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Tress & Knapp Articles: Diverse Approaches to Landscape and Regional Survey

by on September 19, 2011

Brazilian Farmer Showing Chemical Impact on His Landscape (Photo Credit: Amy Austin, March 2010)

Tress addresses the need for cooperation across disciplines in the area of landscape research. The complexity of the real world is in stark contrast to the defined borders that have been created between disciplines. Tress argues that when approached as a common effort by several disciplines, landscape research can help solve and coordinate a multitude of diverse issues.

Tress outlines the theories, methodologies and recommendations of various authors and continually highlights the importance of recognizing the fact that landscapes have a mental, social and cultural reality in addition to a physical one. Tress states that the relationship between people and the landscape is mutual, meaning that they both influence each other in dynamic ways.

One author Tress cites argues for a combination of cultural and ecological sustainability which requires both the people’s understanding of the physical landscape, as well as their attention and care towards its concerns. Another cited author emphasizes how landscapes have three facets: form, function and meaning which are highly intertwined. All of the articles that Tress cites serve to illustrate the need for multiple methodologies that all emphasize the interconnectedness of human society and the physical environment in creating a landscape.

The Knapp article, “Social Approaches to Regional Archaeological Survey” argues that landscape archaeology requires a combination of ecological approaches with a social emphasis of how human action impact the environment. Knapp uses the example of the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project to illustrate how regional projects use both an historical and contextual focus, while also recognizing the influence of human activity. He highlights how social archaeology is the study of both agricultural and industrial landscapes and how people inevitably transform and are transformed by the environment. There is a continual process of landscapes being formed, maintained and reconfigured by human beings.

These two articles relate to the Pimm article because of their emphasis on how humans are active players in the formation of landscapes. The Tress article emphasizes the value of differing perspectives and cooperation among disciplines much like the Bates and Tucker article which provides a mosaic of perspectives on contemporary human ecology. While the Knapp article focuses solely on one example of regional social archaeological survey, this is still demonstrative of a combination of techniques and methodologies uncharacteristic of traditional archaeology.

The Tress and Knap articles address diverse topics in ways that illustrate their relevance to academic inquiry as well as practical application outside of academia. These articles connect to my personal exploration of the significance of academic study in a world full of diverse needs and issues. I greatly appreciate Tress’s emphasis on the need for transdisciplinary action and education in order to transform the field. It shows that academia has room for creative growth and expansion.

Questions for class discussion:

To what extent does Tress call for transdisciplinary cooperation? What are disciplines you see as relevant to this dialogue that others may view as unconventional to engage here?

How does understanding historical human-landscape interaction shape our understanding of today’s societies? How does it change our understanding of other cultures as well as our understanding of ourselves?

How can the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project be a model for other investigation? What benefits does this method of investigation have that traditional archaeological techniques are missing? What could be controversial about this method?

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6 Comments
  1. In response to Amy’s second question referring to the ways in which historical human-landscape interaction shapes our understanding of today’s societies, I think that it’s important to compare people moving earth on Cyprus 7,000 years ago to the creation of cities and towns today. Knapp claims that “people tend to modify their surroundings profoundly and have the capacity to move more sediment in any given year than all know geological processes combined” (2). Being able to have control over our environment and the ability to move it or change it to fit our needs seems to be a key factor that separates us from other life on earth (this is not to say we are not a party of nature). That is how we are able to build monuments and homes and roads. Finding evidence that people on Cyprus were modifying their environment suggests that we have been in control of how to use our landscapes for a long time. Archaeological digs and expeditions are meant to uncover the material cultures that ancient peoples leave behind and finding the ways that they have modified their surroundings help us to understand how they lived. Whether they plowed the land for agriculture or flattened it for the floors of their homes, archaeologists can analyze how they adapted to their particular landscape for their own needs. Understanding how to interpret these findings requires a more holistic understanding of these people such as their culture, understanding the soil and topography, the plants they grew, the climate of the time and what else was occurring in the world around them. But they “would never separate the study of any society from the study of its environment” (3); the two factors go hand in hand. Many clues are hidden in the actions of ancient people that we can still see today in places like Cyprus and Cahokia (the mound builders) and interpret more about the importance and power that coincides with the ability to change earth’s surface.

