Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place

Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place

Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place

Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place

Synopsis

Landscapes are not just backdrops to human action; people make them and are made by them. How people understand and engage with their material world depends upon particularities of time and place. These understandings are dynamic, variable, contradictory and open-ended. Landscapes are thus always evolving and are often volatile and contested. They are also always on the move - people may or may not be rooted, but they have 'legs'. From prehistoric times onwards people have travelled, but the process of people-on-the-move - as tourists, or on global business, as migrant workers or political or economic refugees - has vastly accelerated.How and why do people who share the same landscape have different and often violently opposed ways of understanding its significance? How do people-on-the-move make sense of the unfamiliar? How do they create a sense of place? How do they rework the memories of places left behind? There is nothing easeful about the landscapes discussed in this book, which are often harsh-edged and troubled both socially and politically. The contributors tackle contested notions of landscape to explain the key role it plays in creating identity and shaping human behaviour.This landmark study offers an important contribution towards an understanding of the complexity of landscape.

Excerpt

The Western Front is a symbolic landscape for our time. In many ways it stands as a metaphor for the defining human activity of the twentieth century – industrialized war – and at the end of the century remained one of the few artefacts visible from space (Webster 1998: 63). The human experiences of Western Front landscapes between 1914 and 1918 were deeply formative. They impressed vivid imagery onto individual and collective memories, and crystalized into phrases of enduring currency: we still talk of going ‘over the top’, suffering shell-shock, and the dangers of ‘No Man's Land’.

Hitherto, the Western Front has been seen mainly in terms of military history – as a place of stasis and attrition, human misery, and eventual victory (e.g. Brown 1993; Keegan 1998). Such assessments have tended to see landscape as inert – an empty backdrop to military action. However, it is evident that the study of any landscape crosses the boundaries between geography, anthropology, archaeology, art history, and other disciplines (Gosden 1999: 153). By changing focus – altering our theoretical engagement – we see the Western Front as not just a series of battlefields, but as a palimpsest of overlapping, multi-vocal landscapes. Each is contested by different groups who engage with its materiality in different ways (Layton and Ucko 1999: 1), and whose experience of ‘being in’ their landscape produces a sense of place and belonging (Tilley 1994: 15). The Western Front is a prime example of the social construction of landscape, of landscape as ongoing process, which has implicated the lives of a succession of people since 1914 (see Hirsch 1995: 22–3).

Regarded in this multi-dimensional way, the Western Front is composed, variously, of industrialized slaughterhouses, vast tombs for ‘the missing’, places for returning refugees and contested reconstruction, popular tourist destinations, locations of memorials and pilgrimage, sites for archaeological research and cultural heritage development, and as still deadly places full of unexploded shells and bombs.

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