Guest Authors: Miranda Fuller and Kate Kramer, with Tarez Samra Graban, Associate Professor of English and Honors Teaching Scholar
This is the second installment of three highlighting the work of students in Special Collections and Archives with HUM 2937/IDH 3109 Sustainable Public Discourse during American Archives Month 2021. You can read the first installment on Illuminations.
“Accommodationism in Historical Context” – Miranda Fuller
In 1955, Florida’s Wildlife was being studied and quantified by scientists through many development projects funded by the Federal Fish and Wildlife Restoration Acts. While this was happening, one editor was collecting the scientific information from these researchers and translating it for public consumption, spurring public appreciation for the specimens that the scientists were working to preserve. That was Mary Lou Norwood, and her papers in Florida State University’s Special Collections & Archives offer one fascinating example of positive accommodationist practices. Following the opportunity I had to take an in-person look at FSU’s Conservation in Florida collection, there are many connections I have to make between the discourse I’ve been studying this semester and the actual examples of environmental rhetoric that our class was able to analyze. Specifically, I took to the Mary Lou Norwood papers, collected by editorial assistant to the Florida Wildlife Magazine Mary Lou Norwood during the course of her receiving, restating, and publishing information about Florida’s local flora and fauna in the same magazine. The papers include several reports made by scientists working on various development projects related to Florida’s ecosystem:
letters addressed to Norwood containing more personalized information about local Florida species:
and Norwood’s own drafts of articles that were eventually featured in the Florida Wildlife Magazine:
Something that interested me in examining this collection was the role of the scientific accommodator as described in Jeanne Fahnestock’s “Accommodating Science: The Rhetorical Life of Scientific Facts,” (1) and the different changes that occur through the process of accommodation that is observable in the collection. A shift in stasis, or argumentative frame, is an often unavoidable phenomenon that takes place when a writer translates or transmutes “expert” scientific findings for “non-expert” readers. But being able to see examples of scientific accommodationism when the term hadn’t yet been systematically defined makes the concept seem a lot more concrete and long-lasting. I discovered that Norwood’s talents at accommodationism successfully shifted the role of nature from object to spirit in the magazine articles that she wrote. Though, no doubt, some scientific justification slips through the cracks, Norwood’s goal probably was not to make her readers experts on wildlife subjects. Her goal was more likely to educate them marginally on these subjects, enough to make them aware how species are relevant to Florida’s ecosystem, and to make them want to continue reading the Florida Wildlife Magazine.
“Conservationism as a Function of Motivation” – Kate Kramer
Conservationism as a discourse takes on a role of its own outside of just environmental protection and activism. In fact, the concept is often used to present a false dichotomy in which people and ideologies are grouped into camps with or against one another. This can be seen in M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer’s discussion of ecospeak: the discourse around environmental sustainability, including the verbiage and phrases that are often used to create disagreement or misunderstanding. Ecospeak is described as having, “its own rhetorical analysis of environmental politics, which emerges in the mass media and in ordinary conversations as an oversimplified dichotomy.” (2) According to Killingsworth and Palmer, ecospeak often functions on a spectrum from environmentalist to developmentalist, with only a few positions in between. However, upon deeper inspection and analysis of my materials, I have learned the role that conservationism plays in Florida’s history is far more complex than a simple argument for or against. Between newspaper clippings about Reubin Askew, Florida Governor from 1971 to 1979, (3) a speech made by LeRoy Collins, Florida Governor from 1954 to 1961, (4) and an article written by Fuller Warren, Florida Governor from 1949 to 1953, (5) we see that the discourse around conservationism and its function in Florida has been, at different times, linked to expediency, efficiency, and stewardship.
In the Daisy Parker Flory Papers of FSU’s Archives and Special Collections, especially, this unique situation unfolds through a series of newspaper clippings that describe how Reubin Askew’s conservationism policies anticipate the multiple perspectives held by stakeholders in Florida. The clippings reflect both the desires of the “associations [supporting] channelization of rivers, deepening and widening of harbors and construction of canals for navigation, flood control and water management, (6) and the desires of the conservationists who want to preserve Florida’s natural waterways.
This use of conservationism as a political tool to appease multiple constituencies further demonstrates Carl Herndl and Stuart Brown’s idea that “individualism of much environmental rhetoric may actually be used to promote anti-environmental agendas.” (7) How the reader or the rhetor regards nature is a large part of the role of Florida’s conservation discourse. In its earlier definition, ecospeak is presented as the dichotomous idea of environmentalists vs. developmentalists engaging in environmental discourse. However, Killingsworth and Palmer bring up the idea that “writers on environmental issues must … hope to influence not only their audience’s ethical attitudes but also the way the reader regards the entire community of nature,” (8) reinforcing the idea that conservationism can take on different roles within a single collection.
Killingsworth and Palmer’s spectrum, ranging from environmentalist to developmentalist, isn’t perfect but it offers a far more accurate depiction of conservation in Askew’s, Warren’s, and Collins’s policies than the idea that each individual or group has to either be an environmentalist or a developmentalist. Expediency as a function of conservation is used in this artifact to further the political career of these governors, which tends towards the developmentalist side of Killingsworth and Palmer’s spectrum without diminishing other positions. The whole idea of conservationism rests on the motives of the people who are able to influence others, so certain environmental projects will be deemed more important than others based on the motivations of those driving the movement.
(1) Fahnestock, Jeanne. “Accommodating Science: The Rhetorical Life of Scientific Facts.” Written Communication, vol. 3, no. 3, 1986, pp. 275-96.
(2) Killingsworth, M. Jimmie, and Jacqueline S. Palmer. “Introduction.” In Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America. Southern Illinois UP, 1992, p. 4.
(3) “Askew and Conservation: On the Spot Already?,” November 6, 1970, Box: 1, Folder: 03, Item: 07. Daisy Parker Flory Papers, 00-MSS 2005-004. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_2005004_B001_F003_I007.
(4) Dedication of Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve, December 10, 1960, Box: 9, Folder: 11. Thomas LeRoy Collins Papers, MSS 1991-012. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_1991012_B009_F011.
(5) Florida State Conservation Department, 1949, Box: 40, Folder: 09. Fuller Warren Papers, 03 MSS 0-257. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_0257_B040_F009.
(6) “Askew and Conservation,” par. 20.
(7) Herndl, Carl G., and Stuart C. Brown. “Introduction.” In Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America. U Wisconsin P, 1996, p. 8.
(8) Killingsworth and Palmer, p. 4.