Landscape and American Culture

Professor: Steve Adams
Institution: N/A
Course Number: 3390

American Studies 3390z
Landscape and American Culture
Winter 1995
Cina 202
09:00-10:05 MWF
Humanities 415
Office Hours: 10:10-11:30 MWF and by appointment

Goals of the course:

As D. W. Meinig insists, “landscapes tell us much about the values we hold
and at the same time affect the quality of the lives that we lead . . . a
well-cultivated sense of place is an important dimension of human
well-being.” Peirce F. Lewis adds, “Landscapes mirror and landscapes
matter . . . Our human landscape is our unwitting autobiography, reflecting
our tastes, our values, our aspirations, and even our fears in tangible,
visible form.”

In this course we will:

(1) survey perspectives on the American landscape from the 16th Century
to the present, with special attention to what perceptions of landscape
reveal about American culture (how have we shaped the land, and how has
the land shaped us?);

(2) explore how perception of our environment (and of everything else) is
shaped and colored by inherited cultural paradigms;

(3) improve our ability to read intelligently, to analyze texts and cultural
artifacts using a variety of interdisciplinary critical methods, and to
express ourselves effectively in discussions and writing;

(4) increase our enjoyment of the American landiscape and its
representations in writing and visual media.

Textbooks: (a copy of each is on library reserve)

D.W. Meinig, The Interpretation of OrdinaryLandscapes
William Bartram, Travels
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays
Walt Whitman, Selected Poems
Willa Cather, My Antonia
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge


Course project (roughly 30% of grade)
Final Examination (25%)
Informed Class Participation (20%)
Daily Writing (15%)
Short Essay (10%)

Course Project: you will explore some important topic related to the
American landscape and then work your study into a substantial, polished
presentation of some kind. Topics and forms of presentation will be
decided individually in consultation with the instructor. (See the “Course
Project” handout for further information and suggestions.)

The final examination (open book, open notes) will consist of two essays:
one in which you explore a significant theme in landscape studies
(possible topics will be given before the exam) and one in which you
explicate an excerpt from a work on our syllabus.

This is a discussion rather than a 1ecture course. Everyone is expected to
participate in class discussions, which will (I hope) proceed in a relaxed,
friendly, anxiety-free atmosphere. You will not be called on to stand
beside your desk and recite. You will be expected to contribute what
insights and questions you can about the works under consideration so
that we can get a variety of perspectives on them and help each other to
read them as intelligently and imaginatively as possible. Please come to
classes prepared–that is, read the assigned works by the date they are
listed on the schedule and be ready to discuss them. If possible, read the
works twice–once quickly for the basic concerns, and then again slowly
for a careful analysis of structure, theme, tone, imagery, style, etc. As
Gaston Bachelard insists, “Every good book should be reread as soon as it
is finished. After the sketchiness of the first reading comes the creative
work of reading.”

Please speak loudly enough in class so that everyone can hear you and
listen courteously when others are speaking. Also, please sit in a
different spot each day. Move around the room to meet intelligent,
fascinating, friendly new people–your classmates.

To record attendance, prepare for class discussions and demonstrate how
carefully you are reading the assigned works, you will spend a few
minutes every class period writing about the day’s assignment. Each brief
writing exercise (e.g., a paragraph of reaction to the day’s reading or a
quiz) will be graded on a five-point scale. To allow for the rew occasions
you might have to miss class, you may skip three writing exercises
without penalty–or, if you do them all, your three lowest scores will be
discarded from the computation of your average for the quarter. No
make-up writings will be given–life is too short for the additional time
and labor involved.

The short essay (due by Dec. 23) is intended to get you into a local museum
for close study ef one particular American landscape painting or
photograph of your choice. In two to three typed pages, describe and
respond to a work from the Tweed Museum or the Depot. Give the artist,
title, and date of the piece; describe the work as clearly as possible
(subject, perspective, composition, texture, color, light, scale, etc.); then
respond to the work in some way (How does it affect you? What does it
seem to say about the American landscape? How does the work relate to
your reading for the course?).

