Sub-Saharan Africa‘s deeply rich and diverse cultural landscapes will finally get their due at Dumbarton Oaks in May. In an upcoming symposium, scholars from around the world will spend two days on the “oldest inhabited landscape” on Earth, a part of the world that offers a “staggering range of geographies, cultures, histories, and patterns of settlement.” According to the landscape and garden studies program at Dumbarton Oaks, the symposium will focus on “what we know – or think we know – about pre-colonial landscapes; how they were read and misread in the colonial era; and how they are being reinterpreted in the present for various purposes, including conservation, economic development, education, and the creation of national identity.”
Many lifetimes could be spent trying to understand the cultural landscapes among these 49 countries that together have a population of more than 800 million. For landscape designers and historians, the range of interests can be matched with the diversity of sites: “World Heritage sites such as the Great Zimbabwe, or Djenne or Timbuktu in Mali; massive earthworks and palace grounds in Benin; anthropogenic forests and forest shrines; contested wildlife parks and ecological reserves; village compounds and seemingly chaotic contemporary urban settlements; and official and unofficial memorials to the struggle against colonialism.” To be added, hopefully, is some kind of discussion on urban cultural landscapes, the parks and plazas that create a sense of place in Africa’s growing cities, and the challenges of preserving historic landscapes in an era of rapid urbanization and population growth.
Just a few of the speakers include Suzanne Preston Blier, Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University; Lazare Eloundou, an architect and urban planner with UNESCO World Heritage Center; Jeremy Foster, an architect, landscape architect, and cultural geographer at Cornell University; Ikem Okoye, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Delaware; Innocent Pikirayi, University of Pretoria, among others. See a full list of speakers and what they will talk about. (Also, check out a fascinating past talk by Blier on cosmology and pathways in Yoruban landscapes).
Separately, a new resource worth highlighting is Landscape Architecture for Humanity, a brand-new blog started by Ryan Aldrich, a landscape architect in New Zealand. Already posted are a number of interesting opportunities for landscape architects to give their time and expertise in places like post-Hurricane Sandy, New York, and Papua New Guinea. There are interviews and videos with designers aiming for “positive social impact.”