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A state of words: writing about Arizona, 1912-2012

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This dissertation explores how the written word and natural and cultural landscapes entwine to create a place, the process by which Arizona's landscapes affected narratives written about the place and

This dissertation explores how the written word and natural and cultural landscapes entwine to create a place, the process by which Arizona's landscapes affected narratives written about the place and how those narratives created representations of Arizona over time. From before Arizona became a state in 1912 to the day its citizens celebrated one hundred years as a state in 2012, words have played a role in making it the place it is. The literature about Arizona and narratives drawn from its landscapes reveal writers' perceptions, what they believe is important and useful, what motivates or attracts them to the place. Those perceptions translated into words organized in various ways create an image of Arizona for readers. I explore written works taken at twenty-five year intervals--1912 and subsequent twenty-five year anniversaries--synthesizing narratives about Arizona and examining how those representations of the place changed (or did not change). To capture one hundred years of published material, I chose sources from several genres including official state publications, newspapers, novels, poetry, autobiography, journals, federal publications, and the Arizona Highways magazine. I chose sources that would have been available to the reading public, publications that demonstrated a wide readership. In examining the words about Arizona that have been readily available to the English-reading public, the importance of the power of the printed word becomes clear. Arizona became the place it is in the twenty-first century, in part, because people with power--in the federal and state governments, boosters, and business leaders--wrote about it in such a way as to influence growth and tourism sometimes at the expense of minority groups and the environment. Minority groups' narratives in their own words were absent from Arizona's written narrative landscape until the second half of the twentieth century when they began publishing their own stories. The narratives about Arizona changed over time, from literature dominated by boosting and promotion to a body of literature with many layers, many voices. Women, Native American, and Hispanic narratives, and environmentalists' and boosters' words created a more complex representation of Arizona in the twenty-first century, and more accurately reflected its cultural landscape, than the Arizona represented in earlier narratives.

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  • 2014