The Making of Landscapes in Modernity

Conference | 10-11 May 2012, St Andrews

The processes of industrialisation and urbanisation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reshaped topographies across the globe and helped create a new polarity (perceived or otherwise) between the urban and the rural. This was often represented in art, which frequently idealised a bygone era of a rural past. In the process of this, nature was transformed into landscape. Of central importance were the shifts in perception from (usable, agrarian) land to landscape. Furthermore, the emergence of nationalism and its corresponding polities made the search for the distinct character of certain states, countries, and regions imperative. Landscapes (local, regional, and transnational) became ‘nationalised’ as part of the quest for a national canon. However, some ruralist movements were often linked to primordial notions of nationhood, and also to more general ideas on modernity and the problems related to it. In this sense, there existed an interesting juxtaposition between the modern nature of nationalism and the pursuit for the old and established as manifested in landscapes. In addition, more remote regions became the object of desire for scientists, travellers, the state, intellectuals and others alike. They acted as canvasses onto which problems of late modern societies, ideas of nationally authentic characteristics, and images of the curious other were projected. While this discovery of landscape certainly played an important role for nationalism, it thus also acted as a vehicle for both regional and transnational images and debates on society and structures.

This workshop is therefore designed to bring scholars together with an interest in historical perspectives on landscape, especially – though not exclusively – in the 18th to 20th centuries. Participants are invited to ask a number of questions, which could include some of the following: Who were the main ‘discoverers’ of landscapes? How has landscape been represented? What are the key transformational moments for the shift from a utilitarian perception of the land to an aesthetic/sublime perception of landscape? How important were technological developments for the changing representations of landscape? What is national/regional/transnational about landscape(s)? What role have different ideologies ascribed to particular landscapes? What role have tourism and leisure played?

As a more general framework, participants may use the following categories (by no means comprehensive) to frame their papers:

(i) Debates on modernity and modernisation

(ii) Landscape and memory

(iii) Writing on landscape

(iv) Promoting the national canon

(v) Debates on the conservation of the natural

(vi) Tourism and landscape

(vii) Classifying landscape: Science

(viii) The meaning of landscape for ideologies