Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Historical Landscape Change in Yellowstone National Park: Demonstrating the Value of Intensive Field Observation and Repeat Photography

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Historical Landscape Change in Yellowstone National Park: Demonstrating the Value of Intensive Field Observation and Repeat Photography

Article excerpt

As an academic discipline, geography is inherently interdisciplinary and place-based drawing from a wide variety of methods and approaches that span the physical and social sciences. Field studies, in particular, are deeply rooted in geography, because they take place in physical locations, are informed by the cultural context of "place," and may use quantitative and qualitative tools and techniques for data gathering, analysis, illustration, and interpretation. This paper describes a one-week-long field course in Yellowstone National Park undertaken by faculty and students from Missouri State University and Idaho State University in June 2014. Its primary goal is to contribute to our understanding of national parks as deeply humanized places whose landscapes record and reveal changing social expectations of and experiences in nature. More specifically, it addresses the historical geography of transportation and outdoor recreation in Yellowstone during the National Park Service's (NPS) first century, 1916 to 2016. To this end, photo-pairs derived using repeat photography are used to document landscape change along parts of the Howard Eaton Trail (HET), a once-famous trail built and maintained by the NPS from 1923 until 1970. This project adds to the numerous repeat-photography studies set in national parks and is the first to use photo-pairs to examine how different modes of travel affect the tourist experience in Yellowstone. In addition, it is the first scholarly work to address the role of saddle-horse tours or "trail riding" as part of the park experience and includes a map and discussion of the Howard Eaton Trail as evidence of how the NPS's recreation policies manifest themselves on the landscape.

A secondary goal is to use our field course as evidence of the continuing value of fieldwork as form of research in geography as an academic discipline. At a time when research data can be accessed easily and quickly from online sources, and students can upload and download course materials without setting foot outside, conducting research-based field courses may seem an antiquated approach to teaching and learning. However, this paper suggests that field courses allow students a real-world immersion in "place" that may result in a more intensive, personal, and synergistic learning experience than provided by classroom, lab, or online learning alone. The processes of site selection, hiking, observation, and photo-pair analysis required of using rephotography as a field method encourages students to relive the historical experience of place. Faculty, too, benefit from the give-and-take as alternative theories and observations are proposed by students and faculty, each of whom brings fresh eyes and ideas to the project. Hence, field courses promote faculty-student research through intellectual connections and discussions and the collaborative process of weaving together archival research, field-based observations, and the visual evidence of historic and contemporary photographs to better understand cultural landscape change.

ROLE OF FIELDWORK IN GEOGRAPHY

Engaging in fieldwork and teaching field courses has a long and rich tradition in geography (Davis 1954; Piatt 1959; Corey 1968; Parsons 1977). Geographers find fieldwork "a process of investigation, vital for learning," and we "identify ourselves in large part through our fieldwork" (DeLyser and Starrs 2001, vi-vii; see also Parsons 1977). Fieldwork is essential to what geographers do, how we think, our areas of specialty, and our methodical development both in North America and around the world (Foskett 1999; Gade 2001; Gomez Mendoza 2001; Mathewson 2001; Rice and Bulman 2001). Yi-Fu Tuan reminds us that fieldtrips are more than one trip or one project, but instead a way of seeing the world and that life itself is an extended fieldtrip (Tuan 2001).

In the American tradition dating back to Carl Sauer and the Berkeley School's morphological approach to landscape study, geographers have been keenly interested in human-environment interactions. …

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