Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson

By Waldenberger, Suzanne | Western Folklore, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson


Waldenberger, Suzanne, Western Folklore


Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson. Edited by Chris Wilson and Paul Groth. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Pp. x + 385, preface, introduction, photographs, illustrations, diagrams, notes, index. $19.95 paper)

With the founding of his seminal journal Landscape in 1951, John Brinckerhoff Jackson effected a radical shift in the way scholars look at the built environment of the United States, insisting that the same scholarly attention commonly lavished on great buildings and great architects must also be directed at the strip mall, the highway, the fast-food joint and other artifacts of ordinary American life. Everyday America, a collection of essays taken from the 1998 conference, "J. B. Jackson and the American Landscape," demonstrates the many and varied ways Jackson has inspired, influenced or goaded contemporary landscape scholars to look at the everyday built environment and consider its significance.

Not content merely to produce an ode to Jackson's work and theories, or a collection of case studies by those who have followed in his footsteps, Wilson and Groth have chosen works from a wide variety of perspectives and from authors who assess Jackson's contributions to landscape and architecture scholarship in very different ways. Indeed, the introductory essay makes this diversity clear by its very title, "The Polyphony of Cultural Landscape Study." Jackson was notorious for his contradictory stances and his sometimes deliberately contentious positions, and the editors of Everyday Amenca have embraced that history, eschewing a unified presentation of a particular approach in favor of essays that run the gamut from a detailed consideration, in "Private Property and the Ecological Commons in the American West," of the contradictions in "No Hunting" signs posted on Western fences to a broadly theoretical consideration of ways in which landscapes have been studied in "Normative Dimensions of Landscape." The four sections this book-"Evaluating J.B. Jackson," "Teaching and Learning Landscape Vision," "Questioning Theoretical Assumptions," and "Interpreting Twentieth-Century Urban Landscapes"-indicate the wide range of its scope, providing the reader with a hint of Jackson's interests and influences, but no great depth of analysis in any one topic.

Folklorists will nod approvingly at the celebration of the ordinary championed by Jackson and his followers, including the contributors to this volume. Particular landscapes in the essays relate directly to folkloristic study of the interaction between broad cultural impulses and individual creativity, including James Rojas' personal observations of the streetscapes of his own East Los Angeles neighborhood and Jessica Sewell's masterful analysis of how ordinary people, in this case suffragettes agitating for the vote on downtown San Francisco streets, can reimagine and subvert the planned uses of a formal landscape in order to promote their own objectives and make their own mark on a community. …

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