Cultural Landscape

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Cultural Landscape


Landscape is a word introduced into the English language during the late sixteenth century as a technical term used by painters. The word derived from the Dutch landschap and was known in English for some time as landskip. This painterly source of the landscape notion is significant. Landscape was recognized as such because it reminded the viewer of a painted landscapea piece of inland scenery (Thomas 1984, p. 265; Groth and Wilson 2003, pp. 23).

Landscape became a prominent, if contested, concept in mid-twentieth-century geography through the work of Carl Sauer (18891975)(see Livingstone 1992). His ideas about landscape were influenced by the debates between the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel (18441904) and the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (18581917), debates that focused on the society-milieu relationship (Buttimer 1971). Sauer argued that culture shaped the natural landscape to produce a cultural landscape (Sauer 1963, p. 343). He sought to avoid the environmental determinism of Ratzel, but acknowledged that it was not possible to devise an objective procedure for the study and comparison of landscape: a subjective, aesthetic, or meaningful element always remained (see Cosgrove 1984; Cosgrove and Daniels 1988).

Independent of this tradition of thought, the cultural and literary critic Raymond Williams (19211988) argued in The Country and the City (1973) that it is outsidersestate owners, improvers, industrialists, artists who have recourse to the notion of landscape, not those who live and work in the landscape. His influential work introduced the key element of politics and power to the way landscapescultural landscapesare understood (see Bender 1993). Williamss sharp distinction between insider and outsider, though, is difficult to sustain in any particular context and suggests that only some people make use of this concept.

Recent research and writing in anthropology, history, and related disciplines argue that peoples around the world shape and view their surroundings in ways not dissimilar to that captured by the Western concept of landscape and that the distinction between a natural and cultural landscape is fraught with problems (see Ingold 2000). Consider the case of the Amazonian rainforest. It is often viewed as a pristine natural environment in which separate cultures live and draw upon its resources. However, historical ecology has shown that the current form of this environment is the outcome of extensive human manipulation over substantial time periodscreating grasslands, forests, and savannas (see Balée 1998). In a comparable manner the forest-savanna transition zone of Guinea in West Africa has been viewed by environmental policymakers for many decades as a relic of a once-extensive natural forest now destroyed by local farming and fire-setting. By contrast, anthropological research demonstrates that the landscape had been misread: local peoples explicitly create forest islands in which to live, and these are viewed as an index of prosperity and are aesthetically valued (Fairhead and Leach 1996). The historian William Cronon (1983, 1991) has documented analogous transformations in colonial New England and with respect to the rise of Chicago and the West: land-scapeswhether prairie or forestwere reformed to enable the production and expansion of property ownership and commodity capitalism. In short, all landscapes are inherently natural and cultural (see Schama 1995). Landscapes are thus a process where people seek to realize, in diverse ways, the possibilities of their culture by simultaneously creating themselves and their environments or natures (see Hirsch 1995, 2004).

SEE ALSO Culture; Human Ecology; Phenomenology


Balée, William. 1998. Historical Ecology: Premises and Postulates. In Advances in Historical Ecology, ed. William Balée, 1329. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bender, Barbara, ed. 1993. Landscape: Politics and Perspectives. Oxford: Berg.

Buttimer, Anne. 1971. Society and Milieu in the French Geographic Tradition. Chicago: Association of American Geographers.

Cosgrove, Denis. 1984. Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape. London: Croom Helm.

Cosgrove, Denis, and Stephen Daniels, eds. 1988. The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation, Design, and Use of Past Environments. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Cronon, William. 1983. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang.

Cronon, William. 1991. Natures Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: Norton.

Fairhead, James, and Melissa Leach 1996. Misreading the African Landscape: Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Groth, Paul, and Chris Wilson. 2003. The Polyphony of Cultural Landscape Study: An Introduction. In Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson, eds. Paul Groth and Chris Wilson, 122. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hirsch, Eric. 1995. Introduction: LandscapeBetween Place and Space. In The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space, eds. Eric Hirsch and Michael OHanlon, 130. Oxford: Clarendon.

Hirsch, Eric. 2004. Environment and Economy: Mutual Connections and Diverse Perspectives. Anthropological Theory 4: 435453.

Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling, and Skill. London: Routledge.

Livingstone, David. 1992. The Geographical Tradition: Episodes in the History of a Contested Enterprise. Oxford: Blackwell.

Sauer, Carl. 1963. Land and Life: A Selection from the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer, ed. John Leighly. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Schama, Simon. 1995. Landscape and Memory. London: HarperCollins.

Thomas, Keith. 1984. Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 15001800. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.

Williams, Raymond. 1973. The Country and the City. London: Chatto & Windus.

Eric Hirsch