Vol. I, No. 1, Summer 1987

The Watching Begins

by Robert B. Flanders

Why watch the Ozarks? What will be watched and how? Many watches are kept already -- television crews and journalists, water quality specialists and wildlife experts, brokers and promoters, agricultural economists and social workers, public and private agencies, ad infinitum -- all watching in some fashion, from some frame of reference, to some particular end.

OzarksWatch intends perhaps a different kind of watching that will grow out of the ideas that underlie the purposes of the sponsoring centers. Our watch will not concentrate on highly specialized and particular interests. We want to watch the Ozarks as a place to live -- in the past, at present and for the future. Our enterprise will focus on that special kind of human habitation that is distinctive in ways keenly felt but often difficult to describe and even to understand.

The Ozarks as a whole, a total environment, is worth watching because it is interesting, it is fragile, it is peculiar and it is home. This Ozarks environment includes not only the land and the people, but also the influence of time --that whole matrix of interactions between land and people over many generations. What comes down to us from the past, from this exchange between land and people, is Ozarks heritage. What we learn about its meaning, our reflections upon it and what we tell of it to each other and to our children is Ozarks history (and, perhaps, Ozarks myth).

Based upon the perspective of the Ozarks as a dynamic matrix complex of land and people over time, OzarksWatch will attend to themes and issues of regional life tinder the headings of Environments, Economy, Population, Work, Society, Community, Preparation, Perspectives, Heritage and Quality of Life. The endeavor will be to observe, inform, portray, comment upon and occasionally analyze matters subsumed under such themes. Pertinent news items, notices, reader response, reviews, short articles by guest contributors, excerpts from documents, editorial comment and reports of the centers will characterize content and style.

The course of the Ozarks in most particulars is probably more influenced by events and circumstances outside the region than by those inside. For better or worse, our destiny is not entirely, or even extensively, in our own hands. The time of Ozarks isolation is past. Still, a key guiding perception of the Ozarks by natives, newcomers and outsiders has been, and continues to be, that the Ozarks is separate and separated, that it possesses wildness, ruggedness, beauty and challenges for a people yet embraced by an authentic folk life. The Ozarks so perceived and experienced has sometimes attracted, sometimes repelled and sometimes done both at once. It is an ambivalence of long standing. Today this ambivalence may be framed as a question: Can Ozarkers and the Ozarks find a fit in the cosmopolitan superculture of the late 20th century at a supportable cost in loss of distinctiveness and peculiarity? Can we afford not to? The intention of OzarksWatch is to explore these and other issues about the Ozarks.

Robert B. Flanders is the director of the Center for Ozark Studies.

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