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Public Programs


“Landscapes in the Making”

May 6-7, 2022 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, in partnership with the Mellon Initiative in Landscape Studies

In 2022, we held our 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, “Landscapes in Making”, interrogated stories of labor, craft, and stewardship as the work of making landscape. The talks sought to foreground those who have so often been silenced, including women, Black and Indigenous people, immigrants, and working-class laborers. As a collection the scholarship and counter narratives expand and enrich histories of land and place-making and underscored the potential depth and breadth of interdisciplinary approaches to histories of place and land.


Segregation and Resistance in America’s Urban Landscapes

July 1 – September 14, 2020 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Thaïsa Way, Symposiarch. Dumbarton Oaks Vimeo Channel

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



Garden and Landscape Studies Graduate Student Workshop

May 17–June 6, 2020

The intensive three-week workshop for PhD and MLA candidates focused on the public realm and the design and construction of public landscapes. The Mellon Urban landscape Humanities Initiative worked in conjunction with Garden and Landscape Studies to expand the programming for the graduate student workshop, including speakers from the Arnold Arboretum as well as significant urban historians including Dr. Eric Avila, Dr. Andrea Roberts, and Brent Leggs of Saving Places.

Interpreting Landscapes of Enslavement

October 25, 2019 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium, organized by Thaïsa Way in partnership with John Beardsley

The colloquium focused on strategies for revealing and interpreting histories of slavery and the legacies of racial injustice that are slavery’s aftermath as they are found in the landscapes of eastern North America. Organized by Thaïsa Way, the colloquium featured curators from such historic sites as Montpelier, Monticello, and Georgetown University, as well as scholars, journalists, and photographers investigating Confederate memorials and antebellum industrial landscapes, the colloquium explored ways of recovering and sharing the landscape narratives of enslaved humans, and the violence perpetrated on their descendants, in site histories and public education. The event included both prepared talks and roundtable discussions. As an additional part of the colloquium this year, the Mellon Colloquium Award was awarded to 7 graduate students in fields related to the topic of the colloquium. The students received travel grants to attend the colloquium and wrote corresponding narrative responses following the colloquium, which were later sent out as part of the monthly newsletter for Dumbarton Oaks.

American Concentration Camps: A Teach-In

August 23, 2019 | Speaker panel organized with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute and the Latin America in a Globalizing World, at Johns Hopkins University.

The Mellon Urban Landscape Humanities Initiative cosponsored a speaker panel, “American Concentration Camps: A Teach-In Speaker Series,” with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute and the Latin America in a Globalizing World, at Johns Hopkins University. The speaker panel is part of the Johns Hopkins Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship. This event explored the growing debate, historical variations, and lived encounter with targeted migrant and civilian detainment in the United States, or what have been called “American Concentration Camps” by exploring events ranging from the American containment of Indigenous people, the Japanese Internment camps, and contemporary crisis of the border. As part of a year-long discussion about “Retrenchment” hosted by the Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship, a group of journalists, scholars, and activists offered a teach-in and considered the past and present of forced containment.



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

The symposium aimed to reframe the narratives surrounding sports spaces to include 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. The symposium sought 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. The Mellon Initiative also supported the Mellon Symposium Award that sponsored travel for one student to attend the symposium, and write a corresponding narrative response.

Learning from Detroit: Restoring Neighborhood Landscapes

February 14, 2019 | Garden and Landscape Studies Public Lecture, Maurice Cox

Detroit has positioned itself at the forefront of redefining the future of the American city by transforming its famed geography of fallow land into a bold new archipelago of neighborhoods. This talk, given by Maurice Cox, the planning director for the City of Detroit, an urban designer, architectural educator, and the former mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, featured the first pilot neighborhood typologies under implementation, each designed by a key national leader in landscape architecture. The strategies envision new ways to turn vacant lots into parks, greenways, and productive gardens and give new meaning to the terms restorative design, community assets, and citizen-driven planning.

Botanical Gardens and the Urban Future

November 2, 2018 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium, John Beardsley and Anatole Tchikine, Organizers

For the 2018 fall colloquium, Garden and Landscape Studies and the Mellon Initiative, in collaboration with New York Botanical Garden, brought together a group of historians, landscape designers, and scientists to discuss the changing role of botanical gardens (including arboreta) in the urban context as both landscapes and research and public institutions. Of particular interest was the role of design in helping botanical gardens meet the challenge of operating as educational and community resources while maintaining their traditional focus on the preservation and study of plants. Scholars from various disciplines participated. The Mellon Initiative sponsored the Mellon Colloquium Award to fund travel for four graduate students to participate in the colloquium.



