Preservation ABCs: L is for Landscape

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

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L is for Landscape

Windham County, Vermont, agricultural landscape, October 2009.

The word “landscape” likely triggers images of rolling hills, the coast, mountains or flat farmland. When discussing historic preservation and landscape, those images still hold true, except landscape is more aptly called “cultural landscape” by the National Park Service. Basically, cultural landscapes represent how humans have modified the environment and interacted with the land.

There are four types of cultural landscapes: (1) historic sites (2) historic designed landscapes (3) historic vernacular landscape and (4) ethnographic landscapes. Preservation Brief 36 explains cultural landscapes succinctly. Subtypes of these four types range from highways to parks to neighborhoods to farmsteads to battlefields to gardens to sacred sites, among many more.

Like other historic resources, landscapes have boundaries and historic context and significant features that contribute to their integrity (think of the threats to battlefields for a reference). The National Park Service maintains the Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI) of all cultural and historic landscapes across the country. Cultural landscapes are an entire field of study, obviously much too lengthy for a single post, but visit the CLI to get started. (And if you’re a cultural landscape expert, feel free to add more as a primer.)

Aside from the NPS definition of cultural landscapes, “landscape” can refer to everything around us. When you read your landscape, you are reading every element (not necessarily historic) of your environment and understanding the place where you live: what existed before and what exists now. Reading landscape is important because it allows preservationists and others to understand “sense of place” and what makes a place unique.

So think about your landscape? Do you know of any designated cultural landscapes around you? If not, how would you describe where you are?