Cultural Landscapes Blog

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


·  New US/ICOMOS Cultural Landscape Web Page: The new US/ICOMOS website has been launched and it features a knowledge exchange page devoted to cultural landscape practice. This is a great place for updates on Knowledge Exchange: Cultural Landscapes (KE: CL) and many other projects of interest to the cultural landscape community. With funding support from the NPS and other foundations, KE: CL will develop a series of tools to provide a two way exchange of cultural landscapes knowledge and practices to US preservationists and cultural resource managers and to our international practitioners.

·  US World Heritage Gap Study: From August  to December 2015, US/ICOMOS undertook a US World Heritage Gap Study. This project included an online survey to gather quantitative data and six curated online discussions of a qualitative nature regarding themes in US heritage resources that could address identified gaps in the World Heritage List and inform the development of the 2016 US World Heritage Tentative List. Many thanks to the more than 1,000 architects, historians, archaeologists, site managers, ethnographers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, State Historic Preservation Officers and their expert staff, and other professionals and experts were invited to participate in these online expert consultations.

In 2015, Routledge published the essay collection Cultural Mapping as Cultural Inquiryedited by Nancy Duxbury, W. F. Garrett-Petts, and David MacLennan. Grant Revell, an affiliate member of the Center for Cultural Landscapes, is included in the volume. Phil Birge-Liberman wrote a reivew of the collection in the latest edition of Social & Cultural Geography. An excerpt from the review is included below:

As a collection of 17 essays, Cultural Mapping as Cultural Inquiry presents an introduction to the emerging interdisciplinary field of cultural mapping. The contributors come from a variety of academic disciplines, including architecture, urban design, sociology, anthropology, public history, public policy, cultural studies, and the arts. In their introductory chapter, the editors define cultural mapping as an activity that ‘promises new ways of describing, accounting for, and coming to terms with the cultural resources of communities and places’ (p. 2). 

Recognizing the history of mapmaking and its association with exploration, colonialism, and political control, this volume sets out an agenda which emphasizes a bottom-up approach to mapping a community’s cultural assets so that a community can define itself in relation to its cultural identity, vitality, sense of place, and quality of life. While each essay is locally situated, the collection is global in scope including case studies from Australia, Canada, Egypt, Estonia, Italy, Malaysia, Malta, Palestine, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Syria, the UAE, the UK, the US, and Ukraine.

A recent article written by Savannah Borders in the Cavalier Daily covers the designation of the Kitty Foster Site at UVA to the Virginia State Landmarks Registry. An excerpt from the article covers the site history and designation process:

An archeological site located on Grounds was recently added to the Virginia Landmarks Register. The three-quarter acre site is the former property of Catherine “Kitty” Foster and housed a free black community during the early years of the University. Foster purchased the property — which was originally over two acres — in 1833. A free black woman, Foster worked as a seamstress and laundress for University professors and students. Her descendants owned the land until 1906.

An archaeological team uncovered unmarked remains in a coffin in 1993. Further excavation revealed a total of 32 graves, including Foster’s and her descendants. The community hosted at the property was known as the Venable Lane Community, or sometimes “Canada,” a derogatory nickname used by early students and faculty to denote something “geographically close but culturally foreign,” Tori Travers, a third-year Batten student and University Guides historian, said.

The Ford Foundation recently awarded a $1M grant to Sites of Conscience for continuing work on the reinterpretation and revitalization of the Maison des Esclaves, an important eighteenth-century site of West African slavery on Goree Island, just off the coast of modern Senegal. This site played a key role in the deportation of Africans who would eventually arrive on San Domingue, right up to the crucible years of the Haitian Revolution. 

UVA Architectural History professor Louis Nelson played a leading role as part of the Site of Conscience team that worked to develop the application proposal and is now a lead member of the research team working to develop interpretive content for the series of exhibitions at the site. The proposal has the enthusiastic support of Senegal’s Ministry of Culture and the local community, and the research team includes Senegalese academics. The project scope is the conservation of two late eighteenth century buildings, the wholesale reimagining of the site’s interpretive scheme including materials and programs that begin with historical representations of the site’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade but also with the responsibility to facilitate conversation among the thousands of Senegalese schoolchildren who visit the site each year on the complicated history and legacy of Africans enslaving Africans. The next phase of the project is a June meeting of the African members of the Sites of Conscience to engage conversations about best practices at various African sites on the complicated topic of slavery and its legacies.

