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Edankraal, the writing studio of Anne Spencer, Lynchburg, Va, photography by Carlyn Ferrari.

Mellon Democracy and Landscape Initiative Annual Colloquium

October 19–21, 2023 | Carlyn Ferrari and Thaisa Way, Colloquiarchs

Black Women’s Gardens as Art and Practice


This event is by invitation only.

Gardens and the practice of gardening are integral to African American women’s history, creativity, and knowledge production. In this interdisciplinary colloquium, we will consider the myriad ways gardens have performed—and continue to function—as sites of artistic expression and activism. For African American women, the garden is much more than a plot of tilled ground, as it has served to provide a liminal space between the private domestic sphere and the public civic spheres of engagement and leadership. Although generally ignored in narratives of garden history, gardens were significant in the experience of enslaved and freed African American women, and garden practices have contributed to Black placemaking. This work of making place through gardening practices builds new knowledge while building on the scholarship on Black placemaking in critical ways. Throughout such periods as enslavement, the Civil War, and Jim Crow, Black women used their gardens as a means of making and claiming space, in addition to providing food for their families. Some of the questions we will consider include: How have Black women expanded and reimagined the contours of gardens and gardening as practice and as art? How have gardens performed as instruments of engagement, creative self-expression, leadership, and radical change? What do Black women's gardening practices tell us about Black Ecologies and Black placemaking and its histories/ narratives? Extending the work of such scholars as Eugene Genovese, Dianne Glave, and Jacqueline Jones, we will consider how gardens and gardening offered African American women the ability to articulate themselves while also providing much-needed sanctuary from racial and gender oppression.


  • Carlyn Ferrari, Seattle University
  • Thaisa Way, Dumbarton Oaks


  • Stefanie K. Dunning, Miami University
    “My Body Is a Garden: On the Emancipatory Possibilities of Plant Life”
  • Chiyuma Elliott, University of California, Berkeley
    “Looking for Zora Neale Hurston’s Literary Gardens: Elusive Fictional Portraits of Black Women’s Gardening Practices in the 1920s and 1930s”
  • Abra Lee, Conquer the Soil
    “Tell Them We Are Rising”
  • James Padilioni, Jr., Swarthmore College
    "‘Fuck it, I Quit!’" Black Women Cannabis Cultivators of the Past, Present, and Future”
  • JT Roane, Rutgers University
    “Individual Particular Lives and Places: Scale and Climate Catastrophe through June Jordan”
  • Kimberly Ruffin, Associate Professor, Humanities, Roosevelt University
    "Provisions for a Journey to Freedom: Patch Gardens in Antebellum Enslaved Life and Postbellum Memory"
  • Teona Williams, Rutgers University
    “‘Some of Us Went Hungry:’ Rural Black Women’s Struggle for Food Sovereignty 1966-1976”

Image: Edankraal, the writing studio of Anne Spencer, in Lynchburg, VA. Photography by Carlyn Ferrari.

Past Topics


Landscapes of Civil Rights in the District of Columbia and the National Capital Area

February 25, 2022 | Mellon Colloquium, in partnership with the National Park Service, the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites at the University of Pennsylvania, and Tulane University

Program Bibliography

Garden and Landscape Studies, in partnership with the Mellon Urban Landscape Humanities Initiative at Dumbarton Oaks, is pleased to host the 2022 colloquium “Landscapes of Civil Rights in the District of Columbia and the National Capital Area” on February 25, 2022. The event will be livestreamed for an invited audience. This colloquium, in partnership with the National Park Service, University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites, and Tulane University, will inaugurate a multiyear collaborative project led by the NPS to recognize, document, map, and explore frameworks for interpreting landscapes of civil rights in the District of Columbia and the National Capital Area with a focus on National Park Service lands. The project will develop a phased study of specific communities and/or ethnographic groups (including African Americans, women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ+, Latinx, Asian Americans, and people with disabilities) and how they have defined and used NPS lands for civil rights purposes, broadly defined.

