The study of marsh and woodland migration has become an important avenue of scientific research, which has already begun to find its way into coastal land use policy and conservation practices. Projects in the arts and humanities have sought to represent the increasingly pervasive “Ghost Forests” along the Virginia coast and to re-value the
vanishing built environments in some of these same regions. Our proposal extends this work, compiling historical and contemporary datasets that describe the movement of the water’s edge while developing methods of documenting and cataloging local responses to this same phenomenon—the built structures and landscape modifications undertaken by individual landowners in order to protect forests and farmlands from saltwater infiltration and wave action.

The initial work will take the form of information-rich maps as well as a catalog of the risk-mitigation strategies employed by individual landowners in strategically chosen regions of the Chesapeake Bay. The catalog will include measured drawings of these vernacular water control structures, and they will be integrated into site surveys. In aggregate, these products will initiate new ways of understanding how individual landowners leverage situated knowledges over generations in order to resist or strategically accommodate the slow inward migration of the coast. Results inform policy, design and engineering practices, and the future of archiving, storytelling, and documenting the dignity of places undergoing accelerated change.