Landscape and Nation in
Lisa M. Zeitz
In Landscape and Power (1994), W. J. T. Mitchell urges his readers to think of landscape not as an object to be been, "but as a process by which social and subjective identities are formed" (1); landscape, he writes, must be understood as a physical and "multisensory" medium "in which cultural meanings and values are encoded, whether they are put there by the physical transformation of a place in landscape gardening and architecture, or found in a place formed, as we say, 'by nature'" (14). The senior undergraduate seminar course that I describe here-first offered at the University of Western Ontario in 1998-99-approaches landscape as a product of culture and allows students to examine some of the ways in which both national and individual (social and personal) identities are culturally constructed through representations of land. Although focused solely on late 17th- and 18th-century materials (primarily literary texts supplemented with slides and video of 18th-century landscape gardens, landscape paintings, and reproductions of period maps), this course seeks to encourage students to read all sorts of landscapes, environments, and spaces-material, literary, and visual-critically. Its also attempts: (1) to teach students about the ways in which nature has been used historically (and continues to be used) to represent ideas of nation and national identity; (2) to cultivate students' understanding of some of the major artistic forms in which landscape is central-travel literature, topographical poetry, painting, gardens, and the Gothic novel; and (3) to encourage students to think carefully about how perception works, and how ways of seeing are informed at every level by the cultural lenses through which we all look.
The first three weeks of this thirteen-week course are used to lay the groundwork for everything that follows. No student seminars are scheduled until the fourth week, by which time the class feels reasonably comfortable with the major themes and approaches of the course, having seen the instructor and the seminar group as a whole think about landscape in general, and Defoe's Tour in particular. We linger over the introduction to Schama's Landscape and Memory which provides (in less than 20 pages) ideas and images that we spend the rest of the semester thinking about. Rene Magritte's "La Condition humaine" (1933), which appears in a color, full-page reproduction in Landscape and Memory, initiates our discussion. This painting, which is a critique of mimetic representation, allows students to fully engage issues of perception and framing, and to consider the extent to which culture acts as a frame for all perceptual activity. The more they talk about this painting of a landscape painting that is placed on an easel in front of a window (the scene outside of which it appears to mirror), the more they begin to appreciate the complexities and challenges that lie ahead.
The readability and (frankly) transparency
of Defoe's Tour make it ideal as a first text. We begin by discussing
the ways in which nations are "imagined communities" (Benedict
Anderson's term), and students are reminded that Great Britain was created
in 1707 (making Defoe's work a kind of literary "Birth of a Nation").
It is the very "inventedness" of national identity that renders
it (at times) unstable; Defoe's Whig landscape is not Goldsmith's Tory
one, and Defoe's Britain often seems more "English" than "British." But,
as Linda Colley's brilliant study Britons: Forging the Nation
1707-1837 (1992) argues, British national identity was invented
during this period largely "in reaction to the Other beyond [British]
shores" (5), and not by blending cultures (English, Welsh, Scottish)
but by "superimpos[ing]" Britishness over "an array of
internal differences" (6). Of course, the ways in which Britishness
is so often manifested as anti-Gallic ("not French") and
the idea of national identity coexisting with internal differences
regional cultures hold particular interest to Canadians.
A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-26) emphasizes Protestantism, commerce, and a sense of national superiority; its metaphors are often those of natural growth and expansion, and its landscapes are landscapes of change. Selections from Defoe's work are read alongside Schama, so throughout the first three weeks students are applying the "big ideas" and a different model of reading to an early-eighteenth-century text. In our reading of A Tour we focus on water, especially rivers, and especially the Thames. Ideas of circulation and trade are foremost in our exploration, and we also examine Defoe's obsession with ports, harbors, and links to "the world" that at once emphasize Britain as an island nation and envision her (the "mother country") as the center of the world (these images and ideas are picked up later in the course when we read Pope's Windsor Forest, paying close attention to the imperial speech of Father Thames and the ideas of center and periphery). Playing a recording of "Rule Britannia" and examining the text by (Scot) James Thomson is another way to illustrate these seminal ideas: Britannia, commanded to "rule the waves" as "the dread and envy of all [other nations]," is made "more majestic" and "more dreadful from each foreign stroke," "As the loud blast that tears the skies, / Serves but to root thy native oak." I remind the students of Said's famous observation that empires must first be imagined before they are realized.