Garden and Landscape Studies Graduate Student Workshop

May 13–June 2, 2018

To develop the field of garden and landscape studies across different disciplines and to promote the depth and breadth of future landscape scholarship, Dumbarton Oaks, with the support of the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies and in collaboration with the Center for Cultural Landscapes at the University of Virginia, offered an intensive three-week Garden and Landscape Studies Graduate Workshop. Bringing together early-career scholars and practitioners who are pursuing cross-disciplinary research on landscape-related topics, the workshop focused on key issues and texts in landscape history and theory, situating garden and landscape design in the context of humanities scholarship: from the idea of the Three Natures to the ecological challenges of the Anthropocene and the discourse of landscape urbanism. Special emphasis was laid on the study of urban landscapes.

How Designers Think

November 3, 2017 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium

In the past generation, humanity has crossed a number of significant thresholds: over half the world’s population now lives in cities, a percentage that is sure to grow, and we are living in an age characterized by significant and potentially irreversible anthropogenic climate and ecological transformations. Designers now in the middle of their careers are the first generation to have come of age with the challenge of imagining landscapes that might achieve long-term sustainability, resilience, and adaptability in the face of warming temperatures, rising oceans, and changing weather patterns. Midcareer landscape designers presented their thoughts about a range of topics from urbanization and globalization to cultural and biological diversity, ecosystem services, and environmental justice in the city, in an effort to explore the conceptual contours of contemporary practice. 

The Power of Place: Preserving the Legacy of African American Settlements

September 20, 2017, 6:00–7:30 p.m. | Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum

Landscape architect and National Humanities Medalist Everett Fly joined Alcione Amos, curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, for a discussion of the importance of preserving historic African American settlements. Focusing on historic Barry Farm, a community created in southeast Washington, DC, by the Freedmen's Bureau after the Civil War, they asked why some settlements are preserved while others are not, and what the ramifications of this difference are for contemporary African American communities.



Success in the City: Social and Environmental Urban Design for the 21st Century

April 21, 2017 | Smithsonian Earth Optimism Summit Panel, John Beardsley and Jeanne Haffner, Chairs

Modern cities have long been considered adversaries of environmental health. In the late nineteenth century, the poet Émile Verhaeren described the poisonous advance of urban sprawl; the social reformer Ebenezer Howard personified cities as “smoke fiends” to promote his Garden Cities movement in the early twentieth century; and plans for suburban development in the early- to mid-twentieth-century United States were bolstered by images of dark cities plagued by pollution and refuse. It is all the more astonishing, then, that twenty-first-century cities have become sites for environmental remediation, stewardship, and pedagogy. This transformation not only marks a change in cultural attitudes, but also demonstrates the success of environmentally oriented programs of all kinds, from school-based efforts and citizen participation to plans devised by designers and government officials.

Landscapes of Housing

October 14, 2016 | Mellon Colloquium, Harvard University. Sponsored by the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative and the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks; Jeanne Haffner, Organizer.

Housing programs lie at the very center of socio-spatial relations and the politics of space. Landscape—broadly defined to include ecology, topography, energy infrastructures, aesthetics and ideology—is part of this complex but its role has largely been ignored in housing studies. The aim of this one-day colloquium was to explore how housing shapes landscape and is, in turn, shaped by it.



Film Screening: Containment

March 23, 2016 | In collaboration with the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital

Nuclear waste forces us to think about the distant future: the radioactive trail from our bombs and power plants will last 400 generations. Repeat: 400 generations! So we need a “deep time” contingency plan. How can we mark off toxic land to safeguard our descendants 10,000 years from now, when so little feels truly permanent? Part wake-up call, part observational documentary, part sci-fi graphic novel, Containment tracks our most imaginative attempts to plan for our radioactive future and reveals the startling failure to manage waste in the present, epitomized by the Fukushima disaster.

One of the directors, Peter Galison, was present and took questions after the film.

Frontiers in Urban Landscape Research

November 20, 2015 | Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies Graduate Workshop

As part of a new program in urban landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, doctoral candidates in advanced stages of writing dissertations on topics in the history and design of urban landscapes were invited to share selected aspects of their work with each other and with senior designers and scholars in the field. This colloquium was an opportunity to bring together early-career scholars pursuing cross-disciplinary work and shaping new approaches to the urban environment. It was intended to generate greater awareness of the urban humanities, while helping an emerging generation of scholars advance their work across a range of relevant fields.



River Cities: Historical and Contemporary

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

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, were the focus of “River Cities: Historical and Contemporary.” Building on the emergence of urban humanities and urban landscape history, we proposed 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 built on a new multiyear initiative in Urban Landscape Studies, which Dumbarton Oaks launched 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 aimed 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.