Critical Cultural Landscapes of North America

Copyright  2010 Ingolf Vogeler

                Each chapter and sub-chapter is linked to a pdf file.

Part I. Vernacular Landscapes

1.       Cultural Landscape Analysis (17 pages)
Culture Defined
Cultures, Material Cultures, and Cultural Landscapes
Components of Cultural Landscape

                    This chapter provides the conceptual and spatial contexts for the subsequent topical chapters. It defines terms and relates them to each other. Culture, as learned behavior, is defined by language, religion, racial/ethnicity, food, clothing, and politics. But not all human behaviors result in material forms, either as objects like books and cars or as whole landscapes. Some of the most important critical cultural ideas and behaviors result in cultural landscapes. Specific cultural groups express themselves in space by manipulating topography, vegetation, building structures, and settlement patterns.
            Cultural landscapes reveal the meanings and values of specific groups, both dominant and marginal; thus, providing unique insights into North American cultures. The diverse U.S. cultural landscapes are the focus of this book, but aspects of Canadian and Mexican landscapes are also included as they complement the themes developed for the United States.

2.       Communal Landscapes (37 pages)
Extinct Utopian Groups: Shakers, Oneida, Zoarist, Amana
Practicing Utopian Groups: Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Hutterites

             Communal groups of the past and present illustrate the most comprehensive and distinctive differences in social structure, economics, and landscapes from the dominant culture. In contrast to the ideological dominance of individualism in the former settler empires of the USA and Canada, utopian groups created and continue to maintain strong communities, socially and spatially. As part of the continental empire of Spain, Europeans came to Mexico as royal, military, and religious administers rather than as settler families and thus utopian settler communities are rare.
            Extinct utopian groups, such as the Shakers, Oneida, Zoarist, and Amana, are compared with current ones: Amish, Old Order Mennonites, and Hutterites. Distinct ethnic origins, religions, and social organizations of each group resulted in particularly revealing cultural landscapes. Their reasons for existence and their organization was/is in sharp contrast to the dominant settlements in the United States and Canada.

3.       Religious Landscapes (42 pages)
Mormons in Utah
Roman Catholics in Quebec

Roman Catholics in Central Minnesota

            Religion is a critical aspect of culture, whether expressed directly in spirituality or indirectly in more subtle and general values and behaviors. Almost all utopian groups had/have a strong and distinctively different religious raison d'etre. The Mormons were such a utopian group with their unorthodox beliefs, behaviors, and landscapes, often expressing more practical than religious needs.
            The U.S. government’s restriction of religious freedom to exclude the religious practice of polygamy and its persecution of Mormon polygamists changed their religion to meet dominant cultural norms. The inherent religious conflicts between dominant and minority views and groups delineate the meaning of religious freedom and by extension the scope of all our freedoms.
            In contrast to the original Mormons, Roman Catholics always represented a major cultural group in the United States, even if they were discriminated against by the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant elites. In such places as Quebec, parts of the Midwest, and in Mexico, Catholics predominated and created numerous institutions and extensive landscapes. The old French-speaking Catholic settlements of Quebec are compared with the newer and multi-ethnic Catholics of Central Minnesota.

4.       Racist Landscapes
Indian Reservations (34 pages)
Landscapes of Slavery (38 pages)
U.S.-Mexican Borderlands (39 pages)
Japanese Concentration Camps (14 pages)

            The Canadian and U.S. governments used racial categories in discriminatory ways to interact with racial minorities. Four types of racist landscapes emerged. 1) Indian reserves and reservations were created in the settler empires of Canada and the USA, respectively; whereas the much larger numbers of Indians in Mexico were never spatially ghettoized as in the North. 2) Only in the Unites States did slavery play such a critical role in the economy and culture, resulting in wide-spread landscapes of slavery and their transformations after the Civil War. 3) The shared colonial and contemporary relations of Mexico and the USA resulted in the Chicano borderlands. 4) During World War II, both Canada and the USA interned Japanese in camps.

Part II. Placeless and Postmodern Landscapes

5.       Auto and Postmodern Landscapes (32 pages)
Central Business Districts
Commercial Strips and Suburbia

        Earlier ethnic, religious, and utopian landscapes emerged gradually over time as they expressed the diverse cultures of local people. Industrialization, urbanization, and suburbanization created “machines spaces.” For critics of these auto-based landscapes, placelessness reflects large-scale, impersonal, and instantaneous built-environments for outsiders. City downtowns and suburban commercial strips and housing subdivisions provide good examples of “flat” landscapes. In respond to placelessness, postmodern places have emerged since the 1980s.

6. Sin and Sexist Landscapes (33 pages)
New Orleans: Southern Hospitality
Las Vegas: Gambling and Prostitution

            The unique places of  New Orleans and Las Vegas are compared and contrasted for their landscapes of hedonism (alcohol, sex, gambling, and general partying) and of ordinariness (unique local environmental settings, and commercial and residential patterns). The ultimate in real fantasy landscape is Las Vegas. The earliest designs of casinos in Las Vegas were influenced by Hollywood and the current glitz and entertainment continues this connection. Las Vegas is the largest cultural landscape of postmodern consumption and a exaggerated metaphor for the USA in particular, less so for Canada and even less relevant to contemporary Mexico.

7.    Real Fantasy Landscapes (36 pages)
Hollywood: Turning Entertainment Fantasies into Realities
Disneyland and Disney World: Turning TV Fantasies into Realities
Ghost Towns and Ethnic Towns

         By definition, placelessness lacks distinctiveness; yet manufactured uniqueness is characteristic of postmodern flatscapes. Movies and television shows often require geographical settings. In the back-lots of movie companies, such as Universal Studios, directors select appropriate vegetation, lighting, weather conditions, and buildings based on commonly accepted, or stereotypical, ideas of places. They create cultural landscapes that are functionally placeless while convening a sense of place. Even the real landscapes of the wealthy stars and the rich of Hollywood are, by most people’s living standards, unreal or fantasy places. TV cartoon characters and Hollywood fantasy sets were turned into “real” people and places in Disneyland and later in Disney World. Furthermore, fantasy and reality merge in places that commemorate, and often then, sell frontier myth and cowboy culture in historically accurate places like Western ghost towns from mining and ranching eras.

8.    Conclusion (to be written)
            What are the lessons to be learned from examining the critical cultural landscapes of North America, particularly in the United States?
* Enormous cultural diversity is typical, in the past and present.
* Religious freedom has been highly circumscribed.
* Racial and ethnic intolerance continues to be common.
* Our everyday lives and places are being depersonalized.
* Artificial experiences and places are sold as fun and unique, negating our own personal worth and worlds.

 9.     Topographic Map Exercises (19 pages)
The topographic map and church assignments provide yet another perspective on reading the cultural landscapes of distinctive groups in Canada and the United States.

* Amana Colonies in Iowa
* Hutterites and Mennonites in Manitoba 
* French Long Lots  in Quebec
* Distribution of U.S. Churches, by Counties
* Indian Reservations in Arizona
* Indian Reservations and Spanish Grants in New Mexico
Black Hamlets and Horse Estates in Kentucky
High Income Areas in Chicago, Illinois
* Sinning in Las Vegas, Nevada

10.    Bibliography