We talk about
maps during that first week, and I ask my students to think about
what a map does. Well, among
other things, we agree that it defines who you are, where you are,
and to which group(s) you "belong." Later in the semester we look
at eighteenth-century maps of London and of British North America; for
his seminar, a fourth-year geography major brought in a photocopied
reproduction (full-size) of Herman Moll's "New and Exact Map of
the Dominion of the King of Great Britain on the Continent of North
America" (1715). Having laid this large taped pastiche across the
seminar table, he invited his colleagues to consider it, and so they
did, seating themselves around the map and on the table (thereby confirming
to me, through the politics of location, that by this time the course
belonged to the students). Moll's map offers a wonderful example of
cartographic language with its creation of both a social space and a
territorial space, its inscriptions of hierarchy and power, and its
endorsement of ideas of progress and industry (best seen in the illustration
of Niagara Falls complete with beavers-who, judging by the dam-building
success pictured, are clearly overachievers). While the beaver, the
source of the profitability of the fur trade, symbolically represents
the riches of the new world, the suppliers of the pelts (those to whom
we now collectively refer as the "first nations") are not
represented. As J.B. Harley's seminal work on the history of cartography
has demonstrated, "cartographers manufacture power." Coats
of arms, cartouches, the size and character of lettering, icons, and
borders all contribute to the political and social meaning of maps,
for cartography "maps" power relations and ideas of nationhood
and empire as much as it records natural features. Clearly this "new"
and "exact" representation of the King's Dominion depicts
not so much a topography as an imperial ideology of expansion and commerce.
leading ideas discussed throughout our thirteen weeks were the relationships
and national order; the ways in which topography may be used to "naturalize"
political and social ideology (brilliantly visible in topographical
poetry such as "Cooper's Hill"); the structuring of space
(in verbal, visual, and material examples) into "prospects" with
ideological implications; the ways in which travel books and the enterprise
of domestic tourism contribute to the creation of a national
myth; how the work of a painter like Constable may come to represent
an ideal image of the nation (in the words of Stephen Daniels in Fields
of Vision, "Constable country" "harness[ed] the twin
virtues of nature and nation"); how strategies of inclusion or
exclusion (whether in a poem, or a painting, or a map) raise issues
of ownership, possession, and class; and how a landscape garden like
Stowe was constructed to present an imperial vision of British history
and destiny during a time of expansion (for a remarkable website that
allows students to go on a virtual tour of Stowe so that they can fully
appreciate how views and prospects are constructed to make political
points, please see Appendix 1).
A nation defines itself by its landscapes. I have already described some of the ways in which images of water (rivers and oceans) convey ideas of the nation as a commercial power in Defoe's Tour. When the class was exploring the cultural significance of "wood," a student gave a seminar on Pope's "Windsor Forest" and the iconography of trees; connections were traced between the forest and the idea of liberty (what Schama calls the "Royalist romance" of the greenwood), and between tree-planting and patriotism, so important for the building of England's so-called "wooden walls," the hulls of both mercantile and naval fleets. Another seminar explored the ways in which the character of a nation is represented by the character of its timber in the common trope, "hearts of oak," especially prominent in discourse on the British navy and in patriotic song. On trees, Stephen Daniels' "The Political Iconography of Woodland in Later Georgian England" (in The Iconography of Landscape) is required reading. Even the seemingly disinterested language of aesthetics-the sublime and the picturesque-has a cultural function. A shared aesthetic vocabulary-in the case of the picturesque one which asserts the new power and centrality of the middle class-also helps to define, even redefine, the cultural life of a nation. I ask my students to consider the implications of the use of the familiar "Old World" language to describe the landscapes of colonies like Canada. Why, for example, does the description in the poem "Quebec Hill; or, Canadian Scenery" (published in 1797) sound exactly like the topographical poetry describing Cooper's Hill or Grongar Hill? The very language of description links center with conquered and colonized periphery. "If in the lives of colonial cultures," writes D. G. Jones, "as in the lives of little ducks and chickens there is a moment of imprinting, that moment for Canada is located in the latter half of the eighteenth century" (Glickman, ix).
Alternate Routes and Views
One of the
advantages of the structure that I have borrowed from Simon Schama's
work is its infinite adaptability.
