Cultural Landscapes Blog

On the evening of November 14, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection and the UVA Native American Student Union (NASU) hosted a remarkable panel discussion entitled “Monumental Meanings: Indigenous Perspectives on Monuments.” 

Kasey Keeler, Native American Studies Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Studies Program, moderated the discussion, and briefly described her research, which deploys federal Indian policy, housing policy, land, property, suburbanization, place making, public memory and public history to explore suburbs as spaces of continuous American Indian presence. 

Panelist Karenne Wood is a member of the Monacan Indian Nation and director of the Virginia Indian Programs at the Virginia Foundation for Humanities.  Her presentation focused on native modes of marking spaces of significance, and how those traditions differ from European modes of memorialization.  She argued that indigenous commemorative forms are communal rather than singular or heroic, and that constructions like burial mounds serve as multi-dimensional symbols, reinforcing both the communal aspects of tribal life, and the physical and spiritual connections between the human body and the land.  Wood also highlighted the numerous instances of desecration, destruction, and conscious raiding of native sacred sites in Virginia by European farmers and notable figures like Thomas Jefferson.  While these purposeful erasures have led to a myth that native people are a relic of the past, Wood concluded with stressing the importance of interpreting Native presence into the present, that Monacans and other Virginia tribes are still here, still an active part of the social fabric of Virginia.

Jeffrey Hantman is a professor in the UVA department of Anthropology, and his presentation focused on his efforts with Karenne Wood and other American Indian collaborators to write new texts for the Virginia Historical Highway Markers Program.  He spoke of a path to sanctification of sites associated with state violence and injustices perpetrated against native peoples, and that highway markers can be a first step toward recognition of these difficult histories. 

The Center for Cultural Landscapes is pleased to announce the appointment of Alissa Diamond and Weaam AlAbdullah!

Alissa earned a B.S. in Architecture in 2002 and MLA in 2008, and is currently a student in the PhD program in the Constructed Environment, all at the University of Virginia. Alissa’s recent professional experience includes Associate at Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects in Charlottesville. There she managed design projects at Centennial Park in Nashville, and Memorial Park in Houston. Her current research is focused on the potential of landscape design to reckon with racial histories in the United States.

Weaam earned a B. Arch. from the University of Arizona in 2013 and an MLA from Harvard University in 2016, and is currently a 2nd year PhD student housed in the Department of Landscape Architecture at UVA. Her research examines the role of landscape architecture amidst a series of unresolved socio-cultural tensions in Kuwait City’s past, present, and future. She is currently looking at urban parks as emblems of each time period and its specific tensions, highlighting issues of authenticity, identity, and heritage. 

From October 18-21, the Slave Dwelling Project partnered with the University of Virginia President's Commission on Slavery and the University to present a symposium entitled Universities, Slavery, Public Memory and the Built Landscape as part of the University's bicentennial events.  The event aimed to broaden conceptions of the university histories, introduce dimensions of moral accountability to the study of campus spaces across the country, and study implications of these threads for the built environment.

In the opening address "Ghost Values and the Remains of Slavery," Daina Ramey Berry highlighted the commodification of black bodies even after death through the medical domestic cadaver trade in the 19th century.  Her concept of soul value highlights the inner life of black Americans that resists and transcends the forces of commodification and dehumanization facing African-Americans, even as they reverberate into our present.  Following the keynote address, the Slave Dwelling Project led a facilitated conversation on the Lawn, and the largest overnight sleepover in the organization's history in Garden IX.

Associate professor Andrew Johnston, also director of the University Of Virginia School Of Architecture’s Historic Preservation Program, emphasized the immense power of modern technology in relation to studying heritage and cultural landscapes. With UVA’s strength in the digital humanities, Johnston highlighted the cross disciplinary engagement with other members and groups within the university, including the Dean of the Libraries, John M. Unsworth, and the Scholar’s Lab and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities. The multiple technologies used to study buildings and landscapes, include digital scanning, the use of drones, photogrammetry, ground penetrating radars, virtual reality, and 3d printing. Not only has data quality been revolutionized due to these tools for data collection, but these tools are allowing for a reconstruction of what was once a physical reality in a very accurate manner. For instance, Johnston highlighted the potential in constructing a virtual reality, perhaps with different tools and disciplines like archaeology, in order to allow visitors to see and understand what may have existed in the past. While not returning to an original time, these tools are capable of leading to an understanding of the embedded histories within the landscape.

These digital tools can help us with thinking about the cultural landscapes, and the larger narratives and relationships that go beyond a building or structure. Johnston highlighted the ways in which the data could even be combined with other software like GIS, to begin to look at the larger landscapes and not just at the isolated buildings. Johnston’s project, the Birdwood Plantations, which he worked on with his students, focused on understanding the various elements of the site as a layered cultural landscape.  As well, the research focuses on a long history of the site, from early colonial occupations, through the construction of the grand manor house, the structures and workspaces associated with the enslaved population, and the subsequent decline of the plantation economy.  New technologies, combined with new research questions stemming in large part from the field of cultural landscape studies, enables the construction of more inclusive narratives. 

Commons are popping up everywhere—internet sites, federal lands, seed banks, land trusts, professional platforms, neighborhood networks—and everyone wants to be part of one. But what makes commons endure over time? Scholar and author Dana Nelson urges us to reject romantic framings of the commons, while also studying them self-critically, as the first step toward redemption. 

