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From Swamp Land to Sacred Landscape

Velma E. Love, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Summer Fellow 2011

As a result of my eight weeks of research as a summer fellow in the Garden and Landscape Studies Program at Dumbarton Oaks Library, I have a much clearer understanding of how to develop my interdisciplinary project, a cultural landscape case study of Oyotunji African Village in Sheldon, South Carolina. My original goal for the eight weeks was to review the relevant theoretical literature and develop a book proposal for submission to prospective publishers. This plan proved to be far too ambitious, but what I did accomplish was an extensive search of the secondary literature indirectly related to my topic. Since I had no previous background in garden and landscape studies, this survey time was exactly what I needed. A research visit to the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress and the National Museum of African Art helped me identify additional materials and subject specialists for future reference. My reading and note taking provided a knowledge base from which to develop the central questions that will drive my study: How are cultural values and worldview expressed through the constructed environment? How does the landscape itself function as a sacred scripture for the affiliated community?

Upon returning to my home institution I will continue this project with the assistance of an MLA graduate student research assistant and funding from the Baylor University Oral History Institute. These funds will support the fieldwork collection of primary source data through qualitative interviews, public records, maps, photography, and drawings, as part of my documentation of transforming a swampland into a sacred landscape. My study at Dumbarton Oaks has paved the way for the continuation of this project and its culmination in the publication of a book, Oyotunji Landscape Narratives: Stories of Place, Space, and Spirit.