Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, May 4-5, 2018. Website.
Among various human interventions in landscape, war has left one of the most lasting and eloquent records, literally inscribed in the face of the earth. Military landscapes can assume different forms and functions: vertical, as the Great Wall of China, or horizontal, as the Federal Interstate Highway System; overground and geometrically controlled, as the earthworks of the Renaissance trace italienne, or sunken and disguised by local topography, as the trenches of World War I. They could be high-security sites, as the Pentagon, or tourist attractions, as Himeji Castle in Japan; curated, as the Gettysburg Battlefield, or neglected, as the outskirts of the Savannah River nuclear reservation site. All these landscapes, however, remain vivid testimonies to the main reason for their existence: the reality of war as one of the oldest of human endeavors.
Indeed, remnants of defensive structures or fields of physical combat are among many types of landscape that the culture of war generates. Military landscapes can include former markers of status, such as the strongholds of sixteenth-century Japanese warlords, or vestiges of colonial expansion, as the fortified trading outposts built by the Dutch on the coasts of the Indian Ocean. They could be even combined symbols of imperial oppression and national resistance, as in the case of the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa in Mexico. Although fortified, they could have an afterlife as sacred grounds, as the Acropolis in Athens. They could be reflections of utopian architectural visions, as in the case of the star-shaped sixteenth-century Italian city of Palmanova, or diplomatic pragmatism, as in the creation of present-day demilitarized zones. In their most familiar form, they are national memorials as sites of remembrance and commemoration: monumental embodiments of group identities and systems of value and, in this way, cultural pilgrimage destinations and settings of political rituals. As places where historical memory inevitably becomes translated into myth, military landscapes are also deeply contested sites. Witnesses or reminders of victories and defeats, achievements and losses, heroism and suffering, they continue to have powerful emotional, political, and cultural resonance across different generations.
At the same time, military landscapes remain important focuses of government interests and large-scale budgetary investments, past and present. Products of theoretical thinking and strategic planning, they typically represent advanced engineering and technological solutions. Reduced to paper or GIS datasheets, they are also outcomes of a unique expertise in managing such tasks as dislocation, movement, and provision of troops; performing ballistic and structural calculations; and assessing opportunities for attach and ambush, defense and camouflage, which gave military professionals a unique knowledge and understanding of the natural terrain. In this way, they are repositories of information recorded, safeguarded, and communicated through topographic descriptions, maps, drawings, photography, and film footage, producing a wealth of visual material that charts a complex and changing cultural interpretation of landscape and the flora and fauna that inhabit it.
The Garden and Landscape Studies program at Dumbarton Oaks is planning a symposium, to be held on May 4–5, 2018, which aims to reevaluate the role of war as a fundamental form of human interaction with land and a decisive factor in the ongoing transformation of the natural environment. As the nature of modern conflict expands to encompass entire geopolitical regions, military landscapes cannot be treated purely as markers of history. They belong to the present as much as they do to the past, calling for a critical assessment of their environmental impact, new approaches to their historic preservation or adaptive reuse, and a scholarly reappraisal of their form, meaning, and interpretation. What are the challenges and theoretical implications of understanding military infrastructure as landscape from the disciplinary perspectives of cultural geography, architectural history, and environmental studies? And what is the role of the practice of landscape architecture in shaping, curating, and giving meaning to such landscapes? Please send a 200-word abstract and a short two-page CV, by September 30, 2017, to Anatole Tchikine (email@example.com) and John Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org). Proposals from historians, ecologists, geographers, and designers that emphasize cross-disciplinary perspectives are particularly welcome.