Our intention for this colloquium is to open up questions about how we define civil rights, how civil rights movements identified with places and landscapes, and how communities identified with particular places as part of civil rights advocacy and struggle. We recognize that landscapes hold multiple narratives of place, and thus will be asking how we might frame discussions of civil rights to generate counter narratives. While the colloquium and subsequent project will focus on the District of Columbia and the larger National Capital Area (Department of the Interior Region 1) of the National Park Service, we will draw from practices from across the nation. Finally, we are interested in contemporary means and methods of documenting and mapping landscapes that may advance this work.


Interpreting Landscapes of Enslavement

October 25, 2019 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium; Thaïsa Way, Colloquiarch

Program Speaker Biographies

Anticipating a symposium on the legacies of segregation and spatial inequality in cities around the world in spring 2020, the fall 2019 colloquium focuses on strategies for revealing and interpreting histories of slavery and the legacies of racial injustice that are slavery’s aftermath as they are found in the landscapes of eastern North America. Featuring curators from such historic sites as Montpelier, Monticello, and Georgetown University, as well as scholars, journalists, and photographers investigating Confederate memorials and antebellum industrial landscapes, the colloquium explores ways of recovering and sharing the landscape narratives of enslaved humans, and the violence perpetrated on their descendants, in site histories and public education. The event features both prepared talks and roundtable discussions. Graduate students researching related topics also have an opportunity to share their work and receive feedback from significant scholars in the landscape disciplines. If appropriate, selected presentations from this colloquium might be considered for inclusion in the publication of papers from the spring 2020 symposium.

We are assembling scholars, journalists, and activists to engage in roundtable discussions in addition to a small number of scholarly presentations. Opportunities to discuss emerging research and lessons learned by those sharing the work are emphasized.

Programs in urban landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks are supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This grant focuses on “Democracy and the Urban Landscape: Race, Identity, and Difference.”

Botanical Gardens and the Urban Future

November 2, 2018 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium; John Beardsley and Anatole Tchikine, Organizers

Program Abstracts

For the 2018 fall colloquium, Garden and Landscape Studies, in collaboration with New York Botanical Garden, will bring together a group of historians, landscape designers, and scientists to discuss the changing role of botanical gardens (including arboreta) in the urban context as both landscapes and research and public institutions. Of particular interest is the role of design in helping botanical gardens meet the challenge of operating as educational and community resources while maintaining their traditional focus on the preservation and study of plants. Historically, botanical gardens have proved to be a very adaptable and resilient type, serving as repositories of materia medica, teaching or taxonomical aids, and centers for plant acclimatization in the context of colonial botany. What are the likely scenarios for their development in the future? What are the most effective ways in which they could communicate ideas about nature to city dwellers in an age of advanced urbanization and climate change? What role could historical scholarship of botanical gardens play in this regard?

Programs in urban landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks are supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through its initiative in “Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities,” intended to foster the joint contributions that the humanities and the design and planning disciplines may make to understanding the processes and effects of burgeoning urbanization.

This event has been approved for 8 LACES (Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System.)


Bliss and Mellon Awardee narrative responses

How Designers Think

November 3, 2017 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium

Program Abstracts and Speaker Biographies

In the past generation, humanity has crossed a number of significant thresholds: over half the world’s population now lives in cities, a percentage that is sure to grow, and we are living in an age characterized by significant and potentially irreversible anthropogenic climate and ecological transformations. Designers now in the middle of their careers are the first generation to have come of age with the challenge of imagining landscapes that might achieve long-term sustainability, resilience, and adaptability in the face of warming temperatures, rising oceans, and changing weather patterns. We will assemble a group of six to eight midcareer landscape designers to present how they think about a range of topics from urbanization and globalization to cultural and biological diversity, ecosystem services, and environmental justice in the city, in an effort to explore the conceptual contours of contemporary practice.

