spending this month in Paris, looking for anybody here or elsewhere in France who enjoys the underground music of Washington, DC (e.g. Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bad Brains, Scream, Rites of Spring, and many more).

I am working on a project about French perceptions of Washington, DC outside the topic of government, US history, and those things which formulate mainstream tourism. Specifically, I am interested in (as a friend/colleague referred to it) your impression of Washington, DC, both before and after anytime you have visited. I would like to speak with you about how your love of DC’s legendary punk scene has altered your imagination of the city.

Why are you in Paris?
When I first visited in 2010, I was living and working in DC. I attended a Kimmo performance at Le Pix during my incredibly brief stay in the city, and I was surprised by the clear influence that “the DC sound” had on their music. Additionally, I saw all sorts of signatures of DC hardcore around the room, including at least two Bad Brains t-shirts and a Thrashington, DC pin. I later found out they were from Brest, which made me interested in how profoundly French punk was influenced by those bands.

What do you mean “impression?”
I’m interested in not only the changing dynamics of place, but peoples’ perception of place. This is very important to several industries today, especially tourism, which I have also been studying. When I ask you about your thoughts on Washington, DC, there are no wrong answers. The images of the city and its music have made a major worldwide impact, and I’m interested in what they mean to you. It does not matter if you have ever been to DC. Actually, that may possibly be better.

Who are you looking for? 
If you live in France and love DC punk and hardcore, I want to talk to you. I am seeking a wide variety of voices: all races, all ages, all genders, all stories. Unfortunately, my French is not nearly as good as I would like it to be, so I would prefer if we could talk in English. However, if you are more comfortable speaking in French, then you are definitely welcome to.

So, if you or anybody you know would like to participate in the project, do not hesitate to call me (in France) at 06 18 33 88 60 or to email me at sonicgeography [at] gmail.com.

Thanks to/Merci a Phil Roizes.

Thanks to/Merci a Phil Roizes.

Maintenant, en français (via google translate en raison de contraintes de temps…désolé si il y a des incohérences).

Pour ceux d’entre vous qui ne me connaissent pas (ce qui est probablement beaucoup d’entre vous), mon nom est Tyler Sonnichsen, et je vais passer ce mois-ci à Paris, à la recherche de quelqu’un ici ou ailleurs en France qui jouit de la musique underground de Washington , DC (par exemple de Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bad Brains, Scream, Rites of Spring, et beaucoup plus).

Je travaille sur un projet sur les perceptions françaises de Washington, DC en dehors du sujet du gouvernement, de l’histoire américaine, et les choses qui formulent intégrer le tourisme. Plus précisément, je suis intéressé par (comme un ami / collègue a fait référence à elle) votre impression de Washington, DC, à la fois avant et après chaque fois que vous avez visité. Je voudrais vous parler de la façon dont votre amour de la légendaire scène punk de DC a modifié votre imagination de la ville.

Pourquoi êtes-vous à Paris?
Quand je suis allé la première fois en 2010, je vivais et travaillais à Washington DC. Je assisté à une représentation au Kimmo Le Pix pendant mon incroyablement bref séjour dans la ville, et je suis surpris par l’influence clair que “le son DC” a eu sur leur musique. En outre, je voyais toutes sortes de signatures de DC inconditionnel autour de la salle, y compris au moins deux cerveaux t-shirts Bad et une badge Thrashington, DC. Je découvris plus tard, ils étaient de Brest, qui m’a fait intéressé à sav
oir comment profondément le punk français a été influencé par ces bandes.

Que voulez-vous dire “impression?”
Je suis intéressé non seulement la dynamique changeante de place, mais la perception de la place de peuples. Ceci est très important pour plusieurs industries d’aujourd’hui, en particulier le tourisme, dont je suis également étudié. Quand je vous demande de vos pensées sur Washington, DC, il n’y a pas de mauvaises réponses. Les images de la ville et sa musique ont eu un impact majeur dans le monde entier, et je suis intéressé par ce qu’ils signifient pour vous. Il n’a pas d’importance si vous avez déjà été à DC. En fait, cela peut éventuellement être mieux.

Qui cherchez-vous?
Si vous vivez en France et aimez le punk et le hardcore DC, je veux vous parler. Je cherche une grande variété de voix: toutes les races, tout les âges, tous les sexes, toutes les histoires. Malheureusement, mon français est loin d’être aussi bon que je voudrais que ce soit, donc je préférerais si nous pouvions parler en anglais. Toutefois, si vous êtes plus à l’aise en français, alors vous êtes certainement le bienvenu à.

