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A painting of three peasant women in a field, bent double, their eyes raking the ground

Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

May 10–11, 2024

Commons and Commoning

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For millennia, common lands, waters, woodlands, grasslands, fisheries, wetlands, and other ecologies, together with commoning—the practices and customs associated with managing and using these resources and governing access—have been crucial to the sustenance and social reproduction of rural people, often supplementing agricultural, pastoral, or fishing economies. Commons and commoning have been especially prevalent in cultures with little or no private ownership, but they have also endured where private appropriation developed. Never static, both commons and commoning became hotly contested from at least the sixteenth century onwards as the infant global capitalist system pressed its drive to appropriate nature, labor, and energy for private accumulation. Often violent, this contestation was especially acute in colonization processes, where people of different property regimes suddenly competed for the same resources.

Rather than free and open access places, and far from constituting utopias, commons have historically been resources claimed by the communities that drew direct sustenance from them. These communities governed both who had use and usufruct rights (the right to use and enjoy what another owns) and how they would be exercised. Examples of commons have been pastures used for livestock owned collectively or individually by members of a community, or forests where members of adjoining villages might gather foods, medicines, building and manufacturing materials, and fuel. Watery environments also have been commons, typically as communally managed irrigation systems or as bodies of water for fishing and gathering. Commoning, meanwhile, has included practices that arc over the collective to private spectrum of property regimes. Stubble grazing—pasture of a community’s animals on private fields after the harvest—or gleaning—communal access to private grain fields after harvest to collect remnants of the crop—are examples. Coppicing and pollarding are commoning practices to obtain fuel and wood materials in forests. The interaction of the commons as material places and commoning created landscapes of usage and usufruct. Because these collectively held terrains and resources, and the social rules pertaining to their usage, are so intertwined, the study of commons encompasses joint consideration of the place and the practices and politics societies developed to govern their access and use.

Commons scholarship has often focused on disputing or developing propositions emanating from the “tragedy of the commons,” famously formulated by biologist Garrett Hardin or from political economist Elinor Ostrom’s concept that “common pool resources” are best governed collectively and locally. But there is much to gain from investigating commons and their associated practices, with a deep temporality and place-based approach and a broad disciplinary approach, especially in the historical, archaeological, and ecological sciences. Featuring a dialogue among scholars of diverse temporalities, geographies, and disciplines, an aim of this symposium is to transcend the limitations of dualities often associated with the study of commons to reveal how societies in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa have constructed and interacted materially with terrestrial and watery commons. This symposium was organized by Vera S. Candiani, Princeton University.


  • Elizabeth Arkush, University of Pittsburgh
  • Gabriel de Avilez Rocha, Brown University
  • Weiwei Luo, Florida State University
  • Zozan Pehlivan, University of Minnesota
  • José Carlos de la Puente, Texas State University
  • Caterina Scaramelli, Boston University
  • Francesco Vallerani, Università di Venezia Cà Foscari
  • Anjuli Webster, Emory University
  • Karl Zimmerer, Pennsylvania State University

This event has been approved for 10 Landscape Architecture Continuing Education Credits (LA CES™ ).

Image: “Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857.” (Wikimedia Commons)

Past Topics


Environmental Histories of the Black Atlantic World: Landscape Histories of the African Diaspora

May 12–13, 2023 | In partnership with the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies, Washington, DC; N. D. B. Connolly and Oscar de la Torre, Symposiarchs


For the last decades, scholars have interrogated the flow of goods, people, ideas, and forms of non-human life that constitute what we call the Atlantic World. Key to the field is the study of the “Black Atlantic,” an understanding of cultural and political connectedness that foregrounds the experiences of African-descended peoples, decenters Europe, and locates in place and time the multiplicity of Black cultures.

Dumbarton Oaks recognizes the richness of the Black Atlantic as an idea and a place. Through a symposium on the landscape histories of the African diaspora, we aim to convene scholars, curators, and other cultural custodians conversant in Black Atlantic histories and committed to reshaping entire fields of study and practice from the Black experience outward.

While African and Afro-descended peoples shaped the history of the Atlantic world since its birth in the fifteenth century, anti-slavery and anti-colonial efforts since that time have flowered into an array of abolitionist movements, practices of Black fugitivity, and a rich library of environmental, feminist, and materialist scholarship. The Black Atlantic has also been reflected and curated in cultural epicenters such as Washington, DC’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, São Paulo’s Museu Afro Brasil (Brazil), Luanda’s Museu Nacional da Escravatura (Angola), Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum (United Kingdom), Matanzas’ Museo Nacional Ruta del Esclavo (Cuba), and Louisiana’s Whitney Plantation. This expanding body of grounded Black Atlantic knowledge challenges and strengthens how we understand, teach, and question histories of and on the land, especially in the context of the Western world and the development of racial capitalism.

