In one of the defining moments of the Senate Watergate Hearings, June 28, 1973, Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr., put the “central question” to former White House counsel John W. Dean: “What did the president know, and when did he know it.” If we modify Baker’s question in one simple but crucial respect, the epistemology and practical implementation of space, planning, and representation in modern American politics comes more clearly into view: Where did the president know what he knew, and what did he know about where he knew it? President Nixon might never have asked himself this question, though as his administration unraveled, his own staff and the committees and prosecutors investigating them were increasingly preoccupied by it. In our own hearings, lectures and classroom discussion, we can pose this question in the service of (historical) truth. This course examines the role architecture and landscape—the complicatedly contoured where of political discourse—play in institutions of governance. To restate the initial question: What sorts of places and spaces result from and potentially reveal the uncertain mix of ideals, ambitions, influence, violence, and compromise that define the office of the president?
Focus will be placed on representative episodes in the administrations of John F. Kennedy (Rose Garden and Grassy Knoll), Lyndon Johnson (Highway Beautification Act); Nixon (Watergate and “office landscaping”); Gerald Ford (mineral extraction and “moonscapes”); Jimmy Carter (the “rural South”), to address conceptual questions of distance and proximity, privacy and impropriety, plans and how they fall apart in the conduct and context of special representational arena that is the modern presidency. More general framing questions will address the land holdings of the founding fathers, the planning of the nation’s capital, the creation of the system of national parks and monuments, and landmark policy issues. By striving to bring things more “clearly into view,” we recognize from that outset the place that “cover-ups” have in the shaping of public perception. Witness the all-purpose suffix “-gate” that now serves for all sorts of malfeasance, and our own defining garden narrative of a (lesser) Paradise Lost.