Cultural Landscapes Blog

A recent article in UVA Today by Caroline Newman celebrates the legacy of Benjamin Howland, the late UVA landscape architecture professor who worked in the National Park Service for 30 years. As the NPS celebrates its 100th anniversary, Howland's papers, archived at UVA, shed light on some of its most famous sites. You can read an excerpt on the article below and the full piece online

professor who played a formative role in the University of Virginia’s landscape architecture program also left his mark on some of the United States’ greatest national treasures, including the White House, the Washington Monument and Yellowstone National Park. Before joining the UVA faculty in 1975, Benjamin Howland Jr. spent 30 years as a landscape architect in the National Park Service, which celebrated its 100th anniversary on Thursday. Howland’s papers, archived in UVA’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, offer behind-the-scenes insight into today’s parks, from Washington, D.C.’s historic landmarks to stunning, carefully preserved landscapes.

Howland arrived at UVA in the first year of the School of Architecture’s landscape architecture program and taught until his death in 1983. Today, an endowed lecture series and travel fellowship commemorate his influence on the program, along with a memorial tree outside the Lawn room that his daughter, Jane, occupied as a student. “Ben’s unbelievable expertise in connecting theory and practice is a major reason why, 45 years later, our program is in the top five nationally, competing with much older programs,” said Elizabeth Meyer, a professor of landscape architecture at UVA and a former student of Howland’s. Howland’s legacy also includes droves of students committed to public service, an ideal that he embraced as an architect and as a Marine during World War II, when he met his wife and fellow Marine, Susan. “He inspired many students to think about public service as well as private practice,” said Meyer, who cites Howland as the inspiration for her decision to teach at a public university. “That commitment to the public realm really came through Ben.”

As the National Park Service turns 100, UVA Today delved into Howland’s papers to learn more about his legacy.

With the Fall 2016 semester upon us, we have compiled a list of courses on cultural landscape topics across the University, many of which are taught by affiliate members of the Center for Cultural Landscapes. These courses give a sense of the breadth of disciplines and approaches that make up Landscape Studies, as well as the significant resources at UVA in this field across multiple departments. 

American Studies

AMST1559: Wilderness, Resource, and Real Estate

MW 2-3:15pm

Jessica Sewell

This course examines the physical and metaphorical landscape of America across time, exploring how we have shaped the landscape, used to it define ourselves as a nation, and asked it to serve as resource, religion, symbol, and setting.


ANTH5590: The Nature of Nature

M 4:30-7:00pm

James Igoe

Nature is a cultural construct paradoxically imagined as existing outside the realm of culture. As such Nature has a special kind of power. It is an unanswerable explanation for why things are as they are (e.g. That's just human nature).  And it is a place to escape unpleasant aspects of civilization (e.g. I'm looking forward getting back to Nature this weekend). Nature presents reality both as it supposedly is and as it ideally should be.  At the same time, in our present historical moment, a growing number of analysts are proclaiming "the end of Nature." In this seminar we will explore the evolution of Nature as a concept and a realm of reality, particularly with respect to various aspects of globalization. We will look at what kinds of work Nature has done over the years, what it may mean in other cultural contexts, and some of the implications of imagining that Nature is now coming to an end.

A recent article written by former UVA School of Architecture Professor Ethan Carr, published in the journal Nature in July 2016, traces the arc of influence in landscape creation and preservation from 'Capability' Brown to Frederick Law Olmsted and the US National Park Service. Professor Carr was instrumental in early conversations about the creation of a Center for Cultural Landscapes and now teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. You can read an excerpt below and access the full article here

A coincidence of commemorative dates makes this year an important one in the history of landscape design and scenic preservation. As the 300th anniversary of the birth of the landscape gardener Lancelot 'Capability' Brown is celebrated on one side of the Atlantic, the United States is marking the centenary of the National Park Service, the federal agency that acts as the steward of the nation's most iconic natural areas and historic shrines. The two are connected by the complex and evolving cultural construction of 'nature', its representations, its manifestations and its benefits.

Brown's landscape parks expressed the eighteenth-century's fascination with nature itself, which was increasingly the subject of scientific inquiry and a plethora of botanical and zoological discoveries. Nature offered templates for ordering society, too. When the poet Alexander Pope exhorted, “In all, let Nature never be forgot,” he was describing more than the new style of landscape gardening. Brown's composed scenes of pastoral greenswards and planted woodlands expressed picturesque aesthetic theory; they also imposed a more scientific and modern order on the land.

