spatial politics · University of Alabama

musings

 

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Image of the shed that stood behind the now-demolished Kilgore House in present Hackberry Park.

And there it was.

I was wandering through aisles of books with words like “semiconductor” in search of a geography title mentioned in Stephanie Camp’s study on spatial politics in the plantation South.

Through the window of the University of Alabama’s Rogers Library, where our engineering and science holdings are held, I saw the old shed that once stood behind the now-gone Kilgore House, former home of the university’s first co-eds.

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The now empty “park” on which the postbellum house once sat tells many stories about Tuscaloosa’s past and present including how we value certain narratives involving the seemingly powerless (or powerful).

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Kilgore House.

I have heard about the bold women who lived in the house.

 

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Kilgore “girls.”

Even with the building gone, there’s room to consider how we might recover what appears to be a hidden history. Absence often speaks volumes.

In the video above, presence speaks volumes. Three years ago, students enrolled in my first “Antebellum America” class made linkages between the “coming of age” moment in America during the antebellum period and  the Kilgore House girls as well as other postbellum and even antebellum women and their own lives.

This fall, my next “Antebellum America” class will also have room, no pun intended, to consider the built environment on and off campus. I once had a historical geography class in which a professor took us on a two-day field trip that ended in the Quad Cities. We followed the Chicago River as best we could from a tour bus.

“Why is that there?” the instructor would ask over and over again.

Once, we were standing in front of a post office mural. Turns out it was a WPA mural. The mural calmed waiting customers while giving work to artists.

Soon, we were standing in front of a Main Street building with glass windows, floor to ceiling. It had been a car dealership. Beside it, an old bank making it easier for customers to get money to buy their cars.

I plan to ask the same questions in front of many structures on and off campus this fall to my “Antebellum America” students.

Sometimes I will ask, “Why isn’t that there?” or “What could be here?”

These are important questions to ask on the eve of our state and city’s bicentennial. In my first six years here at UA, and with the help of incredible people like Katherine Richter Edge, Ian Crawford and Lydia Ellington Jofray,  I have spent a lot of time exploring the landscape and histories with students.

Amateur videos bring memories and pose new sets of questions, even ones not fully formed.

On other fronts, it has been a pleasure celebrating the recent tenure of someone mentioned many times on this blog: my colleague Dr. Hilary Green.

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Celebrating the tenure of Dr. Hilary Green (far right) with Dr. Ellen Spears, John Beeler and Spears’ husband Brian.

Like me and others on this campus, she uses local space to ask questions about our past and present.

As I attend my first Association of American Geographers meeting in New Orleans next week, I am excited. I have told Hilary and our colleague Dr. Ellen Spears that I was floored to see the amazing subjects being addressed as so many scholars and students try to find meaning in space.

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Who knew in simply taking a photograph and inserting one’s image into it one can craft a particular narrative?

Indeed, the photo of me above would not have been easily taken on these steps when this shed behind the site of the now-gone Kilgore House even 60 years ago.

 

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