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Volume 5, Number 3
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New Perspectives on the Chesapeake
Cover of Chesapeake Perspectives: Chesapeake Envrionmentalism Cover of Chesapeake Perspectives: Heritage Matters    

Home to a remarkable ecosystem and a treasured heritage, the Chesapeake Bay is now the subject of a new academic monograph series, Chesapeake Perspectives. The new series from Maryland Sea Grant is designed to provide a platform for scholars, researchers, and other experts to share their insights into the Bay's physical, biological, and cultural complexities, its mysteries and conflicts.

In the first two volumes, two cultural anthropologists hold a rigorous lens to our familiar images of the Bay. What exactly, they ask, do we mean by heritage? Which aspects of the Bay do we celebrate, and which do we ignore? And, most importantly, who gets to decide?

In an essay entitled, Heritage Matters, Erve Chambers questions the often expressed view that Bay cultures are "dying." According to Chambers, a characteristic that most defines the iconic Eastern Shore watermen is their resilience, their capacity to make do. Watermen and their families pass down a range of skills, the daily lessons of life. These skills and beliefs form part of what Chambers calls "cultural heritage," a genuine form of inheritance that he contrasts with the "public heritage" we so often see in museums and tourist shops.

Chambers expresses a deep faith in the ability of local communities to adapt and change, and worries that we may be conceptually forcing those communities into the rigid — even if celebratory — visions we have of them.

Michael Paolisso also describes the ways in which we may misunderstand each other's cultural maps. In his essay, Chesapeake Environmentalism, Paolisso considers the ways in which farmers, watermen, scientists, and activists all value the environment. Paolisso argues that each group has its own set of deep-seated beliefs that form the foundations of their "cultural models."

Because we discount the validity of different cultural models, says Paolisso, we often fail to include watermen, farmers, and others as "environmentalists," and therefore don't take full advantage of their own strong ethic for preserving both the soil and the Bay.

To order a copy of either monograph, call 301.405.6376 or visit the web at www.mdsg.umd.edu/store/CP/.

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