Frontmatter - Editorial



Brian S. Osborne
Guest Editor

1 One of the protagonists in Jane Urquhart’s most recent novel, A Map of Glass, is a historical geographer. He is "a man whose profession allowed him to explore not only geological phenomena but also the traces of human activity that were left behind on the textured surface of the earth."1 For him, "The whole world is a kind of Braille, if you consider things from that perspective," and so "he paid careful attention to the past embedded in its present" in his "complicated relationship with landscape." This archaeological perspective of stripping off the overburden of the dominant present to expose traces of past activities and priorities in successive layers prompted some to view the landscape as a "palimpsest" that allows the deciphering of past impressions. Stilgoe has gone even further.2 He argues that some possess the even deeper insights of the "scryer," people who see things others miss with the gift of a heightened vision that allows them to move into, through, and beyond perceived worlds.

2 But of course, despite its association with art, landscape is not merely a visual category. Writers have long engaged the way we understand the "places" that we inhabit materially and cerebrally: for Gerard Manley Hopkins, "inscapes" were the mental constructions of our lived-in worlds while M. Bhaktin’s "chronotopes" conflate time and space, or history and geography.3 These distinctive locales become diagnostic of the essence of a society’s long-standing cultural practices in place-making. Think of rural Quebec or Saskatchewan in Canada, or Provence or Brittany in France. The point is that impressions of places like the "English countryside" or "Tuscany" have long since transcended material verities to become idealized statements of complex social and economic processes.

3 But perhaps that’s the most important point about landscapes: they are no longer mere assemblages of such "nouns" as buildings, fields, utensils, and vistas. The Sauerian-Berkeley School’s concern with material landscapes as evidence of cultural diffusion, cultural areas, and other spatial approaches to the dynamics of cultural systems is not enough.4 Meinig’s study of "ordinary landscapes" and Tuan’s "topophilia" initiated the beginning of a more symbolic interpretation of the culturally fabricated world,5 leading to Porteous’ provocative exploration of such landscapes of the mind as "smellscapes," "bodyscapes," "soundscapes," "inscapes," and "pornoscapes" and Shields’ spatial practices and figurative images that constitute "imaginary geography of places and spaces."6

4 This "reading" of the landscape for hidden meanings has been furthered by the application of such concepts as discourse, text, and metaphor to expose controlling dynamics of symbolically charged space and time to garner inner meanings related to crucial issues in our modern world: Nature; home; personal, cultural, national identity; places of refuge or places of trauma.7 Others have focused more on the reflexive renderings of landscape in art, literature, music, and film to better appreciate images, myths, and symbols of spaces and places.8

5 Mitchell has gone further and declared that landscape has an important role in systems of power, "not as an object to be seen or a text to be read, but as a process by which social and objective identities are formed."9 For him — and others — it is not a "noun" but a "verb."10 Many devices and agencies have been used to create an emotional bonding with particular histories and geographies. It is in this context that the concepts of monuments, commemorations, and performances become significant: that is, the marking of time, the figuring of landscape, and the ritualization of remembering. As landscape is the dominant depository of symbolic space and time, several recent writers have moved away from interpreting landscape as an externalized product of human activity, or a passive receptacle of signifiers, and looked at it as an active agent of remembering.11

6 Concepts such as these should inform us how to read, interpret, and decode the world around us, rather than plotting, measuring, and mystifying it. Thus, our discussions in this volume of Material History Review will focus on such concepts as Nature, symbolic space/place, mythology/history/heritage, and nested sets of personal, regional, and national identities. That is, the constructions of natural worlds, economic spaces, storied places, mythic homelands, and sites of contestation.

7 It is in this context that the call for papers in this special issue on landscape flagged the themes to be addressed here: studies that go beyond the traditional focus on rural settings and engage streetscapes, townscapes, and the landscapes of production and disruption in industrialized worlds; landscapes that reflect who we are and provide insights into who we are becoming through their power as statements of human energy, values, and priorities; investigations of humans’ engagement with specific places that underpin identity and collective memory. To this end, papers were sought that engage landscape as material place, interpretive text, reflexive image, and active agency of belonging. Several rose to this task.

8 Michael Wilson has posed a provocative question: how do nomadic societies engage with place? Transient in time and space and with low-impact technologies, first impressions would suggest that their imprint would be sparse. For Wilson, however, they too generate powerful assemblages of signs and symbols embedded in the cultural landscapes through which they moved in their regularised itineraries. Reified by ritual and ceremonialism, these symbolic sites have long served to reinforce nomadic peoples’ connection to, and unity with, places, people, and the cosmos.

9 In a completely different context, Phil Mackintosh turns his informed gaze to the construction of street-scapes of Toronto in the 1890–1900 period. How more mundane can you get than the prosaic world of asphalt street surfaces? For him, however, asphalt was no mere incremental step forward in transportation improvement but, rather, a symbolic statement of an overarching progressive impulse that conflated aesthetics, hygiene, cyclists, feminism, and the forces of modernization. And I always thought it had to do with smooth roads!

