ESSAY QUESTION #2
This question refers to the Rich Schein reading, to the readings on Wisconsin’s historical geography, and to your Module 2 project area. It should build on your learning from the Module 2 project. You may choose to return to methods like Google Street View, at your discretion. Finally, you may wish to use Bill Cronon’s “How to Read a Landscape” website to generate and focus your ideas, as well as to discover ways to make your argument.
This essay should make an argument about (a) about who (individuals, social groups) or what (activities) the present-day landscape of your Module-2 area is “made for,” and (b) who benefits and/or is burdened by this. Schein suggests a four-part sequence to studying landscape. The important recognition is that any landscape you encounter has been produced. In this essay, please focus on the first and last in Schein’s sequence:
“Landscape history: empirically documenting when, where, whom the landscape was created; how it has been altered; and so on”
“Landscape as discourse materialized: asking how the landscape normalize/naturalize social and cultural practice, to reproduce practices, and to provide a means to challenge those practices.” (both p. 383)
Your essay should analyze a landscape in the two steps above. In the first part, give the landscape history of the area you used in your Module 2 project. Use Schein as a template. The point of this part is to think about how the past conditions who the land is “made for” today, so focus your discussion carefully. To the extent possible, discuss some of the multiple histories of your area: if it contains a town with a surrounding agricultural area, for instance, the creation and alteration of that landscape will diverge from the landscape history of the surrounding area. Make sure to describe the Native Nations who were displaced, and who (re)settled the area, unless your area is wholly within a reservation.
Note: One student asked for more detail on this point, about how the land and landscape can be “made for” people. So a couple brief examples: On a physical level, the land where Milwaukee sits isn’t “made for” intensive agriculture (not anymore, if parts of it once were). Or, on a cultural level, it’s not uncommon that people without formal education come to the UW-Madison campus and feel out-of-place, as if the campus itself “isn’t for them.” Both urban Milwaukee and UW were shaped by choices about land use, and those choices privilege certain uses, and people, down to the present day.
Second, use specific examples in your area to explain the practices — cultural, social, economic and/or political — that its landscape facilitates and supports. Be concrete. The point is to think about how general practices are normal and “normalized” through people’s interactions with the spaces where they live. Who is this good for, at an individual level? Who does it benefit collectively or institutionally? Think carefully about the traces of the past left on and in the landscape, and how these are emphasized or minimized. Who is the landscape made for, and/or whose histories have been erased?
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