Friday, July 1, 2016 was the centennial of Lawrence Halprin’s birth. In celebration of his life and achievements, The Cultural Landscape Foundation is expanding its What's Out There Weekend format to include several months of tours of over a dozen landscapes designed by Lawrence Halprin and his firm that will run from July 23 to October 30. An excerpt from the TCLF website below gives more information about the initiative. To read the full article, click here.

What's Out There Weekends: The Public Landscapes of Lawrence Halprin will feature free, expert-led tours of landscapes across the country, from Portland, Oregon and The Sea Ranch, California, to Atlanta, Georgia and Charlottesville, Virginia. One tour will even take place in Jerusalem, Israel. The tours, held over a four-month period, will serve as a prelude to the unveiling of TCLF's annual Landslide initiative, which will increase the public visibility of Halprin's irreplaceable design legacy while promoting informed stewardship to guide these landscapes into the future. The capstone of these efforts will be an exhibition of original photography and artifacts titled The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Lawrence Halprin, set to open at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., in November and traveling thereafter.

You can also visit the TCLF website for more information about Halprin's individual projects and the video oral history

The Atlantic City Lab recently published an article about a US park ranger who has uploaded thousands of maps of national park sites to a free website for the access and enjoyment of all. See an excerpt of the article below and read the full piece here

Map addicts, you’ve been warned: A park ranger has been diligently uploading maps from hundreds of America’s national parks for the enjoyment, education and convenience of all. According to, some 1,053 high-resolution national park maps are available to view, save, and download for free. The site is not officially affiliated with the National Park Service, on whose vast and multifaceted web presence many of these maps also appear. Rather, it is a way to consolidate and organize the agency’s valuable cartographic resources, which represent some of the finest American mapmaking of the past century.

Matt Holly, a ranger with the NPS’ Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate in Colorado, launched the website during the government shutdown of 2013, according to a recent interview with National Parks Traveler. He’s been updating gradually ever since, and as of last month had uploaded maps from about 100 of the country’s 411 national park units. Besides general park maps, the library includes trail maps, camping maps, nautical charts, guides to local geology and archeology, and more—all of them in the public domain. For each map, Holly removes excess text and branding, buffs up the image quality, and writes lively descriptions.

A recent essay in The Nature of Cities asks critical questions around how a sense of place can inform the agenda of urban environmental education. Co-written by Jennifer Adams, David Greenwood, Mitchell Thomashow, and Alex Russ, it includes a literature review and aims to "redefine education and research as forms of inquiry that are identifiably place-responsive and afford a multiplicity of approaches to define and describe people's relationships to the environment." The essay will appear as a chapter in Urban Environmental Education Review, edited by Alex Russ and Marianne Krasny, to be published by Cornell University Press in 2017. An excerpt of the essay is included below, and you can read the full piece here

Research and scholarship around the relationship between “place” and learning reflects diverse perspectives, many of which are relevant to urban environmental education. Education scholars point to the need for people to develop specific “practices of place” that reflect embodied (perceptual and conceptual) relationships with local landscapes (natural, built, and human). Further, some scholars and researchers have used a lens of mobility—the globalized and networked flow of ideas, materials, and people—to build awareness of the relationship between the local and global in the construction of place in urban centers (Stedman and Ardoin, 2013). This suggests that understanding sense of place in the city generates an added set of situations and challenges, including dynamic demographics, migration narratives, and complex infrastructure networks, as well as contested definitions of natural environments (Heynen, Kaika and Swyngedouw, 2006). One critical question is how we think about sense of place in cities when places and people are constantly on the move. Given rural-urban migration, sense of place today includes where a person came from as much as where she now finds herself. In one study in a large, urban center in the U.S., Adams (2013) found that notions of “home” and identity for Caribbean-identified youth were largely constructed in the northeastern urban context in which they found themselves either through birth or immigration. Such dimensions of place relationships are vital for thinking about meaningful and relevant urban environmental education.


A recent article in the Washington Post by Joe Heim explores Virginia's most endangered places, which include black cemeteries, a legislative office complex, and a former slave dwelling. The article features the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, subject to a preservation battle here in Charlottesville, Virginia. Read an excerpt below to learn more:

The cemetery was historic but suffered from neglect. Tombstones had fallen over. Vandals had destroyed markers. Weeds ran wild. Edwina St. Rose was saddened by what she saw happening to the Daughters of Zion Cemetery in Charlottesville. She has relatives buried there, and it hurt to see their final resting place falling apart. So for the past few years, the Charlottesville native and a few of her friends have spent their free time trying to restore the African American cemetery, which was founded in 1873. The city of Charlottesville contributed $80,000 to help with the refurbishing. And now St. Rose and her friends are getting some extra attention for their effort.

