Defense Date

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Media, Art, and Text

First Advisor

Noreen C. Barnes

Second Advisor

Laura Browder

Third Advisor

Richard Fine

Fourth Advisor

John Kneebone

Fifth Advisor

June Nicholson

Abstract

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a narrow peninsula separating the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. Residents of the rural counties of Accomack and Northampton County share a strong sense of cultural identity based on geography, rooted in a distinct communal sense of place reinforced by an agricultural lifestyle. Storytelling around dinner tables and on front porches at dusk, speeches at high school graduations, family recipes talked through in a grandmother’s kitchen – it is through oral language that Eastern Shore people have primarily shared the knowledge that sustains their sense of communal identity. Oral knowledge of farming techniques and land use are handed down generation by generation through material lessons in the fields and woods. The most natural and effective research method for understanding Eastern Shore culture and its peoples’ sense of place is the collection of oral histories. The interviews collected for the Eastern Shore Stories project focus on farm life on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the mid-twentieth century, before the widespread use of electricity, tractors, or chemicals. The stories from the interviews seem quaint individually – nostalgic stories of how things used to be – but as a body of interviews, they accrue a weight and a coherence that offer interesting counterpoints to pervasive assumptions about progress and technology. It is those interesting counterpoints that this dissertation explores. This researcher expected to hear about plowing behind a team of mules and scratching out potatoes. She did not expect to hear retired farmers speak of the loneliness of modern farming, of how 2,500 acres used to support fifty families and now barely supports one. What emerged from the collective interviews was a sense that the industrialization of agriculture in this local community has caused unforeseen losses and those losses, however intangible, have been deleterious. Despite this, people from the Eastern Shore struggle to retain a sense of communal identity, defined by geography and familial connections. Their sense of belonging to this particular place persists in the face of rapid technological and cultural changes, creating tension between the place as it was and the place as it evolves in the twenty-first century.

Rights

© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

November 2012

Available for download on Saturday, November 26, 2022

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