Mental maps and memory work: Qualitative approaches to understanding Oklahoma's five deadliest tornadoes

Authors: Ashley Allen*, Ohio Wesleyan University
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Cultural Geography
Keywords: memory, risk perception, mental maps, hazards, cultural geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 7
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Stories surrounding the five deadliest tornadoes in Oklahoma continue to be told for many reasons, including links to social memory and identity. Tornadoes are a real risk to Oklahomans, and how residents recognize these risks is often tied to stories outlining historic tornado events that are representative of the worst-case scenario for many Oklahomans. In this paper, I discuss the memory work surrounding the five deadliest tornadoes in Oklahoma history, recreating the mental maps of the survivors who told me their stories. Many storytellers use specifics such as street names or physical landmarks to ground the story to its intended region or audience. By showcasing these in a visual way, researchers can further understand the specific experiences, emotions, and outcomes of past tornado survivors, including what and where they pinpoint the most meaningful part of their experiences. This can further explain how historic weather experiences are significant in shaping risk perception, adaptive practices, and human-environment interactions.

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