The Daughters of Zion Cemetery is typical of many African American burial grounds across the state. Upkeep is expensive, and maintenance of the properties fell off as churches closed and communities dissolved. St. Rose says about 300 people are buried at the cemetery, but only about 150 markers remain. Her group, the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, has been working with landscape architects and monument preservers to salvage and restore the property. “It’s very rewarding to do this,” St. Rose says. “It’s very satisfying to know that I’m part of a project that’s going to help tell the story of African American history. And I hope that we can get more help to do that.”

To read the full article, click here.

A recent article by Lisa W. Foderaro in the New York Times explores the dilemma of a young national park, established in 2011, that faces the question of whether to invest resources in interpretation of the site's natural landscape or historical past. Read an excerpt below to learn more about how the division of nature/culture strains interpretation programs in our national parks!

The young national park in this once-booming industrial city is unusual for its twin features — one natural, the other historical. A mighty waterfall, one of the largest by volume east of the Mississippi River, tumbles nearly 80 feet over basalt cliffs, where the Passaic River flows through a narrow chasm. It is the river that spawned the country’s first planned industrial city, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1792 to end the reliance on Britain for manufactured goods.

The two attributes of Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park — natural wonder and machine-age crucible — are at the center of differing visions for the 52-acre site. The National Park Service is now weighing alternative plans for Paterson Great Falls, which was established as a national park in 2011 after decades of lobbying by local politicians and advocates. One option would pour more resources into the natural landscape, creating opportunities for recreation along the river and educational programs about the waterfall, the habitat and the city’s past. The other would give visitors a more in-depth immersion in the city’s industrial history.

A recent article by T. Rees Shapiro in the Washington Post tells how an archaeological dig at James Monroe's home just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia led to a "sizable revision in history." See below for an excerpt and a link to the full article:

For decades, tourists have visited the historic home of James Monroe outside of Charlottesville, Va., and have encountered the quaint — if not underwhelming — residence of the nation’s fifth president. Situated in the Blue Ridge, the plantation known as Highland, where Monroe lived from 1799 to 1823, has stood in contrast to another presidential estate on the outskirts of Charlottesville — Monticello, the palatial manse of President Thomas Jefferson.

But an archaeological discovery on the property is rewriting the legacy of Monroe and the place he called home. It turns out that the home preserved on the estate — and marketed for years as the residence where the president laid his head — is in fact a guest quarters. Instead, an archaeological dig on the grounds has revealed a sizable home more than twice the size of the small cottage. In other words, the home of Monroe was more castle than cabin and likely “in the same order of magnitude” of Jefferson’s Monticello, said Sara Bon-Harper, executive director of Highland, the 535-acre property owned by the College of William and Mary.

The revelation stunned the historians and archaeologists who operate the home. “What else haven’t we realized?” Bon-Harper said. “We really need to rethink it now.”

An article in the Daily Progress by Chris Suarez in April 2015 reviews preservation activities in the Charlottesville Daughters of Zion Cemetery, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Please see an excerpt of the article below:

A long-standing African-American heritage site tucked behind rows of houses south of downtown Charlottesville might receive a restoration soon. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, the Daughters of Zion Cemetery in the Ridge Street neighborhood also is recognized as a local landmark, but its graves and burial plots have been neglected for several decades, according to a number of neighboring residents and several community organizations.

At a Monday forum organized by the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, Councilor Dede Smith — who also sits on the city’s Historic Resources Committee — told residents, stakeholders and members of the faith community that neighborhood development plans could bring new scrutiny to the Daughters of Zion and adjacent Oakwood and Hebrew cemeteries. “I think the timing is perfect to talk about restoration and preservation of this historic site,” Smith said.

In addition to the neighborhood association, members of the African-American Pastors Council and churches such as Mount Zion, First Baptist on West Main Street, Union Baptist and Ebenezer Baptist have said that the formerly segregated cemetery needs improved oversight from city officials and families who own burial plots. A historical marker similar to the two in front of Venable Elementary and Lane High schools also has been planned for the cemetery, which was added to the city’s Strategic Investment Area in 2013.

To read the full article, click here