Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Smith Island Crab Coop: Women's Work in the Chesapeake Bay
by Guerrero, Paulina, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2019, 171; 13860065
Abstract (Summary)

The Smith Island Crab Coop is a crab-picking facility located in the tiny town of Tylerton on Smith Island Maryland. Originally opened in the early 1990s, the coop was a result of government enforcement of illegally picked crabmeat in women’s homes, as opposed to a health department approved facility. The coop represents value-laden heritage discourses about Chesapeake Bay maritime families (know as watermen) and also indicates a shift about women’s representation and roles in their work on the Bay. While crab-picking has historically been a significant source of income and folklife in the Bay area, it has remained in the shadows of men’s work on the water. This research aims to rectify some of those gendered gaps, while also addressing how this work is highly racialized and gendered through the use of historical primary sources and fieldwork.

This research begins with the arrest of Janice Marshall, a Tylerton resident, for selling illegal crabmeat that had been picked in her home, instead of an approved facility. This moment opened a door to the work of crab-picking and also women’s experiences in the watermen communities of the Chesapeake Bay.

Smith Island is a community depicted in mainstream narratives as hardworking and tightly knit, and seeing the community through the lens of women’s experiences illuminates a much more complex system of interactions. Instead of romanticized depictions of watermen’s resistance to the government, this research demonstrated how watermen families must navigate various complex systems of power to preserve their individual livelihoods as well as ensure their community’s survival.

Crab picking is directly tied to issues of cultural and environmental sustainability and heritage constructions. Research on heritage studies show how heritage discourses shape and influence actions of community and government institutions. As a set of value-laden discourses, heritage processes are also systems of power, but they are systems that the women of Smith Island used to circumnavigate regulations. This research relies on fieldwork, archival information, local and national newspapers, and other primary sources for further understanding the greater role of women’s work in the Chesapeake Bay.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Goldstein, Diane
Commitee: Foster, Michael D., Lepselter, Susan, McDowell, John, Shukla, Pravina
School: Indiana University
Department: Folklore and Ethnomusicology
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 80/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Folklore, Cultural Resources Management, Womens studies
Keywords: Crabs, Folklore, Management, Maryland, Unions, Women
Publication Number: 13860065
ISBN: 978-1-392-13686-7
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