The 2023 symposium will build on our 2019 colloquium on Landscapes of Enslavement and will focus on place-based histories of landscapes, waterscapes, and environments of the Black Atlantic world from the fifteenth through the twentieth century. By engaging the geographic breadth of the Atlantic world and its complex relationships and networks, this symposium seeks to share scholarship on Black landscapes as individual places and as mapped connection sites within larger networks. We remain interested in the places and land imagined and created by Africans and their descendants as they faced the violence of the transatlantic slave trade and, later, segregation and tokenism. We also choose to elevate Atlantic practices of Black resistance and resilience, nation-making, political mobilization, and forms of Black homebuilding and self-regard that showed little concern for white frames of reference.

We are interested in the development of narratives and histories grounded in the environmental humanities, in material studies, and in original, place-based approaches to the study of race and politics. This symposium will consider the construction and use of places in the making of work lives, community building, and storytelling with the intention of growing the body of works of Black Atlantic environmental histories.

Landscapes in the Making

May 6–7, 2022 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, in partnership with the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies; Stephen Daniels, Dell Upton, and Thaïsa Way, Symposiarchs


How might historians narrate landscape design within broader human stories? How might alternative histories of landscape creation read, of its manifold makings and meanings in various periods and places focused on the people who imagine and shape the land? This symposium seeks to identify research that looks beyond canonical histories of design and architecture to include the people, particularly socially marginalized communities, who are involved day-to-day in its making and meaning, including commemorating its past and planning its future. It engages projects that generate counternarratives that reveal how alternative views of the past shape visions of the present and the future.

This is the third symposium in a five-year series exploring what it would mean to curate histories of making landscapes. Building on symposia exploring landscapes of segregation and resistance in 2020 and the Land Back movement and Indigenous readings of land in 2021, this symposium seeks to interrogate stories of labor, craft, and stewardship as the work of making landscape, foregrounding those who have so often been silenced, including women, LGBTQ+ people, Black and Indigenous people, immigrants, and working-class laborers. We consider that the making of landscape engages ongoing social, cultural, and physical processes, including labor, craft, maintenance and stewardship, as well as materials and production. We recognize that human making is more than a matter of people shaping “materials,” and this is surely true of many cultures and cultural practices of working with the natural world, notably those which actively seek to sustain it. We are interested in the boundaries and tensions between the formal design and ongoing production of landscapes, including questions of materials, economies, livelihood, technologies, power, dispossession, and topographies.

Land Back: Indigenous Landscapes of Resurgence and Freedom

April 29, May 13, May 27, and June 10, 2021 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, in partnership with the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies; Michelle Daigle and Heather Dorries, Symposiarchs


Please note, this symposium will be held virtually every two weeks on Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. ET: April 29, May 13, May 27, and June 10, 2021. The pre-recorded papers will be posted on the Dumbarton Oaks Vimeo site, as they become available. Due to limited capacities of some closed captioning services, the transcription of indigenous language and vocabulary on some recorded papers is not consistent. We apologize for any confusion.

Relations to land are a fundamental component of Indigenous worldviews, politics, and identity. The violent disruption of land relations is a defining feature of colonialism and imperialism; colonial governments have territorialized Indigenous lands and bodies and undermined Indigenous political authority through gendered and racialized hierarchies of difference. Consequently, Indigenous resistance and visions for justice and liberation are bound up with land and land-body relationships that challenge colonial power. “Land back” has become a slogan for Indigenous land protectors. Relations to land are foundational to political transformations envisioned and mobilized through Indigenous resurgence praxes. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson explains, land relations provide a “place-based ethical framework” that enables “process-centered modes of living that generate profoundly different conceptualizations of nationhood and governmentality—ones that aren’t based on enclosure, authoritarian power, and hierarchy” (L. Simpson 2017, 22). In this context, the term land does much heavy lifting. Mishuana Goeman observes that in Indigenous studies “[land] is often conflated to mean landscape, territory, home, or all or some of these simultaneously. . . . Unpacking and thinking about land means to understand the physical and metaphysical in relation to the concepts of place, territory, and home” (Goeman 2015, 72).

In this symposium, we aim to highlight the many ways Indigenous peoples understand and practice land relations for political resurgence and freedom across the Americas, by refusing colonial territorializations of Indigenous land and life-making practices (A. Simpson 2014a). Our intention is to place Indigenous practices of freedom within the particularities of Indigenous place-based laws, cosmologies, and diplomacies, while also taking a hemispheric approach to understanding how Indigeneity is shaped across colonial borders.

