Fri, April 1, 1pm–7pm
Relix Variety Theatre
Knoxville, TN

Watch the first symposium here!

THE FIRST OF TWO SYMPOSIA exploring the human subjects, infrastructural arrays, and ecological underpinnings of a region defined by modern state-building and the projection of geopolitical power.​​​​​​​
Avigail Sachs
Associate Professor of Architecture
University of Tennessee
The TVA and the Two Tennessee Valley Regions
The Tennessee Valley region was born in May, 1933 when the American congress signed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Act into law. Defined by a natural watershed, the new region crossed state borders and bound together disparate communities; the framework for a large-scale infrastructure project. The region also became a symbol of what TVA Director David E. Lilienthal called “Democracy on the March.” This shift was largely rhetorical and was evident in the buildings and landscapes developed by the TVA designers. This presentation will examine this duality by comparing the physical area as it was transformed by the TVA engineers to its symbolic twin and its meaning. Understanding this complexity helps explain how the Tennessee Valley region became, after World War II, the basis for an effort to modernize the world, one region at a time.
Avigail Sachs is an Associate Professor in the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and teaches landscape and architectural history and theory. Her book, The Garden in the TVA Machine: Planning, Landscape and Architecture in Depression and War will be available from the University of Virginia Press later this year. This study examines how designers promoted utopian social ideals in a large engineering project. Her first book, Environmental Design: Architecture, Politics and Science in Postwar America, was published in 2018 and examines the development of the concept of “environmental design” in architecture and its role in the modernization of American architecture. It was recognized with an Award of Excellence by the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) in 2019.
Sarah Rovang
Program Officer, Thoma Foundation
From TVA to REA: Replicating the Neotechnic Ideal
Founded in 1935 under the New Deal, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) has been nicknamed the “Little TVA.” Using Lewis Mumford’s framing of the “neotechnic” ideal as a conceptual framework, this paper explores both TVA and REA as mechanisms of regional transformation. The TVA was a vast, high-budget intervention rooted within the landscape and ecosystems of the Tennessee Valley. The REA, by contrast, was foremost a cooperative funding model designed to scale across many states. However, under an ambitious and progressive director in the late 1930s and early 1940s, REA expanded its implicit mission to include the full-scale modernization of the American rural landscape. To accomplish this goal, REA not only appropriated TVA’s ideas about regional economic development and decentralized urbanism, but also borrowed TVA’s architectural design team. The paper will conclude with a (still speculative) comparison between Cold War efforts to replicate REA’s regional tactics globally and current challenges of rural broadband access.
Sarah Rovang is an architectural historian based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a Program Officer at the Thoma Foundation, she oversees grant-making initiatives and research related to rural arts and education. Born and raised in New Mexico, she holds a Ph.D. in the History of Art and Architecture from Brown University. Before joining the Thoma Foundation, she taught architectural history at the University of Michigan, traveled around the world as the Society of Architectural Historians’ H. Allen Brooks Traveling Fellow, and was a Research Fellow at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
Ken Wise
Professor and Humanities Librarian
University of Tennessee Libraries
Just Enough Truth
Until its most recent history the Great Smoky Mountains were an inaccessible wilderness thinly populated by settlements of Cherokee and backwoods mountaineers of European ancestry.  Neither the Cherokee nor the European mountaineers left much in the way of written records, leaving it largely to outsiders to characterize the history and culture of the Great Smoky Mountains.  Travel writers visiting in the mid-nineteenth century were the first to introduce the Smokies and its inhabitants to the outside world, often intentionally projecting stereotypical images of the mountains and its people.  These travel writers were soon followed by the lumber companies descending on the mountains with their mechanized destruction and little regard for the ecology and imposing an industrial economy on what until then had been a subsistence farming economy.  The Civilian Conservation Corps followed, bringing military-like precision to the task of taming the wilderness with paved roads, stone bridges, and grade-A hiking trails.  Soon the National Park Service arrived with its conflicting ambitions to protect the wilderness, preserve the indigenous folkways, and provide recreational facilities for tourists. With the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, industrial tourism began encroaching on the borders of the Park, bringing its own varieties of interpretation of Smoky Mountain culture.  This presentation will examine the entities that have shaped our modern interpretation of the Smokies and those efforts to preserve the Smoky Mountain culture, which may have in fact fostered caricatures of it.     
Ken Wise is a Professor and Humanities Librarian at the University of Tennessee. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and completing an M.B.A. at the University of Tennessee, Ken joined the faculty at the UT Library where his research interests on the Great Smoky Mountains lead to his recognition in 2016 by the Great Smoky Mountains Association as being among the one hundred most influential people in the history of the Great Smoky Mountains. Ken is currently the president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and serves on the board of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association.  
Daniel S. Pierce
Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South
University of North Carolina, Asheville
God, Nature, and Humans in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Creating a Managed Wilderness

