Animating historical resource geographies: Encountering the guitar's North American material traces

Publication Name

Journal of Historical Geography


This article seeks to animate historical resource geographies by uncovering unforeseen material lineages and foregrounding the lived experiences of otherwise unremembered resource workers. We revisit research on the historical resource geographies of the guitar, adapting what McGeachan (2018) calls ‘the trace’ to connect material archival fragments with visceral, ethnographic encounters in multiple sites, in the present. Unlike classical instruments with extensive documentation, the guitar's historical resource geographies remain opaque, being mass manufactured since the 1800s from commercial timbers with vague provenance. Here, we trace one guitar wood, Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) — the most common for soundboards — from a chance discovery in a Pennsylvania factory archive to the Pacific Northwest to confirm colonial, industrial, and military origins. Sitka's material traces also facilitated impromptu ethnographic encounters, including opportunities to meet surviving ex-workers in Hoquiam, Washington state, who, many decades ago, milled wood for musical instruments. Following the trace in multiple, unexpected directions enabled us to sense the working lives of ex-timber workers while confronting environmental legacies, bearing witness to the people, places, and trees behind the guitar. Our research validates feminist and anticolonial methodological approaches that, while tracing material fragments in time and space, encounter the world viscerally. Resulting empirical explanations are richer, open to emotional ambivalence and ongoing dialogue.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



First Page


Last Page




Link to publisher version (DOI)