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Understanding Ordinary Landscapes

Understanding Ordinary Landscapes

Paul Groth
Todd W. Bressi
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Understanding Ordinary Landscapes
    Book Description:

    How does knowledge of everyday environments foster deeper understanding of both past and present cultural life? In this book authorities in social history, architectural history, American studies, cultural geography, and landscape architecture explore aspects of the emergent field of cultural landscape studies, demonstrating the value of investigating the many meanings of ordinary settings.While traditional studies in this field have been of rural life, most of the authors in this collection take on urban subjects, and with them the challenging issues of power, class, race, ethnicity, subculture, and cultural opposition. There is a chapter by J.B. Jackson, the field's foremost proponent and exemplar, on the nature of the vernacular house and the garage. Some of the other contributors include James Borchert on the social stratification of Cleveland suburbs; Rina Swentzell on a comparison of native and federal environments on the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico; Reuben Rainey on the Gettysburg battlefield; Dolores Hayden on the potentials of ethnic landscape documentation; and Denis Cosgrove on spectacle and society. Still other authors Wilbur Zelinsky, Richard Walker, Dell Upton, David Lowenthal, Jay Appleton, and Robert Riley-explore the problems and potentials of vision and space as sources of social interpretation. The book also includes a historical review of recent trends in the field of landscape studies and an annotated bibliography.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18561-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Frameworks for Cultural Landscape Study
    (pp. 1-22)

    Americans are like fish that can’t see water. Although human life requires the constant support of complex surroundings, most people in United States do not consciously notice their everyday environments.¹ Universal schooling in science and dozens of television nature programs have begun to sensitize Americans to animals and ecosystems. Yet, even Americans with advanced degrees rarely have concepts for pondering, discussing, or evaluating their cultural environments. These people are in danger of being poor appreciators and managers of their surroundings.

    For almost fifty years, several loosely allied groups of writers and scholars have challenged such cultural ignorance in the United...

  5. Landscape Studies

    • 2 Visual Landscapes of a Streetcar Suburb
      (pp. 25-43)

      Although the residential landscapes of aging streetcar suburbs like Lakewood, Ohio, have experienced considerable change over the past sixty years, they continue to provide social historians with a cornucopia of visual information on suburban life in the early twentieth century.¹ Lakewood, located on the south shore of Lake Erie immediately west of Cleveland, is a densely packed suburb of 5.6 square miles laid out largely on a grid. Modest single- and double-family houses line narrow north-south avenues, and four wider east-west arteries provide access to downtown Cleveland; two of these, Detroit Street and Madison Avenue, are lined with extensive commercial...

    • 3 Landscape and Archives as Texts
      (pp. 44-55)

      Visual information (and thus the landscape) can be a useful catalyst for both research and, especially, teaching. But it can rarely stand alone in providing convincing explanations about questions of human geography.¹ In this chapter, I not only examine work that draws upon both visual cues and archival evidence, but also seek to locate what is called “the landscape tradition” within evolving research frameworks in human geography.

      My own training in historical research methods leads me to see the landscape largely as a repository of relics, a mere fraction of the stuff of the past that contributes to the current...

    • 4 Conflicting Landscape Values: The Santa Clara Pueblo and Day School
      (pp. 56-66)

      Two very different relationships to the land are represented by the Santa Clara Pueblo, in New Mexico, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) day school established next to it. These relationships reflect the divergent world views of two cultures, as well as their differing methods and content of education.

      Pueblo people believe that the primary and most important relationship for humans is with the land, the natural environment, and the cosmos, which in the pueblo world are synonymous. Humans exist within the cosmos and are an integral part of the functioning of the earth community.

      The mystical nature of...

    • 5 Hallowed Grounds and Rituals of Remembrance: Union Regimental Monuments at Gettysburg
      (pp. 67-80)

      Preserved Civil War battlefields are remarkable works of alchemy. Agricultural landscapes scarred and littered with the ephemeral debris of battle have been transformed into sacred precincts composed of immaculately tended lawns and forest edges marked with row upon row of stelae, obelisks, triumphal arches, megaliths, allegorical buildings, cannon, and sculptured figures. In these sacred precincts human deeds and natural process are frozen in time to evoke reflection on fundamental values. Decisive historical moments are fixed forever by granite and bronze soldiers repulsing an attacking enemy. Nature’s process of succession, which would have erased the battle’s open fields of corn and...

    • 6 The Visual Character of Chinatowns
      (pp. 81-84)

      “Chinatown” means different things to different people at different times and in different cities. Chinatown can be conceived of as a social community, an inner-city neighborhood, a suburban shopping plaza, a skid row district, a historic district, a tourist attraction, a place of mysterious evil, or a cultural hearth. Although our perception of Chinatown may be shaped by our knowledge of it as a social entity, our perception is also influenced by the act of seeing.

      It is the facades of the buildings in Chinatown that constitute the most striking visual component of place character. Western architects or contractors built...

    • 7 Where the One-Eyed Man Is King: The Tyranny of Visual and Formalist Values in Evaluating Landscapes
      (pp. 85-98)

      The impact of television and other communication technologies in contributing to the dynamics of social and political upheaval in China, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union during recent years ought to inspire a rereading of the work of Marshall McLuhan, who in his lifetime liked to play the dual roles of canny jester and oracle. More than a quarter-century has passed since McLuhan heralded the imminent transformation of the world into a “global village” liberated by new forms of “electric media” from the long history of the West’s cultural dependence upon reason and visual experience as the organizing principles...

