Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave system in the world, reticulates over 420 mapped subterranean miles of karst limestone beneath Kentucky. “Cavers” are the folks single-mindedly passionate about mapping Mammoth, surveying and plotting every river, passageway, waterfall, and crystalline arch it secrets. As an ethnographic account of caves and caverns, the foremost aim of this talk is to share what it is like to spend one’s days underground, and what sort of people feel most at home doing so. While one might suppose that caves can now be mapped as distributed electronic coordinates pinged by GPS receivers, GPS data is in fact almost entirely useless when navigating subterranean systems. As such, cave cartography remains a formidable task requiring boots on the ground and pencils in hand. Drawing upon critical geographers’ analyses of the mutual construction of space and place, as well as recent anthropological accounts of the “politics of verticality” and “volumetric thinking,” “The Intraterrestrials” will address the hyper-local, embodied, and intimate expertise cavers cultivate over the course of ears spent underground. Sophia Roosth asks what such subterranean imaginations might disclose about other, perhaps more mundane, practices of mapping space and inhabiting place.
Sophia Roosth, Frederick S. Danziger Associate Professor in the History of Science at Harvard University
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