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Awards and Fellowships, Bisher Prize

2012 Catherine W. Bishir Prize

The inaugural Bishir Prize is presented to Janet Ore for her study “Mobile Home Syndrome: Engineered Woods and the Making of a New Domestic Ecology in the Post-World War II Era,” published in Technology and Culture 52:2 (April 2011): 260–86.

FSA/OWI, Library of Congress
The VAF Board of Directors is pleased to institute a new annual award, named in honor of long-time member and influential scholar Catherine W. Bishir. The Bishir Prize is presented for the first time in 2012.

The Bishir Prize was established to recognize the scholarly article from a juried North American publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes. In judging the nominated articles, the jurors look for an article that is based on primary research, that breaks new ground in interpretation or methodology, and that contributes generally to the intellectual vitality of vernacular studies.

In “Mobile Home Syndrome: Engineered Woods and the Making of a New Domestic Ecology in the Post-World War II Era," Janet Ore reconsiders the symbiotic relationship between humans and their houses through her exploration of the effects of an unforeseen toxicity in the materials such as plywood and particle board used in the fabrication of the very place conceived of as shelter, as a haven, and made into a home. By interpreting each domestic setting—here a mobile home—as an ecosystem, Ore demonstrates how the biological absorbed the built environment one off-gassed fume at a time. This inversion of the relationship between the biological or individual to the manufactured setting in the context of domestic architecture furthers our understanding of the built environment as a larger ecosystem filled with many micro-ecologies, or spaces, manipulated and experienced by humans. Interior pollution, such as that experienced inside the mobile home from the engineered woods, mirrored that wrought on the wilderness by pesticides. It proved just as dangerous. Ore’s essay expands the tenets of environmental history to include dwellings, and her research reminds us to consider fully the consequences of modern building technologies on human bodies and the natural world.