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Wild Flowers: African and African Diaspora Landscapes and the Cultural Politics of Garden Ideologies

Grey Gundaker, Department of Anthropology, College of William and Mary, Fellow 2009–2010

Finding support for new projects is difficult, since help usually comes only after the work is well advanced. Thus, I am especially grateful for the opportunity to begin a new venture here at Dumbarton Oaks, the best possible vantage point on the history and developmental trajectory of the field of garden and landscape studies, with much-appreciated guidance from Coco Alcalá, Elsa Lam, Stephen Whiteman, Thomas Zeller, Michael Lee, John Beardsley, and fellow Fellows in other departments.

This year enabled me to check all major journals and garden-related publications systematically to assess how and where African and diaspora landscapes were represented, if at all. I also studied all textbooks and general histories of garden and landscape design in the Dumbarton Oaks collections. As a result I can now confidently advance the claim that Africans and their descendents are invisible in this literature. On the more positive side, this grounding in the breadth and aspirations of the field is reassuring in that Garden and Landscape Studies clearly aims for worldwide scope and welcomes fresh perspectives. Thus, future projects at Dumbarton Oaks on African and diaspora landscapes promise to have great impact. More specifically, this year allowed time to take stock of the contours of the project. As a result, I have split my initial idea for one book into two, outlining chapters of the first, which will keep the title Wild Flowers, and writing a good chunk of the introduction. With continuing help from Dumbarton Oaks's wonderful library staff and selective use of interlibrary loan, I have also blocked out the second book. It will investigate design links and disjunctions between African diaspora and African landscapes at several levels of scale: forest and settlement, ritual and residential landscapes, and landscapes designed by individuals. Thanks to preparatory research at Dumbarton Oaks and support from John Beardsley and others here, my application to continue the project next year at Harvard was successful.