10 As a corollary of, and perhaps reaction to, urban modernity and hyper-urbanity some contemporary Canadians turned to Nature and the bucolic. In their study of "sensuous landscapes," Kirsten Greer and Laura Cameron situate the phenomenon of "birdwatching" as a particular engagement with landscape and personal and collective identity formation as the activity linked people to specific places. At a time when Canadians were coming to grips with the "Grand Transformation" from rural to urban, colony to nation, and the individual to the collective, the growing "sensuous experience of birds" played a role in emerging imaginative and moral geographies that were at the core of nativist and exclusionary discourses of the young nation, Canada.

11 A different scale of identity-formation is addressed in Matthew Hatvany’s investigation of the "Totem Poles" of Quebec City’s Dufferin– Montmorency Highway. Once a working-class neighbourhood of some two thousand persons, the parish of Notre-Dame was elided from the urban landscape of the Saint-Roch district to be replaced by rows of support columns for the suspended highway. Hatvany examines both the iconographic power of the subsequent anti-establishment graffiti produced by local artists in the shadow-lands beneath the overpasses and also the strategy of a state-initiated program of more romantic and genteel street-murals. Central to his premise are the ways by which the economics of tourism and the hegemonic power of state-approved memory construction conspire together to ensure that the "totem poles" do not detract from Quebec’s commemoration of its four-hundredth birthday and the presentation of the preferred image of itself.

12 Finally, in their "qualification socioculturelle" of landscape, S. Paquette, P. Poullaouec-Gonidec, and G. Domon effect a critical review of the genealogy of the idea of landscape. This done, they then move away from "les acceptions classiques" that reduce it to a "cadrage visuel." Rather, they wish to embrace new perspectives that enrich our under standing of such contemporary social issues as the environment, heritage, individual surround ings or well-being. To this end, this paper advocates "une position socioculturelle susceptible d’em brasser les multiples manifestations de l’expérience du paysage."

13 What all of these studies are proposing is that the world is made up of distinctive places that emerge out of the synergy between time and space, stories and locale, history and geography and they serve to enhance peoples’ cultural continuity, meaning, and identity.12 As Sack puts it, "[p]lace and its landscape become part of one’s identity and one’s memory. Its features are often used as mnemonic devices…that help us remember and give meaning to our lives."13 That is, rather than being an external phenomenon to be engaged visually, landscape is really a complex terrain of internalized symbolic meaning that reflects society’s values, promotes identity, and prompts action.

Brian S. Osborne,
Guest Editor
1 Jane Urquhart, A Map of Glass (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005).
2 John R. Stilgoe, Landscape and Images (University of Virginia Press: Virginia, 2005).
3 W. H. Gardner, ed., Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976); M. Bakhtin, "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes Towards a Historical Poetics," in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 84–258.
4 C. O. Sauer, "The Morphology of Landscape," in Land and Life: A Selection from the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer, ed. John Leighly (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, [1925] 1963).
5 D. W. Meinig, ed., The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); J. B. Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (New Haven: Yale University, 1984); J. R. Stilgoe, Common Landscape of America, 1850 to 1845 (New Haven: Yale University, 1982); D. Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1985); E. Relph, Place and Placelessness (London: Pion, 976); Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1974), Space and Place (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1977), and Segmented Worlds and Self (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1982).
6 D. Porteous, Landscapes of the Mind: Worlds of Sense and Metaphor (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1990); R. Shields, Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity (London: Routledge, 1992).
7 Erin Manning, Ephemeral Territories (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
8 Barbara Bender, Landscape: Politics and Perspectives (Oxford: Berg, 1983); M. Bunce, The Countryside Ideal: Anglo–American Images of Landscape (London: Routledge, 1994); G. A. Sullivan, The Drama of Landscape: Land, Property, and Social Relations on the Early Modern Stage (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998); D. Cosgrove and S. Daniels, eds., The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation, Design, and Use of Past Environments (Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1988); B. S. Osborne, "The Iconography of Nationhood in Canadian Art," in Cosgrove and Daniels, Iconography of Landscape, 162–178; D. Cosgrove, Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); S. Daniels, Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); D. Matless, Landscapes and Englishness (London: Reaktion Books, 1998); A. R. H. Baker and G. Biger, eds., Ideology and Landscape in Historical Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); T. J. Barnes and J. Duncan, eds., Writing Worlds: Discourse, Text, and Metaphor in the Representation of Landscape (London: Routledge, 1992); D. Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999).
9 W. J. T. Mitchell, Landscape and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
10 M. Keith and S. Pile, Place and the Politics of Identity (London: Routledge, 1993); S. Zukin, Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
11 S. Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Knopff, 1995); W. J. T. Mitchell, Art and the Public Sphere (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); J. Gillis, ed.,Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994); J. Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (New York: Princeton University Press, 1992); M. Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1991); P. Nora, Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, vol. 1, Conflicts and Divisions (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
12 B. S. Osborne,"Landscapes, Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration: Putting Identity in its Place," Canadian Ethnic Studies 33, no. 3 (2001): 39–77; "Locating Identity: Landscapes of Memory" (Bibliographic Essay), Choice 39, no. 11/12 (2002): 1903–1911; "The Place of Memory and Identity," Diversities 1, no. 1 (Summer 2002): 9–13; "Placing Culture, Setting our Sites, Locating Identity: From Native Pines to Subversive Dahlias!" Ottawa: Strategic Research and Analysis Directorate, Department of Canadian Heritage, Initiative to Study the Social Effects of Culture (ISSEC), 2005.
13 Robert David Sack, Homo Geographicus: A Framework for Action, Awareness, and Moral Concern (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1997), 135.