Libraries Society of North America 31st Annual Conference
Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland - March 20-26, 2003
Palimpsest: The Interpretation and
Reinterpretation of Gardens and Landscapes.
Greta Ernest, Bard Graduate Center
Erik de Jong (Bard) “Reading Landscapes, Reading Books”
Therese O’Malley (CASVA) “Keywords in Garden History and Landscape Design”
Johanna Bauman (Bard) “Creating a Digital Archive for Landscape History”
Cate Cooney, Princeton University.
Erik de Jong, Reading Landscapes Reading Books.
Professor de Jong discussed the relationship of books and reading to gardens and landscapes. When writing about landscapes, Greek authors spoke of not only topologia, (a place) but also topothesia (an imaginary place.) These topologiae and topothesiae occur in books of many types, and gardens may in turn recall books.
The garden is a place of learning; we read in our gardens, professors hold classes on university yards. This tradition has its roots in the ancient world – the muses lived in gardens. Cicero claimed that if one has a garden and a library, one has everything.
Topographia and topothesia exist in books. Writers are inspired by their own gardens, and are moved to document and describe them. Gardens of the imagination exist in books from medieval manuscripts through modern design books, and serve as an antidote to melancholy. Archives contain drawings and writings in which people have described gardens and landscapes for a time when they may no longer exist. Libraries hold lavishly illustrated botanical texts detailing plants and documenting species – evidence in the 16th century debate of whether man or nature is the greater artist. Books themselves become what they aim to elucidate – wooden bindings may hold specimens of the tree from which it came. Books carry memories of gardens. And in turn, gardens may act as books through the inscriptions that adorn them. Instruction books show us how to transform and perfect nature. Books and gardens are inextricably linked, and both allow us to create a paradise, whether real or imaginary.
Therese O’Malley, Keywords in Garden History and Landscape Design.
Professor O’Malley described the sources used in an ambitious project to collect and define terms used in landscape design from the 17th century to the present day. She uses visual and textual sources as well as extant examples to define the terms.
Textual sources include treatises, printed material, letters, and travel writing. Visual evidence comes from painting, furniture, house portraits, wallpapers and a vast array of the decorative arts, as well as more technical material such as insurance and notorial records. The real examples may be surface remains of gardens, or the archeological record.
Landscape history is an interdisciplinary
subject, and the Keywords project seeks out diverse terms and sources from the
sciences, art, history and many other areas.
Obscure resources are mined for material, though well-documented and
famous sites may yield new information as well.
There is a comparative dearth of early American materials compared to
European sources. Colonial artists, when they did depict the American landscape
did not show wilderness, but structured inhabited areas. The planning of new towns exemplifies this ordering impulse.
Early American natural history sources see the new world as unlimited and
bewildering. An accurate view of
early American landscape history would be a transatlantic view, where ideas and
materials were exchanged.
Johanna Bauman, Creating a Digital Archive for Landscape History.
Visual materials are essential for the teaching of landscape history. In conjunction with a new program in garden history and landscape studies at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, Johanna Bauman has been involved with developing a database which would serve as a digital archive for images. This database would promote the teaching of garden history and would provide the images needed for teaching.
There have been a few difficulties in creating such an archive in the past. Many of the images are obscure, and very difficult to find. Another problem is that professors often use their private collections of images. Image collections have certainly been made available on the web before, but they are almost never presented in easily searchable databases. Bauman and others have applied for an NEH materials development grant to develop a searchable database of garden history and landscape studies images, and to make this database available to users on the web, likely using Luna Insight software. IN this way dissemination and communication about these images will be increased dramatically.
The images will come from a diverse body of material. Archival sources such as maps, and expedition histories, primary sources such as the frescoes at Pompeii, plans and designs from medieval manuscripts such as the plan of St. Gaul provide important early images for the history of gardens. Scientific materials such as herbals, and medicinal texts as well as agricultural manuscripts show plants, landscapes and the tools and technologies used from the middle ages onwards. Early printed books show perspective views of gardens, and plans that may have been used as models for landscapes. Fete books show the gardens in use for ceremony and celebration. Of course, photographs provide some of the clearest documentation for landscape studies. Through them, one can understand the site in use.
In a field where few or no textbooks are available, and obscure images from private collections are relied on heavily, there is a clear call for a well-organized searchable database of images delivered on the web. Many web guides are available, and these are excellent sources, but all are limited in some way. It is hoped that the current project will become a tool for the teaching a promotion of garden history and landscape design.