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Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845

Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845

Copyright Date: 1982
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 444
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  • Book Info
    Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845
    Book Description:

    "A first-rate introduction to a still largely extant North America away from the great cities. This 400-page documentary by a dedicated exploring scholar explains how and why the landscape changed between the times of the early Spanish settlers and the impact of industrialization."-House and Garden"A remarkable book. John Stilgoe has provided us with a panorama of American land development that is unique in the literature of this filed. In the process he has sharpened the reader's perception of the historic struggle between those who would tend the land and those who would exploit it, thus making a significant statement about issues in the forefront at the present day. Stilgoe's global vision over time, combined with his remarkable facility for involving a great variety of elements into one coherent system of thought and feeling, makes this a deeply important and timely work."-Edmund N. Bacon"Recalls how Europeans shaped this country's landscape out of wilderness and, by the way, helped to create our sense of beauty, comfort, and appropriateness…A book that will change the way its readers look about them."-The New Yorker"Focusing on vernacular design and its evolution, Stilgoe effectively demonstrates how builders (rather than professional designers) passed on their traditions from one generation to the next-in so doing shaping America's enduring attitudes towards landscape. An original and fascinating study."-H. Ward Jandl,Library JournalWinner of the 1982 Francis Parkman Prize for Literary Distinction in the Writing of History.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15758-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-30)

    Landscapeis a slippery word. It means more than scenery painting, a pleasant rural vista, or ornamental planting around a country house. It means shaped land, land modified for permanent human occupation, for dwelling, agriculture, manufacturing, government, worship, and for pleasure. A landscape happens not by chance but by contrivance, by premeditation, by design; a forest or swamp or prairie no more constitutes a landscape than does a chain of mountains. Such land forms are only wilderness, the chaos from which landscapes are created by men intent on ordering and shaping space for their own ends. But landscapes always display...

    (pp. 31-84)

    Robinson Crusoe colonized Desolation Island with a minimum of fuss and bother. After a lengthy sea journey he landed half-exhausted in a wilderness and, after a brief reconnaissance, selected a site for habitation. He discovered a healthful spot near fresh water, shade, and the sea, one offering “security from ravenous creatures, whether man or beast.” His first dwelling was only a crude hut fenced about with a secure palisade, but soon he began to build more expertly and to shape the land on a grander scale. He captured goats, built a corral for them, and eventually fenced in a pasture....

    (pp. 85-134)

    Everyone recognizes checkerboard America. Like a great geometrical carpet, like a Mondrian painting, the United States west of the Appalachians is ordered in a vast grid. Nothing strikes an airborne European as more typically American than the great squares of farms reaching from horizon to horizon.

    Only the fields are noticeable from 20,000 feet. At lower altitudes flyers discern among them the scattered farmsteads connected by ruler-straight gravel and blacktop roads. They marvel at the pattern and scrutinize the fields and farmsteads, wondering what crops show up so yellow at midsummer and worrying that the farmers might be lonely. Few...

    (pp. 135-208)

    Husbandry is not farming. Husbandry is noble in the eyes of others; it is the avocation of enlightened kings; it is the first work of God Himself. “It began with man and the world,” preached an obscure English clergyman in 1652, “and has together with man and the world been perpetually continued throughout all ages without interruption.” Sermons emphasized what husbandmen wanted to hear, that husbandry is sanctified by divine word and dignified by royal proclamation, and reinforced what every husbandman knew, that husbandry is necessary to the health of any nation. Without food there is no commerce, no building,...

    (pp. 209-264)

    Rural America baffled Europeans searching for good land to settle or barbaric agricultural practices to describe in letters home. Farms looked so lonely in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois that even the sharpest writers despaired of portraying a landscape with no obvious centers. “There ought to be five or six families living close together in these districts,” complained Theophile Cazenove in a 1797 description of central Pennsylvania. “Then they would be very happy.” Had the Frenchman stepped down from his two-horse carriage and ordered his manservant to wait while he talked with the farmers along the road, he might...

    (pp. 265-336)

    Husbandry caresses the soil, urging it to bear fruit in its own time, at the proper season; husbandry is cyclical and illuminated by the sun. Artifice embodies rape, and abortion and transmutation too. Artifice thrusts into the very womb of mother earth, into infernal dark, and wrenches living rock from living rock. Smelting, forging, and casting torment the aborted fetuses with fire. Earth, air, fire, and water combine in an unholy alchemical alliance from which husbandmen stand away, shielding their eyes. Embryo becomes artifact. In the mine and at the furnace, at the mill and inside the smithy, the artificers...

    (pp. 337-346)

    Henry James returned to the United States in 1904 after a twenty-four-year sojourn in Europe. Twelve months later he left for England, badly shaken by the social and spatial change that figures so prominently inThe American Scene. His 1907 travelogue is cryptic, filled with misadventure, disappointment, and disgust and twisted by an almost desperate confusion.

    James arrived in the United States near the end of a half-century-long transformation. His prolonged absence sharpened his perception but his boyhood love of traditional landscape endured to bias his understanding of urbanization, industry, and linearity. James oscillated between backward areas and the most...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 347-378)
    (pp. 379-424)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 425-429)