Works Cited

  • Goeman, Mishuana
    2015. “Land as Life: Unsettling the Logics of Containment.” In Native Studies Keywords, edited by Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Andrea Smith, and Michelle H. Raheja, 71–89. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Simpson, Audra
    2014a. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake
    2017. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Segregation and Resistance in America’s Urban Landscapes

July 1–September 14, 2020 | Garden and Landscape Studies Virtual Symposium, Thaïsa Way, Symposiarch


This virtual symposium addresses the everyday spatial practices through which marginalized communities resisted oppressions and constructed alternative or counter narratives and spaces.

. . . within the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and cultural geography, there is an emerging body of theoretical, historical, and design research which recognizes the capacity of the built environment to serve as a repository of our collective and individual cultural history and memory. Yet contemporary methodologies of design often ignore the power of the landscape to evoke the history and memory of place, homogenizing the diverse cultural forces resident in the landscape, and thus reinforcing a peculiar sense of collective amnesia.

Craig Barton, Sites of Memory, xiv

The legacies of segregation, colonialism, and resistance as they shape urban landscapes are essential areas of study for landscape historians alongside urban historians, geographers, anthropologists, among others. This symposium brings scholars and teachers together to engage with the urban landscape and environment in the Americas through interrogating the means by which inequities, displacement, and spatial violence have informed the creation, development, and use of spaces and sites in the public realm. Equally important, we seek to recognize the everyday spatial practices through which communities resisted such oppressions and constructed alternative or counter narratives and spaces. This project builds on Dumbarton Oaks’ Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies Initiative, and in particular, the 2019 Colloquium on “Landscapes of Enslavement.”

While traditionally we gathered here at Dumbarton Oaks, this year we reimagined our annual symposium as a robust virtual investigation and discussion. Thus, our traditional two-day symposium will instead be shared as a series of monthly virtual events over the course of the summer. Each month from July to September, three pre-recorded papers will available for listening via the Dumbarton Oaks Vimeo channel. At the close of each month, we will host a facilitated discussion on the papers with invited participants on Zoom Webinars, allowing the audience to ask questions via a chat format.

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.


Landscape, Sport, Environment: The Spaces of Sport from the Early Modern Period to Today

May 3–4, 2019 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Sonja Dümpelmann, Symposiarch

Program Abstracts and Speaker Biographies 

As a form of play, sports are deeply embedded in human nature and culture. Throughout history, organized sports and sport-like activities have had considerable impact on how we design and understand landscapes. Correspondingly, designed and pre-modern “natural” landscapes have contributed to the formation and development of new sports and cultures of movement and the body. With the increasing commodification of these activities, new types of landscapes continue to be created across the globe, invariably transforming our living environment in the process. Indeed, the physical environment and its built form have been key to sports activities.

Scholars from fields like sports history and geography have often described a movement away from localized, contextualized, and place-based sport landscapes toward placeless, contained environments in which sports facilities and equipment are standardized, artificial, mass-produced, and inherently international or global. What many studies have neglected to consider, however, is the site design itself and its social, political, and cultural context and meanings. Even within landscape and environmental histories, sport landscapes—the environments and spaces for organized sports—have been conspicuously absent, although some of the first sport landscapes were part of designed gardens, parks, cities, and large territories.

This symposium seeks to address this lack of knowledge, exploring the design of different sport and recreational landscapes over time and how they have given expression to various understandings of nature and culture. What are the relationships between sport landscapes and their environment? What is the relationship between the site itself and the culture of sports and recreation embedded within it? How have sport landscapes, like the activities and their cultures, been tools for colonization? How do they embody constructions of race, place, gender, and identity? How have body and movement cultures, medicine, and public health movements shaped sport landscapes? And conversely, how have landscapes and the ideas of landscape shaped the specific sports grounds?

The symposium seeks to explore this new ground in landscape history and landscape studies by gathering together presentations by scholars who will address the intersections of landscape, body, and movement cultures in the period ranging from early modern times to today.

Read the Bliss and Mellon student awardee narratives here.

Read The American Society of Landscape Architect's blog The Dirt about the symposium on eugenics in 19th century Argentina and planning for superstorms in New York City.

Military Landscapes

May 4–5, 2018 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Anatole Tchikine and John Davis, Symposiarchs

Program Abstracts and Speaker Biographies 

Among various human interventions in the 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 the First World War. They can 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. In their most familiar form, they are national memorials as sites of remembrance and commemoration, which continue to have powerful emotional, political, and cultural resonance as places where historical memory is translated into myth.

This symposium aims to reevaluate the role of war as a fundamental form of human interaction with the land and a decisive factor in the ongoing transformation of the natural environment. What are the challenges and theoretical implications of understanding military infrastructure as a 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?

Read ASLA's blog The Dirt on the symposium.

Read the student awardees' narrative responses to the symposium.

Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities

May 5–6, 2017 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Georges Farhat and John Beardsley, Symposiarchs

Program Abstracts

The use of the word “landscape” to describe the formation and infrastructure of cities—as reflected, for example, in current theories of landscape urbanism—largely seems to express contemporary preoccupations with the post-industrial urban condition. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution is often seen as a turning point in the emergence of the urban landscape of the modern metropolis. The large city as commonly experienced today in the world—whether vertical or horizontal, congested or diffused, and divorced from productive nature—is certainly dependent on a range of recent (or quite recent) breakthroughs in construction technology, climate control, communication, and transportation. In this view, urban landscapes appear as a historically late development and are therefore seen to embody an essentially modern and Western concept.

Yet, features associated with contemporary urban landscapes—most notably the forms of human adaptation to and reshaping of the sites where cities develop and expand—can also be found in pre-industrial contexts in different time periods and across the globe. Pre-industrial urban settlements generally occupied land that had been used for other, mostly productive, purposes, and their development involved complex and dynamic relationships with the management of natural resources, especially food and water. While ancient cities are traditionally studied as the centers of commerce, trade, and artisan production as well as the seats of secular and religious authorities, questions of how the original clusters of agrarian communities evolved into urban formations, how they were spatially organized, and what their specific landscape characteristics were deserve further analysis and discussion. Another closely related question concerns the role of environmental factors and the presence or lack of particular natural resources in enabling this process of urbanization.

To explore these questions, the Garden and Landscape Studies program at Dumbarton Oaks is planning a symposium, “Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities.” Organized by Georges Farhat (University of Toronto) and John Beardsley (Dumbarton Oaks), it will be held on May 5 and 6, 2017. Topics will be drawn from a wide range of historical periods and a global geographical perspective, and speakers will address the following questions:

  • How was the modern dichotomy between the urban and the rural historically expressed in the relationship between cities and the natural environment—especially with respect to land use, environmental control, and resource management?
  • To what extent was the ability to exert control over the natural environment and its resources through territorial expansion, hydraulic management, and land reclamation a determinant factor in the design, evolution, and historical fortunes of pre-industrial cities?
  • What sense can we make of the contemporary concepts of urban sprawl, biodiversity, climate change, connectivity, and integrated management of natural resources if applied to pre-industrial urban landscapes? What implications does this understanding have for current scholarship, design strategies, and planning policies in an age of ecological transition?

Programs in urban landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks are supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through their 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.

12 LACES - Continuing education credits for landscape architects

Read a review of the symposium on the American Society of Landscape Architects’ blog The Dirt written by guest contributor Lindsey Naylor, MLA candidate, North Carolina State University.

Landscape and the Academy

May 6–7, 2016 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Daniel Bluestone and John Beardsley, Symposiarchs

Program Abstracts and Speaker Biographies

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Dumbarton Oaks, which certainly counts among the most significant cultural landscapes in any university's care, the Garden and Landscape Studies program is planning a symposium on the history of academic landscapes and their prospects and perils as universities go global and digital. History provides numerous examples of pedagogical landscapes: the monastic-style cloisters that provided at least one model for academic settings implied ideas about the collective and contemplative life, while the “academical village” at the University of Virginia—where students and instructors lived in close proximity to each other and to the library, near gardens that produced some of their food—provided an early instance of self-sufficiency and perhaps even sustainability. More recently, land grant universities were established to teach applied agriculture.

But how valid are these pedagogical objectives today? Are universities still cultivating self-conscious relationships between their landscapes and their academic missions? Are these landscapes, beyond their applications in curriculum, still being used to foster new thinking in landscape design, aesthetics, environmental ethics, or community history? Universities might be seen as models of density, walkability, and sustainability, but how effective are they at transmitting these lessons to their students or to the larger public? If one were to imagine an ideal campus today, what would it look like, and what would people learn from it?

Furthermore, thinking globally, what are the models for universities outside of Europe and North America? As campus forms are exported to the developing world, how relevant and usable are they? And how are universities dealing with the challenges of preservation, as student populations expand, uses change, surroundings develop, and neighboring communities evolve? Are there options for preservation beside resistance or capitulation? Can universities become models of adaptability?

Looking beyond specific instances of campus planning and design, we seek a larger understanding of the place of university landscapes in their academic and urban communities.

This symposium, organized by Daniel Bluestone (Boston University) and John Beardsley (Dumbarton Oaks), took place in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room.

River Cities: Historical and Contemporary

May 8–9, 2015 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Thaïsa Way, Symposiarch

Program Abstracts

Resilience and adaptability are key elements of viable urbanism. But how have these concepts been understood historically? And how do they shape the design and stewardship of urban landscapes today? The dynamic relationships between cities and their rivers, a landscape of potentially critical adaptability and resilience, is the focus of “River Cities: Historical and Contemporary.” Building on the emergence of urban humanities and urban landscape history, we propose to consider the urban river as a city-making landscape deserving of careful reading and analysis: past, present, and future.

