Cultural Landscapes Blog

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.”


The Rural Virginia Landscape as Multi-Layered Research Site

The rural landscape known today as “Morven” has a complex, multi-layered history spanning thousands of years of human occupation. Located in southwestern Albemarle County, not far from Jefferson’s Monticello, the site has attracted new interest from researchers since its acquisition by the University of Virginia in 2001.

Today, Morven is home to an ongoing research initiative featuring team-taught classes, field schools, and a Summer Institute. Rather than focus on one period of site history to the exclusion of others, scholars from a range of disciplines – History, Architecture, Archaeology, Landscape Architecture, Environmental Sciences, and Politics – are attempting to understand the site as a whole through cross-disciplinary exchange informed by discipline-specific research agendas.


Dr. Robert MacFarlane is the Director of English Studies at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He is also a celebrated author whose subjects include nature, the post-pastoral, travel writing, and environmentalism. An article in The Guardian explores his creative project to "rewild the language of landscape." He writes:

"I have long been fascinated by the relations of language and landscape – by the power of strong style and single words to shape our senses of place. And it has become a habit, while travelling in Britain and Ireland, to note down place words as I encounter them: terms for particular aspects of terrain, elements, light and creaturely life, or resonant place names. I’ve scribbled these words in the backs of notebooks, or jotted them down on scraps of paper. Usually, I’ve gleaned them singly from conversations, maps or books. Now and then I’ve hit buried treasure in the form of vernacular word-lists or remarkable people – troves that have held gleaming handfuls of coinages, like the Lewisian “Peat Glossary”.

...Yet it is clear that we increasingly make do with an impoverished language for landscape. A place literacy is leaving us. A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining. Nuance is evaporating from everyday usage, burned off by capital and apathy. The substitutions made in the Oxford Junior Dictionary – the outdoor and the natural being displaced by the indoor and the virtual – are a small but significant symptom of the simulated screen life many of us live. The terrain beyond the city fringe is chiefly understood in terms of large generic units (“field”, “hill”, “valley”, “wood”). It has become a blandscape. We are blasé, in the sense that Georg Simmel used that word in 1903, meaning “indifferent to the distinction between things”.

The University of Virginia School of Architecture held its fifth annual Vortex design workshop in January 2016. An article published in UVA Today provides an overview of this year's program:

Can Charlottesville’s Preston Avenue, a commercial corridor scarred by contentious urban renewal policies, become a more attractive home for businesses and residents?

Over the past two weeks, students in the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture have grappled with that question during the school’s fifth annual Vortex design workshop. Unique among American schools of design, the workshop brings together more than 300 undergraduate and graduate students and 30 faculty members across the school’s four disciplines – architecture, landscape architecture, urban and environmental planning and architectural history – to tackle a single area of focus within the local community.

This year, they were split into teams to consider how Preston Avenue – a half-mile stretch of four-lane, divided roadway connecting downtown Charlottesville with the more residential Venable neighborhood – could offer more appealing public spaces, become more pedestrian-friendly, improve public housing availlability and create a better atmosphere for businesses and residents alike.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) recently announced their 2016 season of events, which includes an exhibition titled Landslide 2016: The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Lawrence Halprin in Washington D.C.

An excerpt from the TCLF website provides more information about the exhibition: "Set to open in the fall of 2016 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Landslide 2016: The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Lawrence Halprin is a traveling photographic exhibition that will feature the life and work of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin (1916-2009) on the 100th anniversary of the year of his birth. Halprin was, without doubt, among the foremost landscape architects of the twentieth century. His prolific career spanned more than five decades, with highlights that include the FDR Memorial (in Washington, D.C.), Freeway Park (in Seattle, Washington), and the Portland Open Space Sequence (in Portland, Oregon). His firm was a seedbed for many talented designers now celebrated in their own right, and the innovative techniques he pioneered changed the field forever. While the traveling exhibition will honor Halprin and his career, it will also call attention to the need for the informed and effective stewardship of his irreplaceable legacy. Like much of the work of prominent landscape architects in the post-War period, many of Halprin’s designs are now in a diminished state, while some face an uncertain future."

For the full article about the exhibition, click here