The American Landscape

Module Description

Cultural geography can broadly be characterised as an abiding interest in the relationship between identity and space. The aim of this module is to introduce students to the main concerns in cultural geography as well as its central frameworks and theories. Like most of my teaching the aim is not to teach geography per se, but to illustrate what a geographic perspective can do to our understanding of events, processes and phenomenon. Throughout the module we will examine tensions and conflicts in American history and illustrate how analysing specific spaces, places and landscapes can help us understand those tensions in a different light. Thus, while the topics are historical, the analysis is explicitly geographical. Topics include: how monuments and memorials are used to project particular imaginations of American identity, how 19th century understandings of gender prompt an array of novel feminine spaces and how racism and the desire for racial separation gets expressed through the administration of urban form. In each of these cases, we will examine (1) how underlying cultural assumptions, ambitions or desires get expressed through the manipulation of our everyday material world and (2) how these manipulations often have a distinctly political dimension.

Module Aims:

To introduce students to theoretical concepts in cultural geography and Landscape Studies. The first portion of the module will introduce students to some of the basic theoretical ideas in cultural geography. These ideas will be the guiding frameworks we will use to interrogate the case studies.

To use case studies in American history as a medium to understand how space and place are cultural. Once again, the emphasis of this module is on the application, rather than elaboration, of geographic thought. Thus, we will consistently be applying the ideas we discuss to specific case-studies in American history.

To link cultural processes to political projects. One of the key themes we will examine in this module is that landscapes are produced for a reason and those reasons are not innocent. Thus, we will consistently interrogate the underlying reasons for landscape production as well as their political implications.

Learning outcomes:

  1. Understand key concepts in cultural and historical geography
  2. Understand how to apply those concepts to different contexts and case studies
  3. An ability to express your understanding in a coherent critical essay

Learning Format:

Lectures: Lectures constitute the primary source of contact between teacher and student. Generally, I use the time to explain central ideas and concepts, clarify themes, point students to particular readings, and illustrate how ideas from the reading pertain to specific cases and examples. While lectures are a useful learning tool, they work best in tandem with the reading. Only attending lecture, without doing the reading, will lead to an abbreviated understanding of the subject matter that will be of limited use for the assessment.

Assessment Training Programme: Alongside the lectures I run an Assessment Training Programme that will assist you in completing the assessment successfully. The programme is divided into three formats: classes, a workshop and preparation/feedback sessions. While the workshop and preparation/feedback sessions take place during the normal lecture period, the classes are scheduled for specific weeks outside the normal slot. Please see the Assessment and Training portion of the website to learn more about this programme.

Reading: The lectures, workshops and classes represent the formats that I provide to help facilitate the learning associated with this module. However, all these formats will be for naught if students do not seriously engage with the reading. Suggested readings are posted with each lecture summary and the ‘Key texts’ section describes what I take to be the key readings for the module  (see Lectures & Readings)

Workload and contact

There are 22 direct contact hours for this module (including lectures, classes, assessment training and feedback) and 20 optional contact hours (open appointment hours). For the direct contact hours the breakdown is as follows: lectures (13 hours) assessment training and feedback (6 hours) and classes (3 hours).

In terms of workload you should expect to spend 22 hours in class, 58 hours on the reading (4-5 hours per week) and 120 hours on the assessment (16 days). The remaining hours are optional and are set-aside for you to meet and discuss your projects or any other aspect of the module.