The subject of this symposium builds on a new multiyear initiative in Urban Landscape Studies, which Dumbarton Oaks is launching in 2015 with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Its principal goal is to create a dialogue between designers and scholars to address the landscape consequences of advancing urbanization. With this task in mind, the 2015 symposium aims to bring together the work of contemporary designers with the historical perspectives of scholars, encouraging practitioners and historians to bridge the gaps between their modes of thinking.

Read the review in the American Society of Landscape Architect's blog The Dirt  posted on 05.21.15

Five landscape architecture students received travel awards, sponsored by Dumbarton Oaks and the Mellon Foundation, which allowed them to attend the symposium. Read their narrative reports.

Sound and Scent in the Garden

May 9–10, 2014 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, D. Fairchild Ruggles, Symposiarch

Program Abstracts Speaker Biographies

The 2014 Dumbarton Oaks symposium in Garden and Landscape Studies (May 9-10, 2014) was on the theme of sensory perception. While we often approach gardens as things to be seen—thus engaging the rational, intellectual part of the human brain—Sound and Scent in the Garden explored the more elusive experiences of sound and smell. Important dimensions of garden design and performance, and often having a powerful effect on the human body, these senses are ephemeral and can be difficult to study. The papers in the symposium explored the ways that the historical experience of sound and scent can be recuperated, and explain the meaning of those senses for landscape design, past and present.

This event was approved for 12 LA CES (ASLA) credits for landscape architects. Read the review in the American Society of Landscape Architect's blog The Dirt on 05.14.14 and 05.15.14.

Cultural Landscape Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa

May 10–11, 2013 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Program Abstracts Speaker Biographies

In 40 years of symposia, the Garden and Landscape Studies program at Dumbarton Oaks has addressed a nearly global range of cultures, epochs, and subjects. But one region is conspicuously absent: sub-Saharan Africa. This omission is particularly glaring, given that the subcontinent is one of the oldest inhabited landscapes on earth, with a staggering range of geographies, cultures, histories, and patterns of settlement.

Dumbarton Oaks is planning a symposium that will begin to address this gap in scholarship. The symposium will focus particularly on cultural landscape heritage: what we know—or think we know—of pre-colonial landscapes; how they were read and misread in the colonial era; and how they are being reinterpreted in the present for various purposes, including conservation, economic development, education, and the creation of national identity. The subcontinent offers a rich array of places for study by landscape scholars and designers: World Heritage sites such as Great Zimbabwe, or Djenne and Timbuktu in Mali; massive earthworks and palace grounds in Benin; anthropogenic forests and forest shrines; contested wildlife parks and ecological reserves; village compounds and seemingly chaotic contemporary urban settlements; and official and unofficial memorials to the struggles against colonialism. The characteristics and complexities of such sites are only now beginning to be understood in the context of landscape studies.

Read the review in the American Society of Landscape Architect's blog The Dirt (05.14.13).

Food and the City

May 4–5, 2012 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Dorothée Imbert, Symposiarch

Program Abstracts

The intricate interrelationship between urban context and food production, central to the current debate on sustainability, will be the focus of the 2012 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium at Dumbarton Oaks. It will explore the links between culture and cultivation, with particular respect to the modern era and urbanization schemes that engaged the production of food, either as a means to achieve self-sufficiency, or as part of a ruralist perspective. As the city displaced food production further from its center, the relationship between living, working, and eating became more abstract. Today, this relationship is tested across planning and community design schemes: American suburban developments include agricultural land as a conservation measure and a nostalgic nod to a pre-agribusiness countryside; European designers focus on the suburban-rural interface to develop a new type of productive landscape, one performing simultaneously as an open space system and an agricultural laboratory; and in cities like Kampala, Uganda, or Rosario, Argentina, urban agriculture is part of a participatory design process that integrates housing programs.

Organized by Dorothée Imbert, this symposium will provide a critical historical framework for today's urban agriculture by discussing the multiple scales, ideologies, and contexts of productive landscapes, from allotment gardens to regional plans. Speakers will address the production and distribution of food in relation to human settlement and urban form, from German Siedlungen to Italian Fascist new towns, and Israeli kibbutzim to contemporary Tokyo. The particular focus will be on the efforts of modern and early-modern landscape architects, garden designers, and architects/planners to reconcile the demands of feeding cities and regions with the exigencies of urban expansion.

Technology and the Garden

May 6–7, 2011 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Program Publication

In his classic work The Machine in the Garden(1964), Leo Marx posited that modernity came into being when the machine—a symbol of the forces of technology—entered the pastoral garden of the pre-industrial world. The machine was the engine of change and a profound disturbance to the garden, traditionally seen as a peaceful, static realm and the antithesis of the turbulent forces of technology and the nascent modern world. Yet gardens are products of technology, and this intimate connection invites further exploration. Scholars have long recognized the impact of technology on our understanding of nature and geography, but have rarely analyzed its relation to gardens and other designed landscapes. This is a significant gap in our scholarship that this symposium is intended to redress.

