Welcome to Scene Changes: The Unmaking of Place. Here you can explore a growing collection of iconic literary landscapes that have been fundamentally altered by the impact of human activities on the environment, and are no longer the places familiar to the writers and poets who wrote about them. Each page visits a landscape featured in a literary work, discusses how it has changed and why, and makes the change visible through the use of satellite images that vividly evoke a place and its history. Thanks to a nearly 40-year archive documenting the earth's surface, these images offer an unmatched opportunity to explore the lives of our vital places.
Landscape often plays a compelling role in literature. It can reflect the dramatic and emotional trajectories of the work. It provides mood and backdrop; it bears witness to the action; it serves as a potent metaphor for what is truly at stake in the work. Often it is the subject, whether hero, antagonist, or full-fledged character with its own values, needs, and vulnerabilities.
Yet many such places are threatened today with a litany of woes, from pollution and urban sprawl to war, species extinction, and climate upheaval. These corrupted landscapes would have a tough time now fulfilling their former roles. Mt. Kilimanjaro's vanishing snows would make it a poor vision of eternity for Hemingway's story today. Thoreau's Maine woods are showing substantial signs of stress due to decades of acid rain, and no longer represent the untouched wildness that inspired such heady prose. Steinbeck's Okies would struggle to find much hope on reaching California's San Joaquin Valley today, as drought has threatened to bring Dust Bowl conditions not so different from those they left behind.
Wildlife too is a part of the landscape, equally at risk, and threats to species that play essential roles in literary works can also be explored by looking at changes to their habitat. Whether it's the tiger that inspired William Blake and Yann Martel, the grizzly that stirred Scott Momaday and Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry's wild geese, or Mark Twain's jumping frog, countless species are vanishing from the landscapes to which literature has linked them.
When literature makes powerful use of landscape, readers often become deeply engaged with particular places and their wildlife, and with their current and future welfare. This in turn encourages a greater concern with stewardship and a rethinking of how to live on the land. At a time when our planet is beset by so many challenges to its well-being, the linking of different ways of knowing a place -- scientific and imaginative -- can help to unite the means and the will for its preservation.
The works explored here can be browsed by either author or place; the most recent additions and those soon to be added are listed under the What's New/Upcoming tab. The content will continue to expand, so take a look at what's here and then check back again soon. For those who are interested in the workings of satellite images, there are a quick look and a longer explanation under the About the Images tab that explain the collection and display of satellite data, and discuss some methods of highlighting features of interest, in non-technical language. And please feel free to use the Contact Us page to offer feedback and suggest additional literary works to explore.