Environmental Histories, Archived Landscapes

The course explores design methodologies for evaluating archives as evidence of material, spatial, and cultural change in constructed landscapes. Because archives seek comprehensiveness (distinct from the discretionary aims of a curated collection), they can contain undeclared evidence of the fleeting and sometimes unwelcome behaviors of living systems and human inhabitants in official accounts of the built environment. Using collections at Harvard and beyond, we will analyze scientific, technical, cultural, and commercial images for spatial configuration, composition, visual patterns, and references; evaluate the relationship of medium (film, specimens, flyers, digital media, etc.) to the subject matter; and critically assess these findings through writing as well as analytical and projective image-making.

In the seminar, we will mine archives of institutional records. Guest speakers and workshops will engage narratives that have been typically excluded from institutions: emerging archives (in retroactive formation) and those that are now accumulating (in real-time). Case studies presented will focus on infrastructure and designed landscapes in North America, but students will develop their own subjects for independent research on an environmental history—broadly defined as the mutual interactions of human society and the natural world—in relation to design history. This work will be guided through a series of prompts, culminating in a final proposal for the dissemination of archival research.

Course meetings will consist of: lectures by the instructor, guest speakers, interactive workshops, student research presentations, and visits to local archives. The seminar welcomes all disciplines.