Here is a partial list of resources for further investigation into themes of narrative and place-making. This fragmented offering, however, probably says more about the limitations of my education than it may be useful for your purposes. So, feel free to contribute your own insightful recommendations for books, periodicals, websites, films, etc.
BOOKS & PERIODICALS
- Little Lives by John Howland Spyker (1978): Is it a measure of anything at all to be the only person admitting on “Goodreads.com” that I have read this book and to have reviewed it? “Spyker’s cast of characters in an imagined upstate New York setting are each treated as a brief biographical sketch, a miniature masterpiece of concision. I read this long ago, but its form and intent took root and formed the basis for The Agincourt Project, my own exploration of the intense relationship between narrative and place. / Spyker is a pseudonym for author Richard Elman (1934-1997).”
- Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. Enough said.
- There is a surprising amount of literature on unwritten literature; books about non-existent books. Who knew! Here are but a few resources i that realm:
- Frederick Rolfe’s “Reviews of Unwritten Books” date from a hundred years ago. Published in the Monthly Review, the eleven articles have been reprinted in a limited edition that may escape your grasp. But there is a review of it here that may satisfy your curiosity.
- You might also enjoy Jorge Luis Borges’s “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, a short story from 1940.
- And wouldn’t you know that Wikipedia has assembled an impressive list of fictional works of literature that will save you a great deal of time and effort.
- Charles Mulford Robinson (1869–19170) was a journalist-turned-city-planner who became the public face of the “City Beautiful” movement in the 1910s. Two of Robinson’s books have been useful: The Improvement of Towns and Cities. Or the Practical Basic of Civic Aesthetics (1901) and Modern Civic Art, or the City Made Beautiful (1903). Robinson produced innovative plans for renewing several regional communities like Stillwater, Minnesota and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A sojourn in Agincourt is hardly out of the question.
- Lydia Davis writes short stories, often incredibly short, of astounding insight and nuance. I should be so concise.
- Jan Morris [born 1926] is one of the finest writers of my experience. Favorites include Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2001) and Hav (2006), the first about a real place infrequently visited and the second about an imagined place that will seem all too familiar. Any claim on my part to influence from Ms Morris is wishful thinking.
- Almost in a class by itself is the Republic of San Serriffe, off Africa’s east coast. Created as an Aporil Fool prank in 1977 — a spoof in The Guardian newspaper — it was then amplified by printer-typographer-bibliophile Henry Morris (proprietor of the Bird & Bull Press and not related to Jan Morris above). Morris built on San Serriffe in several books about its origins, the history of its coinage, and even of its local booksellers. His books were published in limited edition (which has afforded them limited exposure), and for First Fine Silver Coinage Republic of San Serriffe (1988) he actually had coins struck in aluminum, bronze, silver, and gold.
- There is no intended hierarchy here, so its placement at the bottom of this list should connote no value judgment. Perhaps the most fundamental, foundational writings underlying this project has been those of cultural geographer J. B. Jackson, founder of Landscape magazine. I heartily direct you to The Necessity for Ruins, a collection of his essays, including one with that title. Jackson’s writings and then a seminar I was privileged to enjoy at U.T.–Austin were a revelation concerning the relatively recent field of cultural geography and, especially, its multi-sensory aspects. Make a map of your childhood hometown some time based solely on smell and you’ll understand.
T.V. & FILM
- “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby” are two episodes from Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone”, each of which explores the notion of escape from mid-20th century complexity to a simpler time. The central character in each episode is harried by work and family responsibilities, and each retreats to either an idyllic youth or the fantasy world of the small town.
- “The Truman Show” sets its entire story line in the real life “New Urbanist” community of Seaside, Florida. I am no fan of New Urbanism (its economics are offensive balderdash) but can appreciate it as a kit of parts with origins in small town American. The notion that the soda jerk at the corner “Malt Shoppe,” flipping burgers and blending milk shakes, actually lives in the apartment upstairs is fatuous. At even minimum wage, the best they can afford is the trailer park ten miles down the road, next to the sanitary landfill. That “apartment” is actually a condo worth a cool quarter million. Check it out on Zillow or RedFin if you don’t believe me. New Urbanist economics are trickle-down bullshit.
- In decided contrast to “Truman” there is “Pleasantville,” a far more uplifting film and one which has subtly influenced the project.
- POSTCARDS: Is it obvious that I collect postcards? The period of their greatest popularity—1880 through the 1920s—just happens to be the period of my greatest architectural interest.
- ART: The “Community Collection” grew from the memorial gallery that was part of the 1915 public library commission. And its actual character and content grew from listings on eBay. There are now more than two hundred pieces, each one telling a facet of the story. On sleepless nights (which are most of them), I wonder what the h**l will become of all this.
- ARTIFACTS: Speaking of ART⋅ifacts, you’d be surprised (then again, maybe you wouldn’t) how many other “things” have played their part in shaping the narrative.
- ARCHITECTURE & ARCHITECTS: As a very personal exercise in architectural history, Agincourt has served one significant end: it has enabled me to explore the careers of architect, historical figures whose work has helped to shape my own limited production. [I’m not an “architect”, so no one asks me to design anything.] Figures like Louis Sullivan, William Halsey Wood, Erich Mendelssohn, and even English Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, who is very unlikely to have designed anything in Iowa.
- CONFERENCE: On 27-28 February 2016, Anglia Ruskin College hosted the first “First Interdisciplinary Historical Fictions Research Network Conference” to explore the very ideas we hope are inherent in the Agincourt Project. I’m happy to say that Agincourt was represented there. It was echoed at the second conference, and yet another shard of the narrative has been proposed for conference #3. My performance at Conference #1 was exemplary, if I can be so bold, but has trailed off at each iteration. My learning curve, on the other hand, has continued to rise, I’m happy to report.