If you ever have questions or concerns about readings, procedures,
assignments, grades, or anything else connected with the course, please
feel free to consult with me about them. I am available in my office during
the hours listed above; if the office hours are impossible for you, please
talk with me before or after class or call me to arrange some other time.
If you have any disability, either temporary or permanent, that might
affect your performance in this class, please let me know as soon as
possible so that I may adapt materials or testing to provide for equitable

Reading/Discussion Schedule

We will begin with theories and methodologies of studying landscape and
develop a vocabulary of terms (Henry Glassie: “The American land is an
artifact . . . . We should learn the landscape’s language”). Then we will
apply those analytical methods to specific selected American landscapes
as perceived at particular historical periods (Meinig: “History takes place,
and places are created by history”). As we work on common materials in
our class discussions, you will also be working on your individual project
for the course and will keep all of us informed about your project.

Please complete the required readings by class time on the dates listed
below. We may not discuss the material that day, but adhering to the
schedule will ensure that you have prepared the texts by the time we do
cover them in class.

28 Introduction to the course

30 Meinig, Interpretation: “Introduction” (1-7); Lewis, “Axioms for
Reading the Landscape” (11-32); Meinig, “The Beholding Eye” (33-48)

2 Meinig, Interpretation: Tuan, “Thought and Landscape” (89102);
Lowenthal, “Age and Artifact” (103-28)

5 Meinig, Interpretation: Jackson, “The Order of a Landscape” (15363);
Meinig, “Symbolic Landscapes” (164-92); [rec: Fred E.H. Schroeder Front
Yard American: The Evolution and Meanings of a Vernacular Domestic
Landscape (1993) on library reserve] (Guest discussant) Fred Schroeder on
the American front lawn

7 film: Koyaanisqatsi (Dir. Godfrey Reggio; music by Philip Glass); begin
reading Bartram’s Travels

9 (Guest discussant) Alison Aune: Introduction to landscapes in the visual
arts and to resources of the Tweed Museum (meet in the Tweed); begin
thinking about & researching your course project

12 Early Virginia (handout: excerpts from Barlowe, Smith, Ffrethorne,
Drayton, Hariot, et al.; slides from John White)

14 Early Virginia (cont.)

16 Bartram’s Travels: Part I, Intro, Chs. 1-5 (try to read all of Bartram if
you can, but concentrate on the chapters listed here)

19 Bartram’s Travels: Part II, Chs. 1,3,4,5

21 Bartram’s Travels: Part II, Chs. 6,8

23 Bartram’s Travels: Part III, Chs. 2,3,8,10; personal conferences
regarding course project; short essay due

Winter Break Dec 24-Jan 8: have a wonderful holiday season

9 Emerson, excerpts from Nature (handout); Thoreau, “Walking,” “Life
without Principle”

11 Whitman, “Starting from Paumanok,” “Song of the Open Road,” “Song of
the Redwood-Tree,” “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”

13 Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” “Song of the
Broad-Axe,” “By Blue Ontario’s Shores” video: The Hudson River and Its
Painters; last day to submit on course project

16 Holiday: Martin Luther King’s Birthday

18 Cather, MY Antonia: Introduction-Book I, Ch. XIII (1-61)

20 Cather, MY Antonia: Book I, Ch. XIV-Book II, Ch. VII (62-123)

23 Cather, MV Antonia: Book II, Ch. VIII-Book III, Ch. IV (124-88)

25 Cather, MV Antonia: Books IV and V

27 Leopold, Sand County Almanac: Part I, January-September (358)

30 Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: Part I, October-Part II, Wisconsin

1 Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: Part II, Illinois and Iowa-Manitoba

3 Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: Part III (175-2335); (Guest discussant)
Alison Aune on Duluth and Northern Minnesota in landscape art (meet in
the Tweed Museum)

6 Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: Part IV (235-95)

8 Williams, Refuge: Prologue-Peregrine Falcon (3-57)

10 Williams, Refuge: Wilson’s Phalarope-Kilideer (58-119); (Guest
discussant) Alison Aune on the “Women Photograph the Land” series (meet
in the Tweed Museum); course proiect due (two copies)