Donc, si vous ou quelqu’un que vous connaissez aimerait participer au projet, ne pas hésiter à me contacter (en France) au 06 18 33 88 60 ou contactez-moi au sonicgeography [at] gmail.com. 

(Re)Photography in the American South (Part One: New Orleans)

For a wide variety of reasons, postcards (specifically, antique ones) have been occupying a lot of my mental landscape recently. As I previously mentioned, a large collection of old ones landed in my lap last year. While I’ve been rotating the wheels in the arduous process of cataloging them, I’ve also had the assignment to review Picturing Illinois: Twentieth-Century Postcard Art from Chicago to Cairo (2012; University of Illinois Press), an excellent history of that state patched together through postcards from the first half of the twentieth century, land in my lap as well. I’ll keep this blog posted as that unfolds, but for now, the book is providing me with great context for what I’ve been gathering through this particular collection, that of which spans from the early 1930’s through the mid-1940’s. 

The reason I haven’t been able to update this site too much lately was because I happened to be on a road trip across the Gulf Coast recently. Considering how much (Re)Photography has captured my fleeting interest over the past year, I did not miss my opportunity to track down a few of the locations in a few of my postcards and make some attempt to recreate the pictures. Today and Wednesday, I’ll be sharing a handful of arguably successful examples.

ROYAL STREET IN NEW ORLEANS’ FRENCH QUARTER

Postmarked Jan 17, 1941. The Caption: "Royal Street is known throughout the world for it's curio dealers, perfume shops and antique stores where one can find beautiful specimens of old furniture, jewelry, chinaware and ancient firearms. In early Creole days Rue Royal was the main street of the French City and along its narrow thoroughfare are clustered many historical buildings. Every block of Royal Street teems with interest. It is one of the most interesting streets because of the many old homes, priceless wrought-iron railings, quaint courtyards and lovely gardens."

Postmarked Jan 17, 1941. The Caption: “Royal Street is known throughout the world for it’s curio dealers, perfume shops and antique stores where one can find beautiful specimens of old furniture, jewelry, chinaware and ancient firearms. In early Creole days Rue Royal was the main street of the French City and along its narrow thoroughfare are clustered many historical buildings. Every block of Royal Street teems with interest. It is one of the most interesting streets because of the many old homes, priceless wrought-iron railings, quaint courtyards and lovely gardens.”

I’ve gone on record before saying that New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, crumbling infrastructure, rampant corruption, sauna-like heat 10 months out of the year, and all. I wouldn’t disagree with the postcard’s label on the back declaring it “AMERICA’S MOST INTERESTING CITY” at all; at least, that’s what I call it to anybody who has not yet visited it. There is nowhere on earth I can imagine quite like it. Even outside of the French Quarter (or, as many would argue, primarily outside of the Quarter) you’ll find plenty of unique local flavor, particularly because there won’t be quite as many hundred thousands of tourists devouring it and driving up prices.

That being said, no trip to NOLA is complete without at least a leisurely walk through the French Quarter. Considering how ornate the city has made sure to keep almost all of the structures within the Quarter, it’s easy to forget how many people actually live within that section of the city. I can’t imagine life is particularly easy for anybody in the Big Easy, and especially so for those who live in that hallowed ground between Canal Street to the West and Frenchman St. to the East. Based on my limited experience, one piece of advice I’d give is to take a walk down Bourbon Street just to say you did- and then get the hell off of Bourbon Street. The Quarter actually has plenty of good local haunts that friends there have helped me discover, even along other such touristy thoroughfares like Royal Street. 

Last Sunday, I found myself with a little time to kill before finding a bar in which to watch the World Cup Final, so it occurred to me to pull out the postcard (above) from my bag, take a walk down Royal Street and see if I could spot where that illustration was made back in what I would assume was the 1920’s or 30’s, based on the mailing date of the postcard. I began on Canal Street, stopping into a hotel I once stayed at with my family in the late 90’s. I’d be lying if I said the pull of nostalgia outweighed the lure of functional air conditioning; although a storm had passed before I got to town, the humidity was still thick enough to make me pass out if I’d even tried chasing after a bus. I set down Royal Street for at least six blocks, pacing incrementally to study every lattice-work to compare it to the one on the postcard. I nearly interrupted two different tour guides to ask them if they either recognized the balcony or knew whether Royal had ever had a streetcar line (artists hired to illustrate places for postcards often took certain artistic license to complete their task of selling their employer’s city to outsiders; for all I knew, he/she could have been playing on outsiders’ attraction to streetcars, many of which were starting to disappear from American cities over the course of the 1940’s). In retrospect, I’m glad I chose not to be “that guy” and interrupt the tour guides and all of their patrons.