The official website for Great Smoky Mountains National Park opens with these words: “Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America's most visited national park.” While it does mention “mountain culture,” the emphasis in this introduction to the Park is on what would be considered “wilderness values;” forests, plant and animal life, and beautiful ancient mountains relatively unchanged for millennia. This paper explores the fact, however, that rather than being the product of eternal and “natural” forces, the “wilderness” one sees in the Smokies is human-imposed, the product of conscious decisions over 100 years to convert what was an inhabited, human-shaped and scarred, even industrial landscape into an ever-evolving, managed wilderness.
Daniel S. Pierce is the author of seven books, including The Great Smokies: From Natural Habitat to National Park (UT Press, 2000) and, most recently, An Illustrated Guide to the Grand Circle, Utah & Arizona (Anderson Design Group, 2021). He serves as Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South and resident professional hillbilly at the University of North Carolina Asheville where he teaches courses on the American South, Appalachia, North Carolina, and the National Parks. 
Lindsey A. Freeman
Associate Professor of Sociology
Simon Fraser University
Inside the Atomic Sensorium
This talk traces the unusual story of the first atomic city and the emergence of American nuclear culture. Tucked into the folds of Appalachia and kept off all commercial maps, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was created for the Manhattan Project by the U.S. government in the 1940s. Its workers labored at a breakneck pace, most aware only that their jobs were helping "the war effort." The city has experienced the entire lifespan of the Atomic Age, from the fevered wartime enrichment of the uranium that fueled Little Boy, through a brief period of atomic utopianism after World War II when it began to brand itself as "The Atomic City," to the anxieties of the Cold War, and into the contradictory contemporary period of nuclear unease and atomic nostalgia. Oak Ridge's story deepens our understanding of the complex relationship between America and her bombs.
Lindsey A. Freeman is a writer and sociologist interested in atomic culture, atmosphere, memory, and poetics. Freeman is author of This Atom Bomb in Me (Redwood/Stanford Press) and Longing for the Bomb: Oak Ridge and Atomic Nostalgia (UNC Press). She is also co-editor of The Bohemian South: Creating Counter-Cultures from Poe to Punk (UNC Press). Freeman is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Simon Fraser University, an affiliated-researcher with the Espaces et Sociétés (Space and Society Center) at University of Caen-Normandy, as well as a member of the Institute of Incoherent Geography, Public Feelings writing group, and the Black Lodge Run Club. She is currently at work on a book about practice, love, queerness, and long distance running.
Mark Stanley
Senior Lecturer
University of Tennessee
Atomic Entanglements
The Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) in East Tennessee is a 37,000-acre territory of exception, home to a vast, saturated, enfolded meshwork of biology and technology, of histories and futures, of atoms and bits. It is the former site of research and production facilities for Uranium and Plutonium used in the first atomic bombs during the Manhattan Project, whose legacy now lives on at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a publicly-funded National Science Lab conducting some of the world’s leading particle science research and supercomputing/simulation, and at Y-12 National Security Complex, where the Department of Defense stewards the national nuclear weapons stockpile. This presentation draws out multiple valences of the many techno-scientific entanglements at the ORR through a series of (mostly) true tales of territorial security, science infrastructure, landscape-machine confusion, super computation, state secrets, radio-biological exigencies, post-natural speciation, and other existentially-risky stories.
Mark Stanley (he/him/his) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design and co-founder of StudioMARS, a speculative design-research practice. His research and teaching is on the agency of architecture and design within larger systems of contemporary cultural and political exchange—especially in issues of digital culture and internet subjectivity; global urbanism, information networks, and logistical economies; science infrastructure (especially at Oak Ridge National Laboratory); the bio-technical problematics of the Anthropocene; and how architecture participates in larger networks of culture and technology in general. His projects investigate architecture’s entanglements with other systems and are often produced as speculative design conveyed through stories, narratives, or characters as much as drawings, images, and models, where architecture is often one part of a larger critical project addressing the present conditions of our collective existence in the 21st Century.
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