On Topic With: Doug AldersonSep 07, 2022 03:53PM ● By Ashley Hunter
Doug Alderson prefers a kayak to a desk, hugs trees and friends, and loves observing alligators, manatees and other wildlife.
Most of his 15 published books focus on the dynamic and quirky nature of his home state of Florida.
They include America’s Alligator, Florida’s Rivers, Traveling Florida’s Seminole Trail and A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions, which the Florida Writers Association placed in the top five of published books for 2017.
He has won five first-place Royal Palm Literary awards for nonfiction books and several other state and national writing and photography awards.
Additionally, his articles and photographs have been featured in numerous magazines.
Alderson's most recently completed project is Nostalgic Florida - a book about how Florida has been depicted through advertisements, postcards, and ephemera.
Can you introduce yourself, what do you do, what are your passions?
"My name is Doug Alderson, and I’ve been writing since I was about 18. I started with books, and then moved onto magazines about 20 years ago, but I’ve been mostly writing books.
I write about the Florida outdoors, but I like to integrate a lot of culture and history into my writing; the culture of old Florida really intrigues me."
What are some projects and causes that you have been focusing on?
“About four months ago, I left the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, because I wanted to work part-time and that was a full-time job. Now I am with the Office of Greenways and Trails - that’s not really an environmental cause, but I have been promoting outdoor recreation.
In the big picture, that means bringing people outdoors.
If they don’t know the outdoors, they won’t love the outdoors, and they won’t work to protect it.
We need to get people out into our rivers, forests, and ocean, or otherwise they won’t step up to take a lead in protecting it.
I am also finishing the proof edits on a book on the Florida coast - that’s coming out next year.
That’s going to be a coffee table book with a longer word count than Nostalgic Florida.
I will cover the entire coast in that book, but you could really do individual books on each coast. I do 12 sections on the Florida coasts, and then the last chapter on ways people can help protect the coast.
I try to integrate different ways that people can become more active in protecting nature - I don’t want it to be just a coffee table fluff piece.
Even in Nostalgic Florida, you’ll see a bit of environmental protection flair - I snuck a little bit in here and there because I just can’t resist."
Let’s talk about your new book…can you tell me about Nostalgic Florida?
“Nostalgic Florida is a pictorial history of the ways that Florida has been promoted since the late 1800s.
Something that really inspired me for this book was the old postcards and brochures that I had started collecting.
I realized that some of what I had collected had imagery that were really iconic and have spanned generations; I explore those images in this book and explore the themes.
It started with the steamboat era, when people would travel the rivers and visit different mineral springs.
The iconic imagery advertising of Florida really started with the Florida Perfume ads - they were trade cards that came out in the 1880s and on up.
They showed beautiful women in elaborate dresses, tropical scenes like waterfalls, and the Fountain of Youth, which is one of those iconic images that still are being perpetuated today in Florida attractions.
Eventually, the ‘beautiful women’ images morphed into the ‘bathing beauty’ images; she is always beautiful, pictured on a beach, in a bathing suit or bikini.
Where have you gathered information for this book?
“I looked into government publications and how they promoted Florida; it’s really funny how some of them exaggerated summer temperatures.
They say how temperatures are always in the upper 70s, with these beautiful trade winds that kept the whole state cool, and the winter temperatures only dropped just a few degrees.
They depicted Florida as this wonderful, year-round tropical paradise, and maybe that’s true in Key West, but most of Florida has a much larger temperature range between the winter and summer.
Something that also really inspired me for this book was the old postcards and brochures that I had started collecting before writing the book.
I realized that some of what I had collected had imagery that were really iconic and have spanned generations; I explore those images in this book and explore those themes."
What are some other iconic imagery of Florida?
“Some of the imagery I explore in my book are alligators, flamingos, bathing beauties, waterfalls, beach scenes, and lots of tropical and paradisiacal scenes. Florida was always depicted as this beautiful, tropical paradise - this Garden of Eden.
Indeed, Florida is beautiful, but they don’t mention things like bugs, hurricanes, and summer heat.”
What about hurricanes?
“There is no mention of hurricanes in any government promotional literature about Florida’s hurricanes…they’d never mention that.
Most snowbirds who saw these advertisements would come after the hurricane season, so they never went through a hurricane, and would have never experienced a large hurricane.”
How did you get into this field of research?
“I think it just happened over time, slowly.
As I grew in appreciation for Florida’s outdoors, I started appreciating Florida’s culture more - my interest in Florida’s iconic images just branched from that.
I love colorful postcards, especially the old ones, and as I collected them, I wondered how Florida’s exponential growth, that still continues today, and the boom-and-bust cycles that have such a major environmental effect - and I learned that it was partially due to how Florida has been depicted for over 100 years.
Overall, it evolved from a love for Florida, to an awareness of Florida’s environment, and a wonderment of how Florida grew so fast.”
What are the advertising similarities and differences between Florida-then and Florida-now?
“Some of the advertising is similar; if you look at modern advertising, you will still see a lot of beach images, a lot of young, beautiful and fit people.
Even if you look at new ads, you will still see empty beaches, paradisiacal images, and a lot of emphasis on our springs - but of course they never mention the ecological challenges with our springs.
You will see more people of color now, which never would have happened in advertisements of the past.
It is still commonplace to use alligators in advertisements - people want to see alligators, just not if they are swimming! Alligator attractions are still doing very well in Florida.
Flamingos are still big, and of course oranges are still iconic for Florida - it’s amazing how romantic orange-themed advertisements still are for Florida.
It is interesting how very similar it is.”