John Wylie, Landscape (2007).
Curt Meine, "Reading the Landscape: Aldo Leopold and Wildlife Ecology 118," Forest History Today (Fall 1999), 35-42. http://www.foresthistory.org/publications/FHT/FHTFall1999/readinglandscape.pdf
Look up the definition of "landscape" in the Oxford English Dictionary to trace the history of the word.
This lecture pairs with last Wednesday's lecture as an introduction to the class. Last week's lecture was a "show me" lecture featuring Portage, Wisconsin and the Fox River: showing you how to take a place and rendering it meaningful using historical context, storytelling, and analysis. Those activities are very much what this course is about. Today's lecture is the "tell me" lecture, telling you what this class is about and what it aspires to teach you.
To begin, today's lecture will go through the syllabus. We recommend bookmarking the course website: http://www.williamcronon.net/courses/469/
On the course website you'll find the following resources:
Within the syllabus you'll find the following information:
Final word: How should you take notes in this class?
With those logistical details out of the way, let's dig into course material:
Why study landscape? Why care about it? This lecture will describe the intellectual lineage of this course. One obvious question to ask when asking "Why study landscape?" is definitional: "What is landscape?"
Definition from American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., 2000:
Notice in particular definitions 1 ("n. An expanse of scenery that can be seen in a single view") and 4 (n. The aspect of the land characteristic of a particular region).
The origin of the word "landscape" is Dutch, from late 16th-century Holland when landscape painting was emerging as a major artistic tradition. The roots of 19th-century Romantic landscape painting go back to 16th-century paintings. Notice from this lineage that the term "landscape" refers to representations of things in the world, rather than a more recent usage reflected in the title of this course: to refer to the world itself. The etymology of the term "landscape" also suggests a bias in the word towards that which is visual—places that are seen, constitute a scene, thus are framed. This privileges a visual aesthetic.
Landscape as a word has an intellectual lineage that goes back to elite viewers of landscapes who wanted to bring representations of places that they thought were beautiful, often while traveling, back to their homes. So notice that the term has a class bias built into it: a term originating with those who had access to the means to travel and the leisure time to enjoy touring.
By one definition (#1 in the American Heritage Dictionary's listing'), "landscape" can refer to any expanse of scenery that can be encompassed within a single line of sight. This means that the tradition of landscape has a bias towards the local, akin to what we discussed in lecture on Wednesday: studying landscape means paying careful attention to one place (e.g. Portage, Wisconsin) and then linking that one small place outward. Notice: this class treats place as a starting point and then reaches outward geographically and downward temporally. We will never be satisfied in this class to just look at the local—but neither will we be satisfied only with abstract generalizations. Like the discipline of history itself, this class prizes complexity and heterogeneity, and will almost always to try ground its generalizations in particular places and objects and events. Holding the local and global in tension with each other is very much at the heart of this class.
This class is about the making of the American landscape, but given the immense diversity of regional landscapes in the United States, it might be more accurate to refer to landscapes in the plural. This course title is an homage to the 1955 classic The Making of the English Landscape by local historian William George Hoskins, which is a reminder that although we can refer to the landscape of the entire nation as if it were singular, that singular noun contains within itself a near infinitude of diversely plural landscapes.
A few key observations about landscape:
This class will encourage you to ask (and to keep asking): Where am I from? We encourage you to think about how your own sense of self is connected to geographical places that have changed historically through time. We would like for your experience of this class to be as personal as it is intellectual.
How is this course structured? It's worth considering how it could have been organized:
Our syllabus leans towards the last of these options as a vehicle for an eclectic mixture of all five options. Throughout the semester, we'll be seeking out rich stories to help us understand the periods, processes, places, regions, objects, and elements that have constituted the American landscape as it has changed through history.
This course as two primary objectives:
The University of Wisconsin-Madison as an institution has a surprisingly dense history of supporting what today we could call the study of landscape history. Many individuals associated with the UW have contributed to fields relevant to this course, and we are part of continuing a long tradition. Because of the 1862 Morrill Act, which gave land to the states to create universities devoted to the agricultural and mechanic arts (hence, colleges of agriculture and engineering, initially resisted by the Madison faculty), UW-Madison is "land-grant institution" committed to both the liberal arts and the applied sciences. This dual personality helps explain why this school has in its history so many individuals committed to studying landscape change in place:
John Muir, nature writer and conservationist.
Frederick Jackson Turner, UW History. Turner argued that U.S. history was a story of land-taking, and that the nation was forged in the long process of migration and—in his language—"struggle with the wilderness." We now recognize this phrase as misleading because the so-called "empty land" of Turner's "frontier wilderness" was well populated by a great many native peoples when white settlers began to occupy it. Despite the many problems of Turner's frontier thesis, though, we should also recognize that his work laid the foundations for a way of doing history that paid close attention to the role of land in shaping of the American past.
Edward O. Birge, UW Limnology and former UW President. Pioneering studies of Lake Mendota that continue to this day. Birge did pioneering research that helped create the science of lake ecology by studying the body of water right next to this campus: science in place.
Charles Richard Van Hise: UW President who, along with his roommate Robert M. La Follette, Sr., pioneered "the Wisconsin Idea" that "the boundaries of the University are the boundaries of the state." Van Hise was also author of the first textbook on conservation history published in the U.S., The Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States.
Benjamin Horace Hibbard, UW Agricultural Economics and author of A History of the Public Land Policies about U.S. laws governing distribution of the public lands, a topic we'll study later in the semester.
John T. Curtis, UW Botany, who pioneered place-based rather than species-based studies of local biota, especially his classic 1959 book The Vegetation of Wisconsin.
Norman Fassett, UW Botany and director of the UW Herbarium. Author of Spring Flora of Wisconsin.
Andrew Hill Clark of UW Geography, author of pioneering works on people-environment interactions in his native Canada and elsewhere.
James Willard Hurst, of the UW Law School, one of the nation's most influential legal historians, whose research often focused on land and natural resources, and whose classic Law and Economic Growth was a massive study of the role of law in the lumber industry of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Wisconsin.
Aldo Leopold, founding member of UW-Madison's Wildlife Ecology department. You know him as one of the most important American conservationists in the first half of the twentieth century, author of A Sand County Almanac. He joined the UW as chair of the Department of Game Management. In 1938, Leopold taught for the first time his famous class Wildlife Ecology 118. Its syllabus declared: "The course aims to develop the ability to read landscape, i.e. to discern and interpret ecological forces in terms of land-use history and conservation." Our own class, History / Geography / Environmental Studies 469, is in part an homage to Leopold's course.
How do we know what Leopold taught? Leopold's own course records haven't survived, but we do have detailed notes taken by two of Leopold's students: Lawrence G. Monthey (in 1938) and Grant Cottam (in 1946) who have deposited their course materials in archives where scholars can consult them. We see from their notes of Leopold's diagrams that the course modeled the type of place-based thinking that he and his students prized: deeply place-based. See, for example: "Progress on the Prairie;" "Central Wisconsin Marshes;" "History of Northern Wisconsin." Incidentally, Grant Cottam was for many years a Botany professor here at UW-Madison, and his notes for Wildlife Ecology 118 are available online (careful: this file is 358MB and will take a long time to download): PDF
Jim Zimmerman, naturalist at the UW Arboretum who was trained by Leopold, and his student Virginia Kline, also of the UW Arboretum.
Notice: all of these thinkers focused their research on local places and local processes in order to draw conclusions that proved of broader relevance and importance. This class, following the lead of these thinkers, will try teach us to do the same.
We'll pick up again here on Wednesday.