Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Geology and Geography

Committee Chair

Maria Perez

Committee Member

Daniel Renfrew

Committee Member

Trevor Harris


How does a community cope with a crisis that threatens its identity or even its existence? This is the question facing the town of Richwood, West Virginia, after a devastating flood that impacted much of the town in 2016. Some of the consequences of the 2016 flood were the loss of the high school building, followed by difficulties receiving the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money to rebuild the school, and a loss of additional FEMA money for other critical issues due to alleged corruption. How do community residents cope emotionally with devastation? How do they understand the causes of their plight? And, more importantly, how do they make sense of the future, and who does it include? Building on work in emotional geographies, everyday politics, and anthropology of disaster, I examine these questions with a mixed-method approach including ethnography and interviews. I show how the themes of place, politics, and hope in how Richwood residents define community and imagine its future are interrelated. Central to understanding these themes is a focus on the material and symbolic qualities of particular places, such as a school, to rural livelihoods. These places remain a key aspect of people’s lives and sense of future even after their physical destruction. This project contributes to the study of small communities within the Appalachian region or anywhere else where residents face the daunting task of rebuilding after a crisis.