Rematerializing Geographies of Myth

Authors: Nicolas T Bergmann*, Montana State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Historical Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: new materialism; affective political ecology; myth; Yellowstone River
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This article brings together the previously distinct analytical tools of myth and assemblage to historicize perceptions of the Yellowstone River as the longest undammed or free-flowing river remaining in the contiguous United States. Although existing geographical interpretations of myth contribute significantly to advancing understandings of its character and function, they either too easily detach myth from its connection to physical reality or, when materiality is incorporated, do so in a way that maintains its ontological distinction as solely conceptual. Relying on geographical understandings of myth that define it not only in relation to story but also in its capacity as landscape, I trace the emergence and evolution of belief in the Yellowstone as the longest undammed or free-flowing river from its beginnings in the wild and scenic rivers movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s to contemporary environmental conflicts that expose its contradictions and threaten its continued existence. Combining recent theorizations of assemblage with existing geographical scholarship about myth, I argue that actors within Montana Fish and Game – embedded within an active and dynamic environment – created a new ‘mythic assemblage’ for the Yellowstone River throughout the late 1970s as a political tool to gain legal protection for the river. Tracing the origins and transformations of this mythic landscape, supports not only the inseparability of the material and conceptual but also simultaneously denaturalizes its political and environmental effects.

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