Expanding upon existing research in the history of technology, we will address framework issues including the impact of mechanization on gardens, the role of informal or artisanal knowledge in the continuity of working methods, and the links between technological innovation and design change. Through specific cases we will build on areas where there has been substantial study, such as water systems and gardens, and explore topics that have received little attention, such as the history of earth-moving equipment. We will also highlight contemporary explorations of landscape both as a place and an idea and present new modes of representation and garden experience created by artists using film, video, and digital technologies. The technics of the garden can be hidden or revealed, disguised beneath the earth, or celebrated on the surface. Technology can be approached at the full range of scales of garden and landscape design, through all historical periods, and in a diversity of places and cultures; how designers have dealt with this issue is a central question in garden history, and this symposium will serve as a beginning foray into this increasingly vital topic.

Designing Wildlife Habitats

May 14–15, 2010 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, John Beardsley and Alexander Felson, Symposiarchs

Program Abstracts Publication

The vision of a garden shared peacefully by humans and animals is one of the most familiar landscape tropes—and one of the most elusive. Whether threatened by habitat destruction or climate change, displaced by urbanization or invasive species, poisoned by industrial toxins, or hunted to extinction, many wild animals have failed to thrive in the company of people. There is growing scientific consensus, most recently reported in an Elizabeth Kolbert essay in The New Yorker, that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction in earth history—and the first caused by human activities. By some estimates, as many as half of earth's species will be gone by the end of this century.

What agency can landscape architects have in conserving or restoring wildlife diversity? The 2010 Dumbarton Oaks Garden and Landscape Studies symposium will gather designers, scientists, and historians to explore this question. Established conservation practices within ecology have begun to infiltrate landscape architecture, including reserve design for focal species and biodiversity; sizing and spacing of habitat patches, corridors, and edge conditions; and the analysis of food webs and predator-prey dynamics. Current initiatives in ecosystem services, restoration ecology, and designer-generated ecological experiments provide an enlarged role for landscape architects in the creation of productive habitats: design is increasingly instrumental to both the appearance and the ecological function of landscapes. While managing botanical diversity is a widely recognized part of the design professions, the protection, management, and restoration of wildlife habitat are less well studied and rarely integrated in a rigorous way into design. From niche habitats in urban parks to biosphere reserves, what role can design play in facilitating wildlife conservation at different scales? Given extinctions and habitat fragmentation, can designers become involved in reconfiguring wildlife communities in the same way they have reconfigured plant communities? What are the opportunities and dangers of designing ecosystems with incomplete species composition, including missing keystone species or disjointed food webs? Are species introductions an option? How should human inhabitance and use be managed? At one extreme, is it necessary for the survival of wildlife to exclude humans? At the other, many cities are now developing biodiversity plans: can urbanized areas be made more habitable for wildlife? How can designers address regional to global issues, including the impacts of invasive species and climate change on habitat quality and species distribution?

Organized by John Beardsley, director of Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, and Alexander Felson, a joint Yale University professor in the Schools of Forestry and of Architecture, the symposium will present the work of designers who work closely with or who are themselves scientists. These designers are establishing precedents that bring together science and design to guide wildlife conservation planning and design for the future. Environmental historians and scientists will frame these design initiatives, presenting a range of perspectives on zoological history, conservation biology and biodiversity science. The goal of the symposium will be to explore how designers, historians, and scientists might better collaborate to promote zoological biodiversity and how scientific ambitions might be expressed in culturally significant and historically informed design.


The Interlacing of Words and Things in Gardens and Landscapes: Beyond Nature and Culture

May 8–9, 2009 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Stephen Bann, Symposiarch

Program Publication

Over recent decades, debates about environmentalism, global warming and its consequences for life have triggered a questioning of the opposition between nature and culture. This has become particularly obvious in discussions among landscape architects and anthropologists. Yet there is little in common between these two areas of debate. Landscape architects tend to be concerned with ways of devising new roles for humans in the transformation of a natural world shared to a great extent with non-humans, thus endorsing the embeddedness of nature and culture, but perhaps falling short in the criticism of these dualistic concepts. Anthropologists have been largely concerned with describing and understanding the perspectives of non-Western peoples without seeking to impose the implicit dualities of nature/culture, emotion/reason, practice/ideology, mundane/ritual, sacred/profane, cosmos/society.

In this symposium, we attempt to bring these two areas of debate closer by proposing new modes for the description and understanding of gardens, whether in the context of history or in the present – as they have been, or are, experienced by those who make and use them across many different areas of the world.

