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Folklore and Forest Fragments

Peter Jacobs, Université de Montréal, Canada, Beatrix Farrand Distinguished Fellow 2007–2008, Spring

It has been an honor and a privilege to be invited to Dumbarton Oaks as the first Beatrix Farrand Distinguished Fellow in the program of Garden and Landscape Studies. The semester has provided me the opportunity to meet with colleagues in a number of disciplines, to share ideas in a variety of academic formats, and to benefit from the museum and library collections at Dumbarton Oaks. The resources of the Library of Congress and the network of Smithsonian museums have served to complement these superb resources. Memorable concerts in the music room of Dumbarton Oaks provided a welcomed counterpoint to the quiet of the library.

I have pursued emerging interests in the immaterial aspects of landscape in different cultural settings, most particularly with the Inuit of Northern Quebec, questioning the assumption that the very idea of landscape is a common cultural referent and that this idea necessarily informs environmental and social management strategies. Traditional knowledge systems associated with the Inuit of Nunavik challenge the deconstruction and reduction of the social and natural environment to its component parts, a paradigm that robs Inuit of a homeland that they can recognize, enjoy, and manage. The Inuit are aware that development opportunities continue to be directed to national and global clients whereas the environmental and social risks occur locally. They question the assumption that a scientifically predictable process can be organized to mitigate or compensate social and environmental development impacts. Unintended, unforeseen, and unexpected consequences that were not considered in the initial project program or design continue to play a critical role in the perceived success or failure of development projects. Karl Popper would not have been surprised.

The resources of Dumbarton Oaks have allowed me to develop an historical perspective on the theoretical assumptions that support the development paradigm. Historic documents have helped me explore the evolution and cultural settings of projects such as the Great Canal in China, the Canal du Midi in France, and the St. Lawrence Seaway in North America. These provide exciting material for a critical and comparative review of regional landscape strategies that may inform alternative development policy and procedures in Nunavik.