Research Related Honors: Distinguished Career Award, Ethnic Geography Specialty Group, AAG (2017); Meredith Burrill Award (2011); Urban Communication Foundation Journal Article Award (with Heather Ward) (2010); Globe Book Award (with Owen Dwyer), Association of American Geographers (2008); Research Honors Award, Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (2006); Five-Year Research Achievement Award, East Carolina University (2006); J. WarrenNystrom Dissertation Award, Association of American Geographers (2000).
Downloadable copies of published research are available at ResearchGate
Geographies of Public Memory, Heritage Tourism, and Commemorative Justice
My work recognizes the socially constructed and contested nature of commemorating the past and the importance that space, place, and scale play in memorialization and the heritage tourism industry. Where a memorial is located is not incidental but actively shapes how people conceptualize and carry out the politics of commemoration and the larger goal of achieving social justice. Much of the work in this area has focused on the commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., examining the role of African Americans in naming streets for the slain civil rights leader, the controversies they face, and the ultimate locations which these named streets occupy. I am particularly interested in understanding how place names serve as arenas for debating the meaning of King’s historical legacy. More recently, my work has expanded to address the politics of remembering (or forgetting) the history of slavery in the US South, particularly at antebellum plantation heritage tourism sites. Much of my work on commemoration and heritage tourism is a sensitivity to the racial struggles and controversies that underlie public memory.
Geographic Images, Place & Media, and Landscape Inscription
“Geographic Images” is a theme that recognizes the powerful role that place representation, media geographies, and landscape inscription plays in contemporary society, including the selling of tourist destinations in brochures, the reporting of people and places on the television news, the politics of place naming, and even the writing of graffiti. My work in this area also focuses on understanding the relationship between global telecommunications media and traditional regional cultures such as the American South. I have suggested in some of my research that the Internet can be conceptualized as a form of “electronic folklore” about people and places. Most recently, my interest in place and media has expanded to include film-induced tourism and its social impact on destination communities, such as the impact of Mayberry and the Andy Griffith Show on Mount Airy, NC.
Cultural and Historical Geographies of the American South
Much of my work is undertaken with the goal of understanding the cultural and historical geographies of the American South and the role of change, continuity, and contest in shaping the region’s landscapes. Borrowing a term from American Studies scholar Lothar Honnighausen, I study the South as a “value-charged symbolic space.” Underlying this research is an appreciation for the human agency and intentionality behind the construction of landscapes — whether it involves analyzing tourist inscriptions on the wall outside of Graceland, public debates over the building of memorial to the transatlantic slave trade in Savannah, GA, the transcultural geography of NASCAR, or the production of racialized landscapes through TVA.
Naturework, Biography, and Cultural Geography of Exotic Species
The theme of “nature work” focuses on how social actors and groups culturally define and represent their relationship with the physical, natural environment. Nature does not exist in some universal state but can be viewed from multiple and sometimes competing perspectives. I have employed the concept of “nature work” in writing about the cultural history and geography of kudzu, a fast growing, exotic vine found throughout the American South. The plant exists on many different levels culturally, representing an irritant for some and an icon for others. My work on kudzu is part of a larger concern about the role of discourse and claims-making in shaping environmental perception and action. More recently, my attention has turned to applying a “biographical” analysis to kudzu, uncovering the life stories and narratives of the people who identify with the vine and attempt to shape its image and meaning.