Gardens are the result of a selection of plants, objects and animals for intentional purposes. This has led in turn to the transformation of those plants, objects and animals; that is to say, they have been appropriated for human communication, and become representations in poetry, imagery, religion and myth. The same process has taken place with features of the wider landscape. So, if we provisionally bracket off the categories relating to nature and culture in the western world, we find that the challenge of interpreting descriptions of gardens and landscapes impels us to rediscover the specific categories involved in constituting them as representations. The papers in this symposium cover in equal measure western and non-western traditions, and range from individual case studies to analyses of long-term historical developments. The aim is to show how garden and landscape studies illuminate the many different modalities of transforming the world in which we live and act.

Recent Issues in Italian Garden Studies: Sources, Methods, and Theoretical Perspectives

2007 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium


Debates about the supposed unity of the Italian Garden have opened new directions of research. The symposium, Recent Issues in Italian Garden Studies; Sources, Methods and Theoretical Perspectives, takes stock of scholarly developments since the publications of the Dumbarton Oaks colloquium in 1972 and 1977. The large body of research on Italian gardens developed during the last four decades challenges some of the best received ideas about garden art in Italy and brings fresh research perspectives of interest for all garden historians.

Speakers will discuss the development and criticisms of garden studies in the mainstream of Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architectural history. Some will also discuss variations among regional gardens as a reflection of and a contribution to villa cultures that differed according to time and place. Other speakers will show that the making of an Italian garden can be approached from very different angles, such as a new philosophical interpretation of the Renaissance landscape, studies of the dynamics of territory organization, or even archaeology of the gaze. Most speakers will be Italian.

Middle East Garden Traditions: Unity and Diversity; Questions, Methods, and Resources in a Multicultural Perspective

Spring 2007 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium; Cosponsored by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery


This Symposium will discuss the long lasting history of interlinked garden traditions in the Middle East, since Roman times, and in the Islamic world up to the present. It will highlight cultural continuities, variations and differences between gardens from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indus plains.

Archaeologists and historians from the Mediterranean and Islamic worlds, Europe and the US, will bring together new sources for richly documented studies of gardens in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, the Ottoman world, Judea, Morocco and Moorish Spain. They will explore how conflicting influences operated, the form of cultural reception of gardens in religious and mystical societies, the political uses of gardens, and new directions of archaeological research. This conference will bring together new information and surprising results from the last fifteen years of research, at a remove from the clichés of Orientalism.

Archaeology of Garden Imagination

Spring 2006 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium; Cosponsored by The Huntington


Many gardens call upon their visitors' imaginations, upon their capacity to make sense of their experience and circumstances in the place in which they are. These flights of imagination certainly depend on the mood of the person in the garden as well as on the setting, its design, iconography, and ecology, but they also depend on his or her cultural expectations with respect to this garden or to gardens of the same kind: the cultural imagination.

We will explore the ways in which gardens may have contributed to the role, form and embodiment of cultural imagination in a few different historical cultures. The Ottoman world and Persia will invite a discussion of mystical imagination, renaissance Rome and modern Andalusia the role of imagination in the construction of garden cultures turned towards the evocation of the past. We shall explore dramatic dimensions of garden imagination in baroque Spain and nineteenth-century Russia. The role of garden imagination in the pursuit of cultural change will be studied in modern Japan and Israel. And four presentations on Chinese culture will present the role of nostalgia, and the dynamics of passion and death in Chinese garden imagination.

This symposium will provide a unique opportunity for exploring the interlacing of the creation and reception of gardens, and its role in the larger dynamics of world cultures..

Existence and Experience in Contemporary Garden Design

May 4–7, 2005 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium


Contemporary garden design receives little attention from art critics, even less than landscape design, Land Art or Earthworks. But the specificity of garden art/design deserves scholarly scrutiny since it reveals aspects of the art world outside museums, art galleries or university art departments. This symposium intends to discuss the possible contribution of contemporary designers to a production of new aesthetic experiences provided by gardens.

Over the course of three days, we will explore how contemporary gardens have been created in response to contemporary existential problems that have enabled a cultural response to these problems, articulated by their users, dwellers and visitors. We will also discuss new cultural or social issues, creatively confronted by artists, that bring about the invention of new garden types.

We will explore the works of these different artists and how they responded to new existential problems in their respective societies, provided new aesthetic experiences, and contributed significantly to some cultural changes.

Most presentations will be centered on one artist only, such as: Paolo Burgi (Switzerland), Andy Cao (Japan), Fernando Chacel (Brazil), Claude Cormier (Canada), Cecile Deladier (France), Dan Graham (US), Patricia Johanson (US), Bernard Lassus (France), and Mohammad Shaheer (India).

