The (loess) hills: power and democracy in a "new" landform

Petrzelka, Peggy
Major Professor
Michael M. Bell
Committee Member
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In the 1970's a new landform appeared in western Iowa---the "Loess Hills." The hills were there before, but scientists, primarily geologists, were the first to give these landscape features this specific name and document their boundaries. These hills, said the scientists, are significant because they are one of only a few landforms in the world made wholly of wind-blown glacial deposits, called loess, which were left after the last ice age ended millennia ago. Until the late 1980's and early 1990's, most residents in the area called the area "the bluffs" or "the hills." Yet use of the new name is on the increase with each year;The primary goal of my research was to study this collective space called the Loess Hills, searching an answer to the question: When proclamations are made by natural scientists and the constitution of a place occurs, what are the social consequences? With the new name---a purely scientific name---a new array of social dynamics has emerged within the area. Identifying these dynamics, and the larger social processes which have occurred during and with this name change, are the principal issues I examine, using ethnographic research;The principal dynamics stem from the interactions between external actors (scientists, journalists, tourists, and the State) and the residents of the region. Issues of power and democracy have emerged from these interactions. Residents are now grappling with the scientific facts surrounding the hills. A change in collective identity, from "hill people" to "Hill People" has also arisen. There is an increased identification and pride now associated with the landform. Tension over "ownership" of the landform has resulted in redrawing and establishment of social boundaries---boundaries which were not there (nor were they a question) before the name "Loess Hills" was taken on. Particularly significant in this work is the role of power, science, and the interplay of internal and external definitions in the social shaping of the hills, and the implications of this interplay for democracy.