Brockport, New York: A narrative of that place (and the place of this narrative)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




D. W. Meinig


Brockport (New York State), Historical georgraphy

Subject Categories



This historical geography of Brockport, New York covers the period between the initial settlement of the region in 1806 and the onset of industrial decline in 1882. As a study in landscape and community change it links shifting trade networks, ecological foundations, social institutions and life-worlds in a historical narrative. Alterations in social structure, spatial division and definition, and landscape form and meaning are emphasized. The community is shown to have moved from a state of moral community and economic individualism to a state of moral individualism and economic community. Some specific topics discussed are frontier migrations, pioneering, development, mercantilism, the Erie Canal, credit and financial panics, social reform movements, industrialization, class awareness, post-Civil War cultural changes and village beautification.

In addition to providing an empirical account of one particular place, the utility of place as an organizing concept is tested, as is the suitability of narrative as a mode of representation. This is intermittently presented as an imbedded ironic commentary, and it is offered as one possible form for postmodern cultural and historical geography. Unlike the historical narrative, which describes the creation of places in the landscape, this secondary discourse describes rhetorical, interpretive and epistemological devices that permit re-creation of places in narrative.

Place is unsatisfactory as an organizing principle for historical geographical inquiry if the goal is explanation of some more general phenomenon. It is, however, excellent for development of individual understanding of a particular place and period. Although the study of a place can be highly rewarding for the neo-Kantian geographer, others may find the concept more useful in studies of the variation of a phenomenon from place to place. The appeal of either approach will be a function of personal preference for erklaren or verstehen. The ironic, postmodern critique imbedded in the text provides a convenient space for what would otherwise be neglected commentary on the multiple absences and the fabricated presences of the narrative. It is, however, dissimulative, guarding the authority of the text by preempting strategic critical positions and by making the reader an accomplice in their own deception.


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