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Tracing Cultural Responses to Geomorphologic Processes: A Longitudinal Cultural Project in the Yellowstone River Valley

Authors: Kathryn Kidd*, University of Missouri - Columbia, Susan Gilbertz, Montana State University-Billings, Damon Hall, University of Missouri-Columbia
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: cultural responses, geomorphological responses, longitudinal study, qualitative analysis, Yellowstone River
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 1996 and 1997, the people of the Yellowstone River experienced two consecutive 100-year floods, each damaging infrastructure, homes, and farmland. In the aftermath, scores of property owners requested permits for bank stabilization projects, and the process soon came under scrutiny. It was apparent that permitting did not account for the cumulative impact of these projects, and a multi-year, multi-faceted research endeavor was launched. Research products from this effort document different aspects of change over a 60-year timespan, including geomorphic, hydrologic and biologic changes. Another product, the Yellowstone River Cultural Inventory (YRCI), collected and cataloged stories about the river. The first YRCI interviews were conducted in 2006, the third of several drought years—and a full decade beyond the flooding of 1996. High water concerns were not at the fore in these conversations. Two additional field seasons were conducted in order to collect interview data under different conditions: 2012 (post-2011 flooding), and 2018 (a flood year followed by extreme drought). This paper is based on interviews with 15 individuals from the valley, each of whom was interviewed in 2006, 2012 and 2018. Our qualitative analysis of the themes and concerns they brought forward allows us to trace cultural responses to river processes. Our work begins to close the loop that connects humans and the environment: humans respond to natural processes, natural processes respond to human action, humans respond (again) to natural processes, etc. Our findings offer insights into the cultural responses of this repeating cycle.

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