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Hard Places: Reading the Landscape ofAmerica’ s Historic Mining Districts Richard V. Francaviglia. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991 Reviewed by Pa u l F. St a r r s Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557 As A SLICE OF ANALYTICAL cultural geography, Richard Francaviglia’s 1991HardPlaces: Reading theLandscapeofAmerica’s Historic Mining Districts is more readily respected than enjoyed. This is a decentbook in a well-meaning academic sense. It is solid and strongly built, an Oldsmobile of the cultural landscape. Beyond its easily recognized worthiness as a pedagogical volume, this book suffersfrom overbearing seriousness. Itfails to convey even a fleeting glimpse of the wondrous sense ofjoy that enchants devotees of ghost towns and the all-but-abandoned mining sites that dot North America and especially the arid American West. Not quite a field guide or a “how-to” book, noraconventional historical geography, the text, with a terrific assortment of well-integrated photographs, is mostly just 129 130 APCG YEARBOOK • VOLUME 54 • 1992 “there.” It gets a job done. After reading the 215 pages (with additional notes, bibliography, and other such emoluments) anyone would agree thatmining landscapes aresomething to beconjured with and that distinct techniques can be applied to mining district analysis. Clearly, the intentions are laudable. It is execution that gets in the way. Francaviglia, with a doctorate in geography from the University of Oregon and with a twenty-year history of working throughout the western states in both government resource agencies and academia, is a tenured professor at the University ofTexas at Arlington. He directs the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies and the History of Cartography. Pedigree is important because Francaviglia is someone who has traveled the country widely and well, in the process docu­ menting and photographing a bevy of mining districts. All this provides a body offacts that are woven into the fabric ofFrancaviglia’s story of how to study mining landscapes in the United States. The organization ofHard Places is not hard to follow. Individual chapters treat the identification, interpretation, and perception of mining country, and especially mining “districts,” formal entities recognized by miners, government analysts, and mining corpora­ tions. The basic goal is to suggesthow readers can read the landscapes of mining, and Francaviglia acknowledges an up-front debt to Read­ ing the Landscape, published 35 years ago by Mae Thielgaard Watts. Where the Watts book was basically a primer in understanding local ecology (what we might now call a “bioregion”), this concentrates on human constructs. Buildings and street grids, historical museums and company towns count for a lot. But mining’s influence in deforesting a considerable radius around a mining district, the consequences of cyanide heap-leaching on local soils, or the effects of waste water ponds on wildlife populations get less than a passing word. It also seems odd that there is no mention ofPeirce Lewis’s more up-to-date and equally distinctive work on the reading of landscapes. There is not a single reference in the entire book to J.B. Jackson, whose work has all but defined the thickest vein of American cultural landscape STARRS: Review of Hard Places 131 studies, including commentaries like the classic 1960 Landscape essay on “The Four Comers Country,” on mobility, mining, and the land and life of western states. The core of this book is concrete. List after list guides a reader away from error: five imageable aspects of place; three fundamental categories of the visual character of mining districts; six aspects of commercial architecture design; five parts to a mining district’s life cycle; four forces that contribute to the disappearance of miningrelated features; seven processes that define mining landscapes; and fourways to distinguish mining scenes from othercultural and natural features. These inventories seem a bit like the cram sheet for a mid­ term examination. They don’t come all at once. In the best parts of Hard Places, Francaviglia overcomes a headlong tendency toward tallying. A wonderful range of pages covers the physical accumulations associated with mining, concen­ trating on debris. Here is a feast for the eyes and ears and tongue: chat piles, tailings ponds, slag heaps, colm banks, and overburden, each of a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1551-3211
Print ISSN
0066-9628
Pages
pp. 129-133
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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