  2. Frederick Reisen permalink

    In regards to the first question for class discussion I believe that Tress is looking for extensive cooperation between disciplines and what may be more important and what I think he may have been indirectly alluding to was the need for more transparency in these studies. Based on what Tress explained in his article I see an alternative to the problem regarding a lack of cohesion in studies is to have researchers better outline their areas of expertise and how that is reflected in their studies of landscapes. If they can admit they aren’t going to be able uncover the missing link then maybe they can explain how their work can be a piece of the larger picture and what else might be needed. This would lead to perhaps a less competitive field in landscape research and truly focus on cooperation between fields rather than one researcher attempting to do it all. What I see this leading to is the possibility for meta-research to be done later to pull all the different pieces together for a better holistic understanding of our landscapes. Furthermore, I believe the study of physical geography and having the ability to understand the scale of geologic time essential to landscape research and the actual significance and impact of human history on the Earth. Maybe this will allow us to see that our survival is ultimately important only to us and it we must count entirely on ourselves for change.

  3. Understanding historical human-landscape interaction helps shape our own culture/landscape relationships because just like with anything else, we can better prepare for the future if we can learn from the past. In cultures all around the world today, it is evident that humans have changed the environment more so in recent years than ever before. By doing archaeological and geographical research, we can see how people were both impacting and being affected by the environment and see how those actions and reactions helped shape the world we live in today. When scientists are able to peel back the layers of the landscape from years past, they can see the ways in how the environment was either able to repair itself from human impact or how it was devastated by it. The environment learns to adapt and heal itself just as much as humans are able to; it is only a matter of understanding to which limits either party can handle before those pressures become too great. Also, knowing how people lived in the past can help us for the future by learning to become more environmentally conscious in our every day activities.

  4. The idea of social archaeology that Knapp introduces brings new light to how landscapes should be analyzed. It is similar to how Terkenli explains cultural landscape. Knapp highlights the importance for archaeologists to understand the human experience of a place, the significance of personal, economic and idealogical connectedness. Terkenli explains a similar understanding in a more constructed manner. He says anthropologists should look at the form, meaning and function of an area to better understand why the landscape is the way it is.

  5. Summer Wheeler permalink

    There are many different angles to approaching landscape research. Tress brings up the importance of not only observing something from one angle, but to also see how other people observe the same thing. By putting together observations made by many people, he is trying to prove that communication plays an important role in fully understanding a subject.
    Both Tress and Knapp discuss the importance of people and urban areas in the environment, and how each is affected by the other. People are important aspects of landscape archaeology just as much as anything else. Terborgh talked about how people in developing countries cannot afford to worry about the environment when they have to use it to provide for themselves. His example shows how people play an important role and have to be involved when researching landscape archaeology.

  6. 242colleencarey permalink

    Tress’s article plays upon the idea, the inseparableness of nature and culture, that we’ve been examining since the beginning of the semester. All of the people he sited talk about the “integration” of natural and cultural aspects.
    Knapp’s article relates to the past several article’s we’ve read in the need for new methodologies when it comes to environmental archaeology. Knapp emphasizes the need for a more holistic approach when it comes to studying the environment and culture. This idea is similar to Terborgh’s want for a holistic approach.
    As for Amy’s last question, I completely agree with Knapp’s framework and goals. Archaeological methods need to be more holistic, and this includes using “archaeology, ethnohistory, geomorphology, ecology, geographic information system, and satellite imagery into landscape reconstructions, as well as into social economic reconstructions of distinctive region.” Out of all the article’s the class has read, Knapp’s goals and framework make the most sense to me, and I’d like to see them implemented in more archaeological field work.

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