A course on landscape and nation may be structured to include different
nations, a greater or lesser emphasis on travel literature, more
fewer representations of urban spaces or of rural environments (including
landscape parks and the history of the enclosure movement), a greater
or lesser interest in colonization and empire. Once students have
given a vocabulary, an awareness of the kinds of questions and issues
that may be raised, and a sampling of literary, visual, and material "texts," they can approach any representation of landscape
with a much greater awareness and selfconsciousness about the ways in
which virtually all landscape is constructed-both by human labour and
by human modes of perception. Among the familiar prose works that could
easily be incorporated into a course on "landscape and nation"-or
that could be taught by incorporating elements of the approach and
outlined here-are Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Mansfield
Park, A Sentimental Journey, and excerpts from Tristram Shandy
(Uncle Toby's military garden, for example). For an increased emphasis
on poetry, some of the following suggestions might be implemented.
more of a "country house" emphasis, Pope's "Epistle to
Burlington" and Mary Leapor's "Crumble-Hall" might be
added and interestingly contrasted with Lady Irwin's "Castle Howard"
(see Week 8 of the schedule). One might add to the unit on representations
of labor (Week 9) the "matching pair" of "The Thresher's
Labour" by Stephen Duck and "The Woman's Labour" by Mary
Collier, thereby emphasizing issues of both class and gender. Rejecting
the landscapes of the pastoral, Duck wrote, "No Fountains murmer
here, no Lambkins play, / No Linets warble, and no Fields look gay";
reminding readers of the double jeopardy faced by women of the laboring
class, Collier wrote, "For all our Pains, no Prospect can we see
/ Attend us, but Old Age and Poverty." For more of an emphasis
on georgic poetry's role in representing the nation through landscape,
excerpts from Thomson's Seasons would be the obvious choice. And for
a self-conscious colonial "sequel" that both rewrites and
revitalizes topographical conventions, one might follow Goldsmith's
"Deserted Village" with the work of his Canadian-born grandnephew,
also named Oliver Goldsmith, who was the author of "The Rising
Village" (1825) with its invitation to "Come, turn with me
where happier Prospects rise, / Beneath the sternness of our Western
prominence than is apparent in the schedule of readings might be
given to the gendering of landscape
and of nations. Why Britannia? Why America? A student seminar might
be assigned that compares the function of river gods with that of
One might also place more emphasis on the gendering of Nature as female
in discourses about landscape gardening (Carole Fabricant's seminal
essay in SECC , "Binding and Dressing Nature's Loose Tresses:
The Ideology of Augustan Landscape Design," would be an obvious
choice to assign to undergraduates; also relevant are essays by James
Turner [in SECC, 1982] and John Barrell [in Cultural Critique,
1989] on the place of Venus in landscape gardens). A garden like Stowe
allows one to compare structures like the Queen's (or Lady's) Temple
with the Temple of (male) Friendship (which it faces and with which
it is directly linked); there are also many representations of Britannia
at Stowe, and the Temple of British Worthies includes Elizabeth I.
order to explore the relationship between gender and landscape, one
might discuss a poem like Finch's "A Nocturnal Reverie" (No
prospect: why? Not light, but darkness; not public space, but private).
might also be re-structured as an examination of "travel literature" (landscape
and nations); Defoe could be retained and other texts added. The
list might include
some of the following: Celia Fiennes' travel journal (which works very
well paired with Defoe), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Turkish Embassy
Letters, Johnson's and Boswell's accounts of Scotland, Smollett's
Travels through France and Italy, Sterne's A Sentimental Journey,
Wordsworth's Guide through the District of the Lakes, and William
Bartram's Travels. I might also note that over half of Germaine
Warkentin's 1993 Oxford anthology, Canadian Exploration Literature,
is devoted to accounts written during the Restoration and 18th century.