The colloquium is part of our program in Urban Landscape Studies, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through their initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, which is intended to foster the joint contributions that the humanities and the design and planning disciplines may make to understanding the processes and effects of burgeoning urbanization. At Dumbarton Oaks, the program brings landscape architects and historians together to explore how urban environments got to be the way they are and how best to manage them today. The colloquium provides the opportunity for our scholarly community to hear from a range of contemporary designers who are active in imagining better futures for our cities, and for the designers to engage with a historically informed audience.

The goal for the colloquium overall, as well as within individual presentations, is to bridge design and the humanities: to suggest the ways that humanities research and practice can inform each other in service of better understandings of cities past and present.

Speakers include Gina Ford (Sasaki, Boston) on flood management and coastal resilience; Aki Omi (Office MA, San Francisco) on working in a globalizing context, especially China; Sara Zewde (Gustafson, Guthrie, Nichol, Seattle) on community, race, and commemoration; Jose Castillo (Architecture 911, Mexico City), on the ways food and cooking transform cities; Michelle Delk (Snohetta, New York) on her firm’s interdisciplinary approach, using the Willamette River project as an example; Bas Smets (Brussels), on his explorations of the links between landscape design and film; and Jennifer Bolstad and Walter Meyer (Local Office Landscape Architecture, New York) on historical ecology and urban resilience.

Read the student narratives from the Colloquium.

Landscapes of Housing

October 14, 2016 | Mellon Colloquium, Harvard University. Sponsored by the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative and the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks; Jeanne Haffner, Organizer

Housing programs lie at the very center of socio-spatial relations and the politics of space. Landscape—broadly defined to include ecology, topography, energy infrastructures, aesthetics and ideology—is part of this complex but its role has largely been ignored in housing studies. The aim of this one-day colloquium, jointly organized by the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks and the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative, is to explore how housing shapes landscape and is, in turn, shaped by it.

Landscape has at times been used as the basis for social reform and the creation of “communities of dwelling.” It has also been utilized as a referent for particular housing forms, especially single-family housing, and has been seen as an answer to the perceived social problems associated with mass-produced modernist housing. More recently, housing has been the site of experimentation in ecological design, urban food production, building technology, and improved health.

Bringing together scholars and practitioners, this colloquium will pose questions such as the following: How have conceptions and practices with respect to landscape shaped novel designs for dwelling over time and in different parts of the world? What meanings are evoked today by established patterns of housing in post-Socialist cities and informal settings? In what ways have the material aspects of landscape, from concerns over stormwater and flooding to energy infrastructure and topography, shaped these discussions in different ways? Finally, what possibilities exist for scholars and practitioners to work together to develop new ways of thinking about the intersection of housing and landscape, and of implementing such ideas in practice?

Panel 1: Landscape and the Creation of “Communities of Dwelling”

  • Daniel Bluestone, Director of Preservation Studies and Professor of Art and Architecture, Boston University
  • Sophie Hochhäusl, Assistant Professor of Modern Architecture, Boston University
  • Thomas Nybo Rasmussen, Landscape Director, Vandkunsten (Copenhagen, Denmark)
  • Moderators: John Beardsley, Director of Garden and Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks, and Jeanne Haffner, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks

Panel 2: Housing, Landscape and the Post-Socialist City

  • Michael Hooper, Associate Professor of Urban Planning, Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Christoph Bernhardt, Senior Researcher and Head of the Department for Historical Research at the Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning; Lecturer, Center for Metropolitan Studies in Berlin
  • Christina Crawford, Assistant Professor of Art History, Emory University
  • Moderators: Eve Blau, Adjunct Professor of the History and Theory of Urban Form and Design and  Principal Investigator, Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative, and Márkus Keller, Research Fellow, Crisis History Research Group, Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest, Hungary) and Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technische Universität Berlin

Panel 3: Housing, Landscape, and Informal Urbanism

  • Bruno Carvalho, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures; Codirector of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities
  • Christian Werthmann, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Design, Leibnitz University
  • Vyjayanthi Rao, Director, Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research
  • Moderator: Anita Berrizbetia, Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard GSD

Final Comments

  • Ellen Braae, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, University of Copenhagen, and Henriette Steiner, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, University of Copenhagen