Dana D. Nelson is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, where she is currently Chair of the English Department. Her intellectual interests are wide-ranging, moving from the history and literature of the British colonies all the way through our contemporary moment. A founding co-editor of J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, she has written widely on literature, history, politics and culture, and is a frequent guest expert on public radio and television shows. Her most recent book is Commons Democracy: Reading the Politics of Participation in the Early United States. Previous books include Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People and National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men. 


The Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation (AHLP) is pleased to announce its 2018 annual meeting theme of Cultural Crossroads: Heritage Landscapes of the Sonoran Desert, “Landscapes of Abundance & Landscapes of Scarcity” to be held in Tucson, Arizona. The Program Committee invites proposals for papers and summaries of works in progress that will promote lively and thoughtful discussions about cultural landscape conservation. In particular, submissions that address expressions of Spanish and Mexican culture and heritage, Native American sites, and places of importance to other indigenous peoples, cattle ranching and other forms of food production and land management, expressions of mid-century modernism, topics concerning industries of extraction, tourism and urban renewal are all actively encouraged. These themes will be reinforced by a field trip along the Kino Mission Trail (including Tumacacori, San Xaiver and the Mission Garden), a tour of Tucson including a landscape designed by Garrett Eckbo, a visit to the El Tiradito Shrine and Barrio as well as a visit to Tumamoc Hill (a significant site for the Tohono O’Odham), and, of course, a visit to the famous Empire Ranch. Questions and proposals should be sent to Kimball Erdman at The deadline for all submissions is November 27, 2017. For more information regarding the conference, and the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation please visit their website:

The white supremacist gatherings that occurred in Charlottesville's historic parks this past summer underscore the timeliness of our March 2017 symposium, Race and Public Space. Commemorative Practices in the American South. Decades of political protests, legislation and court cases to expand who has a "the right to the city" were challenged by hate group rallies whose participants drew from all over the US. They came to Charlottesville because of City Council's decision to remove the Confederate statues from Lee and Jackson Parks, and to rename the two parks. But they also came because of Charlottesville's and the University's own troubled past of racial segregation that can be read in the sites of memory, the racialized topography, of our urban form and public spaces. Charlottesville's streets and neighborhoods, pedestrian malls and campus plazas became our public sphere once again. Demonstrators and counter-demonstrators gathered to bear witness, to challenge, and at time, to agitate. We experienced intimidation, violence, injury and murder. Since August, our community has gathered at public and private meetings to heal, and to argue for another sense of nation, another definition of American culture built on tolerance and acceptance, excellence through diversity, community despite difference. Now that the national and international press have moved on to other news stories, but continue to deploy the phrase "After Charlottesville, " the University and the City are collectively undertaking several initiatives to not only attend to the trauma of the summer, but to address long standing structural racism in our community. These efforts include a re-assessment of the RFP to redesign Emancipation (formerly Lee) Park and Justice (formerly Jackson) Park which were the sites of the August Unite the Right rally and the July KKK rally respectively. They involve serious attention by the University to its role in race relations given the enslaved labor that built its World Heritage Site and the admissions barriers to students of color that lasted for over 150 years after its founding. They also involve deliberations by the Center for Cultural Landscape co-Directors and our two Brown Graduate Fellows, Weaam Alabdullah and Alissa Diamond, about how we can contribute to a broader awareness of urban cultural landscapes as racialized topographies that warrant our research, analysis, interpretation, design and planning.

In a recent article in Places Journal, geographer and independent scholar Denis Wood writes on his collaborative process with students to make maps for a narrative atlas.

In the piece, titled "Everthing Sings," he writes of the "imaginative drive to find the less 'mappable things'" and a "poetics of cartography" that allows us to envision communities as "less a place than a process... that would take an atlas to unravel: what a neighborhood is, what a neighborhood does, how a neighborhood works." 

You can read the full article here

"It’s hard to think of a cultural landscape type that’s as stubbornly resistant to restoration as a neglected African-American cemetery. For even beyond the daunting practical and financial obstacles, there’s another significant challenge. What does restoration of these landscapes look like? What are the programmatic possibilities for cemeteries that no longer function as active burial sites? What are the opportunities for reinterpretation and redesign?"

In May 2017, Places Journal published a feature article, written by Zach Mortice, on the preservation crisis of African-American Cemetries that Charlottesville has confronted at sites like the Daughters of Zion Cemetery. You can read an excerpt here and the full piece on the Places Journal website

A recent article by Caroline Newman in UVA Today covers the work of UVA students and faculty in a Spring 2017 course from Architectural History Professor Lisa Reilly titled "Strategies of Interpretation: Highland." You can read an excerpt of the article below and the full piece here

"What do you do when the building believed to be President James Monroe’s home – a building that attracts a consistent stream of visitors each year – wasn’t actually the Founding Father’s residence? That’s the question that leaders at Highland, the fifth president’s estate in Albemarle County, enlisted University of Virginia School of Architecture students to help answer this spring. The 14 students enrolled in architectural history professor Lisa Reilly’s “Museum Interpretation: Highland” course developed four revamped tours for the site, some using augmented reality technology to take visitors back in time.

Each tour takes into account Highland’s 2016 discovery of the previously buried remains of Monroe’s true house, a much larger house than what currently exists on the property. That more modest home is now believed to be a guest house commissioned by the fifth president at least 15 years after he bought the estate in 1793 and moved in 1799. “For us, this discovery was a tremendous opportunity and one that we intentionally sought through years of research,” said Sara Bon-Harper, Highland’s executive director. “I don’t know of any other case where a presidential house has been lost and found.”