Those who are interested in reshaping the course with a larger component
of travel literature may find some hints in a description of a senior
seminar course I offered a few years ago; see "Eighteenth-Century
Travel Literature: The Cultural Contexts of 'Discovery' " in The
East-Central Intelligencer 8, No. 2 (May 1994): 21-25. Finally,
although I have listed Tillotson's old anthology as a required text
(because it is what most of our students purchase for the survey course
and can therefore re-use), The Longman Anthology of British Literature would
in many ways be a superior text (especially given that the "Restoration
& Eighteenth Century" section is now available as an individual
volume). Longman includes most of what we use from Tillotson,
as well as a "Perspectives" selection on "Landscape,
In The Production of Space (1974, trans. 1991) Henri Lefebvre writes that any "already produced space can be decoded, can be read." This course offered students opportunities to attempt to decode both past and present; in doing so, they gained an insight (they told me) into the ways in which their own social and cultural identities are formed by the history of the spaces they inhabit
Required Texts, Assignments & Evaluation, Policies
Defoe A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain (abridged) Penguin
Tillotson Eighteenth-Century English
J. D. Hunt, ed. The Genius of the
Place: The English Landscape Garden 1620-1820 MIT Press
Schama Landscape and Memory Random House
Radcliffe The Romance of the Forest Oxford
ASSIGNMENTS & EVALUATION
1. Each student will present two seminars,
formal versions of which (6-8 typed pages maximum) should be submitted
within one week of the date of the presentation. Each seminar/essay
will be worth 30% of the final grade.
2. An "open book" in-class
essay will be written in Week 11.
3. The quality
of participation and contributions to the seminar will be evaluated.
In order to achieve
a "B" students must be well prepared for seminars, contribute
to discussion, and show a sound grasp of texts. In order to achieve
an "A" students must demonstrate an excellent level of preparation,
contribute insightful and original comments in discussion, and show
an outstanding grasp of texts and critical issues.
ATTENDANCE AND LATE POLICIES
Extensions of up to one week on written submissions ONLY will be granted when warranted. Failure to appear (or to send a surrogate presenter) on the scheduled date of your seminar will result in a grade of 0.
ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY.
Students may miss three hours of classes without a penalty.
SCHEDULE OF READINGS AND SEMINARS
Week 1 Introduction
Week 2 "WATER"
and the prospect view ( "Cooper's Hill")
Week 5 THANKSGIVING DAY (NO
Seminar: "Windsor Forest" and imperialism
Seminar: "Grongar Hill" and
the poetry of place
Week 7 "WOOD,
Seminar: Gardens and "national styles"
Selections from The Genius of the
Seminar: Gardens and Paradise
Stowe: A Garden of Empire (Slide show)
West, "Stowe" (GP,
The English Landscape Garden: Emblematic
vs. Expressive (VIDEO)
Seminar: Theories of the Picturesque
Week 9 Labour and Landscape ("The Dark Side of the Landscape")
Week 10 Goldsmith, "The Deserted Village"
Week 11 Cowper, The Task, Book III: "The Garden" (ECEL, pp. 1316-1326)
Seminar: The inner landscapes of Cowper's Task
IN-CLASS ESSAY (2-hour "open book" test)
Week 12 "ROCK"
Seminar: Sublime Landscapes (Wright of Derby)
Week 13 Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest
Seminar: Radcliffe's descriptions
BIBLIOGRAPHY / RESERVE READING LIST
Professor John Tatter's remarkable "Stowe Landscape Gardens" website,http://panther.bsc.edu/~jtatter/stowe.html, offers an interactive virtual walking tour complete with photographs, maps, and links to Michael Bevington's essential guide, Stowe: The Garden and the Park (1996). One can tour the garden by character areas or by buildings and monuments. Using a map marked by scores of red arrows, the "walker" may experience views to and views from buildings, fully appreciating how location, position, and the relationships between buildings contribute to the meaning of is seen. By taking a virtual tour, students can discover for themselves how the English landscape garden creates an experience of movement through a gallery of living landscape paintings with framed views. Students might be assigned a character area or a group of buildings and asked to write a report on how the garden elements work together or how views function; in looking at framed views, students need to be encouraged to respond imaginatively. Which direction should we walk in? Why? Which are the most interesting views? Why? How did eighteenth-century tourists approach the route? How does our postmodern experience oflandscape compare with eighteenth-century accounts of visits to Stowe? This last question may be tackled by consulting William Gilpin's "Dialogue upon the Gardens at Stow[e]" (1748), which is available in its entirety (and includes pop-up windows showing garden features, the sources of most of which are contemporary guidebook illustrations or prints) under the "Poetry and Prose" link on the site. As of the time of writing, "a series of virtual reality panoramas of specific areas of the gardens" was under development; these, Tatter writes, will allow "the virtual visitor to 'stand' in a particular spot and 'look around' by using his or her mouse to control the direction of view." I encourage anyone intrigued by the garden materials on this course to visit this website; I know of no more fascinating or exciting website for classroom use than this one.
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