Week 9: Landscapes and Built Environments

This week for class we covered a wide range of topics since we had to combine the readings for this week and last. The first reading was A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time by John Brinkerhoff Jackson, which looked at how landscape can find “form and comes alive” (ix). Jackson’s book looked at various forms of the natural landscape as well as at the one built by man.  Jackson believed that man “perceives the landscape as designed to suit the states and needs of an element of society… man the owner or occupant of land,” which thus ties man deeply with the understanding of how landscape is formed (7). A Sense of Place continued by stating that there are two natural ways to understand nature, one of fear and one of protection, and that this dualism has forced us to see nature as alien to us (74). In trying to develop how man understands place, Jackson examined adobe homes and trailers in New Mexico as well as roads and grid towns, which lead him to believe that a sense of place “grows as we become accustomed to it” (151). Furthermore, Jackson went on to define a sense of place as “a lively awareness of the familiar environment. a ritual repetition, a sense of fellowship based on a shared experience” (159). This is an important definition since it shows that place is something that we construct in order to make ourselves feel comfortable and to be able to interact with others.

This idea of place connects with the three other readings for class, as seen in the “Meaning in Artifacts: Hall Furnishings in Victorian America” by Kenneth Ames. This article found that by looking at furniture in the entrance of homes, one can see into “society’s values as accurately as [through] its greatest monuments” (19). Furthermore, Ames believed that to correctly understand an object one must understand the space in which the object was used, which is important because it shows that the object cannot be separated from the environment in which it operated (27).  Indeed, by studying Victorian furniture, Ames found that the “artifacts were deliberately used in the nineteenth century as props for the drama of life,” revealing the important of objects in the creation of space (40).

The next reading, Dell Upton’s “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” looked at how our understanding of buildings is conditioned by who we are and what we believe in (357). Indeed, since there can be separation in how a space is understood, Upton believed that landscapes are thus an “extension of ideological process” (357). This is important when looking at slave quarters since they were an intersection of white landscape centered on the main house and black landscape centered on the quarters themselves ( 361). Thus for Upton, our understanding of place is tied to power and our understanding of self.

The final reading, “The American Front Porch: Women’s Liminal Space,” by Sue Bridwell Beckham looked at porches as a kind of middle ground between the “sanctity of the home and the profanity of the marketplace” (72). This was because the porch worked as a ritual space that functioned between two different cultures, which thus allowed women some special place where they could operate with less restrictions then elsewhere in their communities. Indeed, Beckham makes the point that porches allowed for the barriers of both race and sex to be relaxed, which shows the effect that a built environment can have on a culture (76). Indeed, this reflects, Jackson’s idea of the sense of place since the porch is clearly a space that has its meaning shaped by those who use it.

All of these readings are very insightful and will be useful in my object study since it allows me to understand the torpedoes in terms of their effect on the environment within the submarine. Furthermore, it will allow me to use the objects as Ames did and thereby see how they reflect broader American culture as a whole.

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