On Tuesday my research seminar in landscape history presented the fruits of their labor. There were four paper and they were all well-conceived and researched.
Tom Harlow presented on the gendered landscape of YWCA housing in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He looked at the location of women’s boarding houses during the 1930s and highlighted one case where an incident at a boarding house run by the YWCA caused that organization to tear the building down and lease it to a used car lot. While the details on the episode are obscure, it presents an example of how the physical structure of the building intertwined by the activities of residents and the reputation of the organization which worked to provide a moral and safe environment for women coming to Grand Forks for jobs during the Depression.
Alyson Leas presented her research on abandonment in the North Dakota countryside. This well-known phenomenon has received national attention by photographers and prairie poets, but less attention from scholars. Leas examined the role of mechanized agriculture in Rolette, Towner, and Cavalier counties in the reduction of town size. She paid particular attention to her home town of Rock Lake in Towner county. She argued that the introduction of tractors reduced the need for manpower at harvest time and this undermined local businesses in small towns which depended on season laborers.
Chris Grieve considered the landscape of the nuclear test sites in the Nevada desert and considered how the spread of radioactivity from these sites creates new (and nefarious) kinds of landscapes that go far beyond the physical limits of the test site and potential effect every living thing. The site itself appears as both a battle ground for the Cold War and as a place of ecological catastrophe. Grieve makes an effort to interweave these two narratives of the test site into a deeply divided and contested place.
The final paper was by Stephanie Steinke who looked at the writing of the 19th century scholar Edward Robinson that describe his trip to the Palestine in 1838. Steinke considered the tension between Robinson’s efforts to understand a “scientific” landscape of the Holy Land along side his emotional, experiential, and Romantic encounters with this historic and scared land. Robinson’s Congregationalist upbringing, German education, and the early articulations of the field of archaeology shaped his approach to Palestine and formed a scholarly foundation to the study of this place for over a century.
The scope and approaches used by these students to interrogate both the concept of landscape and the physical space of human society is remarkable and inspiring.
Thanks for all the hard work!