When I got to the corner of St. Ann, I turned around and looked up. There it was.

Picture 007I had landed upon a new set of challenges. I had no way of knowing if the restaurant owned or had any access to the balcony where the photographer stood when taking the picture on the postcard. The only way was to, as politely as possible, ask. I stepped into Pere Antoine and asked if I could speak to the manager. There turned out to be several around, as they were in the mid-afternoon shift change. One of them, Holly, politely told me how cool the postcard was, and regretfully, the second story were all private residences. The restaurant had access to the balcony, but only managers and nobody from the public were allowed on it. She offered to bring my camera up there and take a picture from that perspective for me, which was very generous. As I prepared to hand it to her, she stopped me and said, “wait a second. Let me find James.” James was the restaurant’s GM, and he nearly flipped when I showed him the postcard. He asked if he could scan it and email it to the restaurant’s owner. I pulled out a few other New Orleans and Louisiana souvenir packets from the late 30’s, and the restaurant’s whole staff eagerly gathered to look through them. James looked at Holly for a few seconds asking almost rhetorically if anyone would really mind if he escorted me up to the balcony. As he went to get his keys, I smiled to myself and thought, repeatedly: ‘This is why you ask. This is why you always ask.’

Picture 009

July 13, 2014.

Not bad. The planter (which James and I attempted to move, unsuccessfully) clearly was not in the photo illustration, and the Desire line (yes, that one) had long been torn out of the street below, and somebody covered the wooden structure with red stucco years ago, but otherwise, the block does not look a whole lot different than it did eighty years ago. James even pointed out that the yellow building on the opposite side of Royal, while the windows had been redone, was still yellow

Thank you again to the enthusiastic and courteous staff at Pere Antoine Restaurant for making this possible. I was more than happy to stay there to drink and watch the second half (and extra time!) of the match. I’ll definitely be stopping back through to say hello the next time I’m back in the Crescent City.

Before I end this entry, I’m going to include these bonus tracks of sorts. I actually had a moment of pause while searching for the postcard balcony (which was located at 741 Royal Street) while passing by a gorgeous building at 700 Royal. It turned out to be a three-story facility that remains one of the most-photographed buildings in New Orleans. After getting back to Knoxville, I checked my archives and was able to dig up a pair of photographs I took on that block in 1998. 

The Royal Cafe at 700 Royal Street in April 1998.

The Royal Cafe at 700 Royal Street in April 1998.

From what I can remember, I took this picture while on a walking tour of the area (the exact kind of tour I would come close to annoyingly interrupting sixteen years later). I remember fixating on the latticework and the hanging planters at the time; the latticework is still beautiful and the planters are no longer there. Also, the Royal Cafe, despite the best songwriting efforts of Mark Eitzel, closed down within the past decade, and I think there’s a tourist shop on the street level now. No idea how the upstairs spaces are being used. 

The 700 Block of Royal Street, April 1998.

The ??? Block of Royal Street, April 1998.

I believe I took this facing Northeast, farther West from that previous photo, considering the direction the cars are facing. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken more candid photos of people at that age; the benign inter-era fashions of the late 1990’s deserved more attention. Anyway, if you look farther down the street (provided this is still Royal Street, which I think it is) you can faintly spot the corner of St. Ann.

It’d be interesting to compare the palimpsest landscape of certain New Orleans neighborhoods to one another, hurricane destruction notwithstanding. Businesses and residents come and go in the French Quarter much like any commercially-zoned area, and like most historically-protected area, the city suppresses any major changes. This dynamic probably formulates the bread and butter of New Orleans more so than any major American city (though that conversation also includes tourist-savvy places like Boston and St. Augustine, the latter of which was enduring a serious septic rooting project when I stopped through there last week).

I’ll keep paying attention to this in my own way on subsequent visits. And there will be subsequent visits, believe me.

Anyway… TUNE BACK IN SOON FOR “(RE)PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH (PART TWO: MOBILE, BIRMINGHAM, AND CHATTANOOGA)” coming Wednesday.