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

Dumbarton Oaks
May 3  –  4, 2019

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.

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L. Späth, Gärten, Sport- und Spielplätze (Berlin: L. Späth, 1926)