This year Dumbarton Oaks and the United States Botanic Garden will organize an exceptional event, to take place the day before the opening of the symposium. In order to enable participants to meet with the artists named above, who will not be giving presentations during the symposium, we have invited them to engage in the discovery of a part of the National Arboretum and share their way of experiencing nature, each with a small group of participants. This will be followed by a picnic at the National Arboretum for all artists and participants.

Botanical Progress, Horticultural Innovations, and Cultural Changes

2004 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium; in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution of Botany and the United States Botanical Garden

This joint symposium will explore how major developments in botany and horticulture impacted gardens, gardening, landscaping and science; how these disciplines depended upon ongoing social and cultural changes; and, more importantly, how botany and horticulture contributed to larger changes in social and cultural practices. In order to frame interrogations about the potential impact of present botanical and horticultural changes brought about by molecular biology, presentations at this symposium will offer broad perspectives, relating large botanical and horticultural changes to the cultural, social, economic and political contexts. Major changes in plant introductions, techniques of cultivation, breeding practices and naturalization of exotics, as they relate to important changes in society, and to far-reaching cultural transformations, will be documented. The symposium will begin with the synthetic analysis of a small number of situations taken in the most varied historical and geographical contexts, such as Ancient Egypt, Andalusia, China, England, France, India, Japan, the Mediterranean region, Persia, Turkey, the US and Yemen, and proceed to the present. We shall also examine contributions of botanical and horticultural changes to very different domains of culture and social practice, such as medicine, religious practices, eating habits, taste for exoticism, production and use of perfumes, conspicuous consumption and social distinction. These scientific and horticultural innovations are embedded in political and economic changes to which they contribute. Policies that were proposed or attempted by different political regimes in an effort to harness horticultural and botanical change in the pursuit of specified aims will be addressed. In short, we will explore the social and political conditions under which horticulture and botany gave added cultural significance to nature.

Lay Ritual Practices in Gardens and Landscapes

2003 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

This symposium will aim at better understanding the reception of gardens and landscapes by focusing on a limited number of lay ritual practices in gardens and landscapes in a large variety of cultural contexts. It will give rise to discussions of the formative functions of gardens and landscapes for cultural and social life.

The symposium will draw examples from very different times and cultures: Chinese landscapes under Mongol rule; Caribbean and African-American landscapes; public parks in Japan; Japanese gardens in America; gardens in France and Holland in the 17th and 18th century; aristocratic gardens, kitchen gardens, and public gardens in Great Britain from the 18th century to the present; and freemason gardens in 19th century Italy. It will discuss a few very different rituals, ranging from walking or bathing to burial, marriage and political slandering. Thus it will offer an unusual perspective for cross-cultural discussion of social practices in gardens and landscapes. It will also introduce a very rich picture of the variety of garden practices that deserve scholarly attention.

Sacred Ritual Practices in Gardens and Landscapes

2002 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Social Reception of Baroque Gardens

May 11–12, 2001 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Program Publication

This symposium will present and allow discussion of the uses and forms of appreciation of gardens created in state societies that called upon the arts to inspire awe and deference to monarchs among their subjects. Such garden politics were conducted in China and Europe, albeit differently according to time and place, thus demanding critical comparisons. This approach will allow us to discuss the conditions under which baroque garden politics spread in Europe, to see how they impacted the creation of some gardens and were ignored in others, and to observe how different modes of reception of baroque garden forms deflected their political intentions, in China and in Europe. We shall also see how later visitors have made sense of these gardens.

This will enable the participants to contrast the meanings of baroque gardens from the point of view of their creators, their guests, and their unanticipated visitors. It may encourage discussions of the contribution of iconographic studies to studies of garden reception, and debates about the general deference to baroque discourse in garden histories to the present day.

Landscape Design and Experience of Motion

2000 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium


This symposium will address a largely ignored aspect of the practice of landscape design that cuts across cultures and centuries: how did garden or landscape designers anticipate experiences of motion in their works? It will examine gardens from the Roman Empire to the present, and confront cultural differences among China, Japan and the Western world. Detailed studies of the cultural significance of garden or landscape design will introduce discussions of the following session topics:

  • Friday morning, Designing for an Aesthetic of Engagement
  • Friday afternoon, Three Aesthetics of Performance: Walking, Riding in a Train, Driving
  • Saturday morning, Design of Metaphorical Itineraries
  • Saturday afternoon, Design Challenges to the Opposition Between Place and Motion

These sessions focus on different design issues that neither follow from any necessary order, nor are mutually exclusive. Individual lectures may, in fact, demonstrate that designers, when dealing with motion, may have a wide scope of issues in mind. We hope each of these issues will highlight a domain of design creation that corresponds to a particular way for designers and garden or landscape visitors to reflect upon the experience of motion. Since many aspects of design activity do not require words, and do not follow from written rules, each of these domains of design creation may have been practiced long before it was conceptualized.