- Working the Delaware Estuary: African American Cultural Landscapes and the Contours of Environmental Experience
- Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
- University of Minnesota Press
- Volume 25, Number 1, Spring 2018
- pp. 64-91
- View Citation
- Additional Information
African American work patterns, particularly those concerned with the handling and extraction of natural resources or labor in agricultural or industrial settings, have been at the heart of efforts to better understand black environmental experience. But few studies have made African American cultural landscapes—specifically, those places heavily shaped by African American labor—the focus of efforts to better understand the black community's environmental experience and its wider societal relevance. Within Philadelphia's Middle Atlantic orbit, African Americans long participated in the environmental dynamics and transformation of the region defined by the Delaware Estuary and the use of its marine resources. This legacy has been visible principally through Thomas Eakins's well-known scenes depicting African Americans working in the region's shad fisheries or guiding railbird hunters through once bountiful wild rice areas and marsh. Working landscapes inspired these and other depictions, assemblages of buildings, boats, harvesting technology, housing, and marketplaces where African Americans honed their environmental acumen in the context of industrial, consumer, and racialized sentiment. From this perspective, African Americans and their cultural landscapes inextricably arbitrated the harvesting, processing, knowledge, commodity flow, and consumption of the region's signature marine resources. In short, the Delaware Estuary's reach within Philadelphia's metropolitan sphere was critically influenced by environmental experience forged in the cultural landscapes of African Americans.