Landscapes and History

This fall I’m teaching a research seminar in landscapes. Since this is not a reading seminar where I can expect students to read a book a week over the course of an entire semester, but a research seminar where I will ask the students to produce a substantial research paper (or project) by the end, I have to be somewhat selective with what I assign the students as required reading. Right now, I am imagining 5 weeks of readings at the start of the semester that will help the students frame the concept of landscape in a sophisticated way. Because the seminar is a research seminar in world history, I am attempting to frame the readings for the first five weeks in as broad a way as possible.

My introductory paragraph to my syllabus reading as follows:

This seminar will introduce students to landscape approaches to historical interpretation. Over the last few decades the concept of landscape (and spatial metaphors more broadly) have come to occupy a significant place in the global historical discourse. The “spatial turn” in the humanities more broadly has opened history to the influence of geography, anthropology, art history, and archaeology. At the same time, there has been a growing willingness to use metaphorical language to unpack the significance of complex historical events.

The term landscape has a complex and mottled history. Today, it generally encompasses a wide range of approaches that consider the intersection of the natural and man-made environments. Landscape archaeology, for example, considers how humans have shaped and lived within their natural and cultural environment. In other circumstances the term landscape provides a way to understand the relationship between various forms of genetic expression (fitness landscapes) or the relationship between the range of variables that exist to shape a particular historical context (cf. J. L. Gaddis, Landscapes of History (Oxford 2002).

This seminar will encourage students to consider landscape approaches to the past in broadest possible sense.

Here are some proposed readings for the first five weeks:

Week 1: Historical and Archaeological Landscapes

M. Johnson, Ideas of Landscape. Blackwell 2006

Week 2: Landscapes and Place

T. Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction. Blackwell 2004.

Week 3: Colonial Landscapes

M. Given, Archaeology of the Colonized. Routledge 2004.

Week 4: Industrial Landscapes

W. Cronon, “Kennecot Journey: The Paths Out of Town,” in Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past. W. Cronon, G. Miles, and J. Gitlin eds. Norton 1992. pp. 28-51.

Week 5: Landscapes in Time

F. Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. (Harper-Row 1972-3).


  1. Braudel will cause some pain, but if it’s World History, you must do that too them. I like Braudel better than some of the more recent synthesizing works. I used to use J.B. Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, with reasonable success. Students found it a bit of a challenge, but I think the division into discrete topics helped them focus. E.W.B. Russell’s People and the Land through Time has some reasonably hard science linked to history/archaeology; I found it useful to get students thinking beyond what they perceived as normal sources for history/archaeology. Cronon has put many of his articles online:

    Sounds like a challenging course for all involved.


  2. Richard,

    I might include Jackson’s The Necessity for Ruins in the Cronon link (note that I linked to the article).

    My plan is to draft the man-camp article in this seminar. So anything on the industrial west would be great.



  3. […] Tuesday my research seminar in landscape history presented the fruits of their labor.  There were four paper and they were all well-conceived and […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s