Place of Memory: Some Recent Publications on Landscape History (Landscape and Memory; the Power of Place; Garden Voices; the King's Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace)

By Buggey, Susan | Manitoba History, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Place of Memory: Some Recent Publications on Landscape History (Landscape and Memory; the Power of Place; Garden Voices; the King's Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace)


Buggey, Susan, Manitoba History


Relationships with the land have always been a strong and integral part of the Canadian experience. From the mnemonic traditions of Aboriginal peoples through the painted landscapes of the Group of Seven to the geographical determinism of the "empire of the St Lawrence", Canadians have celebrated, struggled with, and cursed the peculiarities of the land. Recently, the environmental movement, both globally and locally, has focussed our attention anew on the relationship between nature and contemporary culture. While geographers have made cultural landscapes a focal point of study since the 1920s, the heritage conservation movement has come slowly to incorporate such interaction between people and their natural environment.

The four works in this review all address the theme of human relationship with the natural environment. They are linked by such common foci as the role and recognition of memory, divergent expressions of value in landscape, the relevance of place, and the philosophy and practice of on-the-ground treatment. They illustrate the diversity of approaches to conserving the past in today's society. Simon Schama's emphasis is placed on the role of knowledge, understanding, recognition, and appreciation. Dolores Hayden, in contrast, focuses on communication of that knowledge through public action, particularly public art. Hayden's African American, Latina and Japanese American "voices" represent parts of the American experience largely unheard in the historic preservation movement. The "voices" collected by Edwinna von Baeyer and Pleasance Crawford are Canadian; they speak primarily of a subject, rather than a cultural experience, not previously heard. Finally, the restoration of the Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace in England brings the landscape out of memory and culture, off the page, and onto the ground.

The relationship between history and memory is complex. In Landscape and Memory historian Simon Schama roams across Western Civilization, exploring the vast sweep of time and place and myth. His own description of his journey through "the garden of the Western landscape imagination" is that he has "walked", while he readily admits that 19th-century American naturalist Henry David Thoreau, to whom he pays homage, would have challenged him with having "sauntered" (p.577). Neither of these verbs captures the enormous breadth of Schama's field of attention. Rather, a Prairie person might say he has "roamed", a term which evokes the immense range of the Canadian Prairies/Great Plains in their diversity, their timelessness, and their symbolic qualities. Let me not imply, however, that Schama's study is in any way aimless. He does not approach his subject in the familiar ways, either by nation state or by chronology. Rather, he organizes his vast range of material by three broad themes that comprise fundamental components of the physical landscape in all times and all places: wood, water, and rock. In a final section, uniting them, he explores the mythic landscape of Arcadia, a constant theme through Western thought from the ancient Greeks to the 19th century. The integration of landscape, history, myth, literature, and art that Schama practices will not be unfamiliar to landscape historians, particularly of 18th century England where great country estates like Rousham, Stowe, Stourhead, and Hawkstone Park, inspired by Italian landscape painting and English politics, encapsulated an allegorical world in the design and features of grand landscape parks.

Schama has, however, a more explicit purpose than merely revisiting the glories of Western culture. Concerned by historical interpretations deriving from the philosophies of the environmental movement and developed particularly in the work of leading American environmental historians, he demonstrates that such apparently natural phenomena as wilderness are, in fact, cultural constructs: "the wilderness does not locate itself ... nor could the wilderness venerate itself. …

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