13 Williams, Refuge: Whistling Swan-Storm Petrel (120-78)

15 Williams, Refuge: Greater Yellowlegs-Birds-of-Paradise (179238)

17 Williams, Refuge: Pintails, Mallards, and Teals-Clan of the One
Breasted Women (239-90); take-home final examination distributed

23 (Thursday) final examination due in Humanities 415 by noon

This schedule is tentative; it can be modified to meet the needs of this
particular student group. You are responsible for any changes announced in

We will not be able to discuss in class every reading assigned for the day.
By focussing intensely on selected works, we should each develop our own
skills as independent readers. Do bring to class questions that you want
answered and your own choices for the texts that we will discuss

You are encouraged to read widely in works from the recommended reading
lists. Explore other selections for additional practice at intelligent
reading, for more extensive familiarity with American landscape studies,
and for your own enjoyment .


The course project is intended to let you explore in depth and detail an
aspect of American landscape studies that particularly interests you. If
you wish, you may write a conventional term paper (or several short
papers) on a topic related to landscape. Or you may try something more
experimental and out of the ordinary–for example, an informal journal of
your readings in a specific area, or a lecture/ slide presentation to the
class, or a photographic essay in which you present your own photographs
of landscape along with your commentary on them, or some other creative
work (prose, poetry, visual arts) related to our concerns in the course.

In any case, your project should be a substantial contribution to our study
this quarter (around 8-15 pages of formal written work; the equivalent
amount of time for a presentation in a different medium). Please see me
as early as possible with your own proposal for the course project–we
will work out the details together. By January 13 at the latest, please
submit a brief paragraph in which you explain exactly what your project
will be.

Some possibilities to get you thinking:

Research an aspect of the work of an author or artist on the course
bibliography of recommended readings.

Explore some historical development or controversy related to landscape
(e.g., the depiction of America in early European travel propaganda;
18th-century philosophies of the sublime and picturesque; 19th-century
images of the American West; the creation of Central Park; the debate
between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot over forest management; history of
the BWCA; recent developments in ecological movements–e.g., Deep
Ecology, ecofeminism).

Analyze a painting or photograph (or related series of works) by an artist
who especially appeals to you; or trace a particular image or theme that
runs through a period or an artist’s work (e.g., the dead tree in the
foreground of Hudson River School canvases; the desert in the works of
Georgia O’Keeffe).

Explore some aspect of the local landscape–e.g., How did early visitors to
northeastern Minnesota describe the land? How have mining and logging
changed the landscape? What artists have visited Duluth, and how did they
depict the city?

Analyze the treatment of landscape in film–some possibilities: Days of
Heaven (1978), Deliverance (1972), Heartland (1979), Badlands (1973),
Easy Rider (1969), Country (1984), The River (1984), Places in the Heart
(1984), or westerns such as Shane (1953).

Examine the sociological, psychological, or anthropological implications
of landscape. E.g., how do different social groups perceive the land
differently? What can you reconstruct of early native American relations
to the land? How does a people’s religion affect their attitudes toward
their natural environment? Do men and women bring to the land different

Discuss landscape as it manifests itself in music–e.g., in individual
works such as The New World Symphonv, Appalachian Spring, Grand Canyon
Suite, Oklahoma, or in related bodies of songs such as country blues,
Appalachian ballads, or ecological protest songs from the 60s and early

Joint or cooperative projects are possible, if you wish to work with a
classmate (or classmates) on a topic of mutual interest. We can arrange
together the precise details of how the labor will be divided.

Alison Aune and Peter Spooner of the Tweed Museum have indicated their
willingness to assist with projects related to landscapes in art. Consult
them for suggestions, advice, and bibliographical aids.

Begin work on your project early and keep me informed of your progress on
it. (I will also ask you occasionally to update the class on your work so
that we can share ideas, questions and concerns and help each other as
much as possible.) Unless we set a different individual deadline for your
project, it should be completed by February 10. Please submit two copies
of your project (if appropriate for the medium you have selected): one for
me to grade and the other for your classmates to review, if they wish.

Copyright © 1996. This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form, without written permission from its author(s).