CONTESTED Landscapes + COUNTER Narratives

No place holds one, singular story. Every place, every site is complex, layered, and full of history. This seminar will explore how a critical place-based inquiry shapes readings of complex landscapes and their histories. Such lands hold contested narratives and histories, from places of deep meaning to that of quick extraction, from sites of enslaved labor to mining operations, from reservations to internment camps, from places of violence to those of resistance, among others. We will interrogate place theories in the context of land/place-based sources, methods, and tools (including archives, walking, drawing, thick sections, texts, maps, oral histories, poetry, song,…) for identifying, revealing, interpreting, and sharing narratives that may collide or upturn, and deny or erase one another. Drawing from a selection of places in the United States including the Harvard campus, the seminar will focus on how narratives of identity, race, gender, and indigenous sovereignty have shaped place; the approaches designers might employ when taking on the responsibility of design and making; and the approaches from which historians might draw in curating and curating histories of place.

We frame this seminar as a series of discussions, grounded in an inquiry into ways of knowing and critical place-based studies as a foundation for building alternative bodies of knowledge. Our readings will engage with studies of the social constructions of identity, race, and gender as embedded in and emanating from land and place, and in particular through the practice of designing landscape. We will build on the scholarship of Omi and Winant’s work on racial formation and theories of intersectionality for while race is a “master category” “it is not possible to understand the (il)logic of any form of social stratification, any practice of cultural marginalization, or any type of inequality or human variation, without appreciating the deep, complex, comingling, interpenetration of race, class, gender, and sexuality.” (Michael Omi, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. Routledge, 2015.: 106) Our work will also draw from George Lipsitz’s essay on the racialization of space and spatialization of race to consider how counter narratives might reveal alternative histories. As we extend our discussion, we will explore the theories of intersectionality with careful readings of selected writings of Saidiya Hartman, Katherine McKittrick, Tiffany Lethabo King, Andrea Roberts, Anna Tamura, and a richness of other authors, thinkers, and scholars of land, landscape, and place, each of who has shared approaches to re-reading and revealing counter narratives of people and place.

Our purpose will be to critically consider how we might engage with history to question how we have come to frame and define practices of place-making including landscape architecture, and in turn, how might re-imagine potential futures.

While there exists a deep body of knowledge and scholarship, there is much more to do; there remains critical narratives yet to be shared in our collective learning. To build alternative narratives, we will center how communities have made place in their own ways, rather than focusing on the oppression and the violence of neglect. We will focus on resistance as evident for example in the practice of landscape and garden design and land property rights and food sovereignty. As a means to move forward we will investigate practices of preservation, labor, and environmental justice to identify how this work might amplify counter narratives of potential futures in landscape studies.

By revising our understanding of history and historiographies of landscape architecture as a constellation of practices that describe a profession and a discipline, we open the door to a richer and more complex future for designers, and even more importantly, for our communities.