    • 8 Spectacle and Society: Landscape as Theater in Premodern and Postmodern Cities
      (pp. 99-110)

      One of the most pervasive features of contemporary landscapes is the conscious creation and manipulation of meaning through place images. The architectural references in both new “greenfield” landscapes like West Edmonton Mall and Eurodisney and in the recycled heritage landscapes of cities like Baltimore and Glasgow are a key element in the success of spaces designed for consumption. As the critic David Harvey puts it, selling these landscapes rests upon “the projection of a definite image of place blessed with certain qualities, the organization of spectacle and theatricality [which has] been achieved through an eclectic mixture of styles, historical quotation,...

    • 9 Urban Landscape History: The Sense of Place and the Politics of Space
      (pp. 111-133)

      Every American city and town contains fragments of historic cultural landscapes intertwined with its current spatial configuration. Layered with the traces of previous generations’ struggles to survive economically, raise children, and participate in community life, the vernacular landscape, as John Brinckerhoff Jackson writes, “is the image of our common humanity—hard work, stubborn hope, and mutual forbearance striving to be love.”¹ His definition carries cultural geography and architecture straight toward urban history. At the intersection of these fields lies the history of the cultural landscape, the history of human patterns impressed upon the contours of the natural environment. It is...

    • 10 The Politics of Vision
      (pp. 134-144)

      I begin with a story from a Brahmin colleague in India. A man, seeking enlightenment, asked his guru for advice. The man suggested, “I shall go to the highest mountain and there I shall open wide my eyes and look around.” And the guru replied, “This will be your first mistake.”

      This brief story prompts a number of questions central to the theme of this book: What is the relation of sight or vision to belief, of belief to knowledge, and of knowledge to authority? In retelling this story from India’s Brahmin tradition, I highlight the cultural specificity in which...

    • 11 The Future of the Vernacular
      (pp. 145-154)

      Architecture, especially interior architecture, tends to formalize and institutionalize certain relationships. Why this should be the case I have no clear idea, but I am convinced that the Western world—in particular the United States—is in the midst of a radical shift in attitude toward architectural or designed spaces.

      For centuries our civilization has relied upon enclosed spaces to establish relationships and identities, but now we are turning away from them in favor of ones that are either more natural or less formal. The vernacular or workaday spaces that we will use in the future will, of course, include...

  6. Commentaries and Future Directions

    • 12 Seeing Beyond the Dominant Culture
      (pp. 157-161)

      Perhaps the most useful contribution I can make to a discussion about “seeing beyond the dominant culture” is to offer a critical glance at the concept of ethnic landscapes with special reference to the American scene.

      For most of our compatriots in recent times, the termethnichas acquired a rather limited definition, but I prefer to frame it in a broader and, I believe, much more meaningful way by having it refer to “the ethnie” or, if you please, “the nation.” Such a term identifies a fairly large real, or perhaps imagined, community of individuals who cherish a distinctive...

    • 13 Unseen and Disbelieved: A Political Economist among Cultural Geographers
      (pp. 162-173)

      After having spent almost two decades in Berkeley, past home of Carl Sauer and John Brinckerhoff Jackson, it is refreshing for me to be asked to comment on cultural geography and landscape studies. Times change hard. I was for many years treated as a viper in the bosom of geography by virtue of my affinity for economic analysis and Marxist theory.¹ This schism between cultural studies and political economy long stood in the way of a vital comingling of ideas. Now that the dam of old intransigences has broken, a fresh flow of ideas is washing over Berkeley geography.² More...

    • 14 Seen, Unseen, and Scene
      (pp. 174-179)

      What is the relation between the seen and the unseen in landscape? What relative weight should we give the seen and the unseen in studying the landscape? Underlying these questions, which lurk in the background throughout this book, is the issue of the primacy of vision in landscape studies.¹ Every chapter reminds us that there is more to the landscape than that which is visible. This point is essential and correct, and each chapter offers some clue to what that “more” might be. What unseen ought we to include in our analysis of the scene?

      The characteristics of space and...

    • 15 European Landscape Transformations: The Rural Residue
      (pp. 180-188)

      Suddenly landscape seems to be everywhere—an organizing force, an open sesame, an avant-garde emblem, alike in fiction and music, food and folklore, even for professors and politicians. Like the chroniclers of collective memory in Pierre Nora’sLieux de mémoire,¹ landscape experts now must gauge the very movement whose sole prophets and promoters they once were.

      My coupling of landscapes withlieux de mémoireis purposive. The locus of memory lies more readily in place than in time, in locale than in epoch. In the shift from centralized history toward dispersed patrimony, landscape seems the seat of collective memory, rooted...

    • 16 The Integrity of the Landscape Movement
      (pp. 189-199)

      It can hardly be doubted that the resurgence of interest in landscape since World War II has by now reached a dimension that warrants the use of the term Landscape Movement, or that one of its most striking characteristics is the number and range of interest groups from which its activists have emerged to develop a common cause. The purpose of this chapter is to strike a note of warning about what I see as the principal danger implicit in this multidisciplinary origin and to suggest one or two ways in which advocates of the Landscape Movement can protect it...

    • 17 The Visible, the Visual, and the Vicarious: Questions about Vision, Landscape, and Experience
      (pp. 200-210)

      Vision as a source for landscape interpretation is an important topic, but broad and frustratingly vague. Vision is our major source of information about our environment. But how far will it take us in understanding how and why our surroundings look as they do, or in understanding how and why people react to those surroundings as they do? The wordvisionis imprecise;interpretationis equally so. Does visual interpretation mean cognition, or affect, or evaluation? Meaning or scholarship? Or any of these?

      I will defineinterpretationas the relation between the landscape, seeing the landscape, and experiencing the landscape....

  7. Notes
    (pp. 211-242)
  8. Bibliography: Basic Works in Cultural Landscape Studies
    (pp. 243-260)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  10. Index
    (pp. 265-273)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)