Below is an excerpt from a note to members of the Charlottesville City Council by Louis Nelson, Professor of Architectural History and Associate Dean of the UVA School of Architecture, to address the proposed removal of the Robert E. Lee Statue located in Lee Park in downtown Charlottesville:

Dear Members of City Council:

Now to the current question about Charlottesville’s monuments. I would like to offer an alternative view that departs from the binary options of retention or removal. My position is and will continue to be that the city of Charlottesville needs to hire prominent African-American artists to reinscribe Lee Square with a new name and additional art and landscape installations that challenge and complicate the ways we understand the extant monuments. They might take a long historical view by gesturing to the deeply painful costs to those suffering under the institution of slavery across the South, here in Virginia, or specifically here in Charlottesville. They could take a twentieth-century view and direct our attention to Jim Crown Charlottesville and the destruction of the black-occupied tenements that filled these squares to make room for these very monuments. Or they could take a view to the present and to think about the continuing legacies of our history of slavery, to think through these monuments through Vinegar Hill to our systems of unequal incarceration. So in addition to the national injustice of slavery, these monuments also represent a painful local injustice that was revisited in Vinegar Hill less than half-century later. I would hold that in any and all of these scenarios, the existing works of art should not be damaged in any way or removed from the Public Square. I say this because the meaning of art is never stable. Yes, these are terribly painful for contemporary black viewers. But that is because their context and the way they are presented and viewed has remained unchanged for almost a century. We need also to remember that the Lee Monument is only one of four that were erected—all by McIntyre, all of which need to be reinstalled with a new interpretive narrative framed by the new history. This would include also the Lewis and Clark statue, which of course has Sacagawea crouching behind the two white men. Imagine a new and very modern image of her LEADING the white men westward with an interpretive panel visible on the sidewalks that offers views on women’s leadership in Charlottesville. But this also includes two other equestrian statues, the Jackson Memorial and the George Rogers Clark Memorial. And, we should also include the earliest of these monuments—that to the standing soldier in front of the courthouse. Here I could imagine a twin monument, a standing Sally Hemmings—named, strong, answering the soldier.


A recent article by Joshua Rapp Learn in the Smithsonian Magazine explores how "rewilding" landscapes to return them to a natural state might sometimes be ineffective and even harmful. 

As Learn writes in "It Might Be Impossible to Turn Back the Clock on Altered Ecosystems," "some people seem to think that ecosystems are fixed in time—with the ideal wildlife habitat dating to the pre-industrial age. To fix the problems we may have since caused via introducing invasive species or removing native wildlife, we just have to turn back the clock. But ecosystems aren't like that. Humans have been altering habitats for thousands of years. Now some experts are beginning to think that rewilding is not only impossible but possibly harmful if ecologists aren't able to untangle the many variables in these new, human-made landscapes."

He concludes that "often, the human footprint in a given area is so large that it’s impossible to restore the original ecosystem. Instead of rewilding, we may be better off focusing efforts on so-called novel ecosystems, Simberloff says. The latter include everything from the plants and animals living on or around old human buildings to the wildlife adapting to cities, farms or other factors of the Anthropocene. They could even be engineered to provide humans with desired services."

To read the full article, click here

The University of Virginia, in partnership with the Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA), has secured a grant from the Jesse Ball duPont Fund to support PHA's efforts in the redevelopment of the Friendship Court Apartments in Charlottesville. An excerpt from the PHA press release gives further details about the award:

The University of Virginia applied for the grant, which awards $100,000 over two years, to support community engagement at Friendship Court and to involve teens in the planning for the future of that community. Under the direction of Barbara Brown Wilson, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at the UVA School of Architecture, UVA students will help craft and implement a curriculum to train a team of resident youth in the basics of sustainable, equitable land use. This team will visit the University’s School of Architecture and be exposed to relevant concepts in planning and design needed to participate in master planning and implementation. Teens who complete the training program will be hired as resident experts to help guide the master plan.

Piedmont Housing hopes to make the redevelopment of Friendship Court a model for the redevelopment of affordable housing across the country. “What we do at Friendship Court has to work for the people who live there.  Friendship Court is home to 150 families and more than 250 children,” said Piedmont Housing’s CEO, Frank Grosch. “It’s those young people who are the future of that community, and who must be engaged in the process.”