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  • Symbolizing a Modern Anatolia: Ankara as Capital in Turkey’s Early Republican Landscape
  • Kyle T. Evered (bio)

Symbolic Landscapes and the Forward Capitals of Nation-States

For centuries, scholars have considered the symbolic dimensions of landscape relative to identity formation, as was the case in some of Johann Gottfried von Herder’s eighteenth-century works. This interest continued through the twentieth century, with notable contributions from various humanistic geographers who explored how cultural landscapes are critical also in constructing collective historical memories. Indeed, David Lowenthal articulated well the conceptual significance of place and history in terms of the identities both of individuals and of larger social and political entities when he observed, “The place of the past in any landscape is as much the product of present interest as of past history. ... As individuals invent new private pasts, so nations fashion new collective histories. The tangible past is less easily fabricated. Yet landscape and townscape are full of relics made to realize historical fantasy.”1 Yi-Fu Tuan elaborated further on this theme with respect to nationalism and its manifestation: “The means to raise it are all symbolic. The nation, too large to be known personally by a majority of its citizens, is known conceptually through the flag, national anthem, army uniform and ceremonial parades, ethnocentric history, and geography.”2 Subsequent outpourings of landscape studies in geography and beyond over the past two decades—often influenced by literary scholarship and postmodern theory—sharpened further the critical evaluation of such symbolisms in our built environments and encouraged greater analysis of the power dynamics that inevitably are at play, as well.

Though not all geographers have been eager to recognize conceptual dimensions of landscape, studies continue to evolve from humanistic, postmodern, and other geographic traditions that further amplify the perspectives brought to bear in explorations into the symbolic dimensions of place in collective identity constructs—and associated dynamics of power3. The [End Page 326] potential for these perspectives to be realized depends largely on peoples’ capacities to deal with, as Homi K. Bhabha wrote, particular “moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood—singular or communal—that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself.”4 Such heightened awareness of politics and processes as written into places and spaces that are natural, built, and/or conceptual thus inspired the metaphor “reading landscape as text,” an idea both attractive in its initial creative novelty and as a means to thinking more critically about the conduct of place and space in discourses of power, gender, race, class, identity, and other varieties of individual/social constructs.5

Looking at spatial iconographies as they are imagined, constructed, and employed in processes of self-definition demands appreciations over space and through time for changes in the symbols—both in their meanings and in changes they inspire through their discursive roles. Based on recognitions of and appreciations for these symbolisms, operative identity-place dialectics are apparent at all levels of societal organization. As America developed socially and spatially over time, for example, corresponding shifts in both identities and ideals were reflected generally in moves from initial notions of the family farm to later visions of suburbia.6 Constructions of nationalism and national ideals both shape places and are in turn shaped by them. It should not be at all surprising, therefore, that a nation seeking to redefine its identities, histories, agendas, or other aspects integral to its projections and functions would employ new symbols—in turn reinterpreting and reinscribing landscapes within its domains.

Such reinscriptions of both territory and landscape are particularly evident when nation-states elect to construct forward capitals and embellish them with cultural and political iconographies. Throughout the twentieth century, there were many such examples of capital-/ nation-building enterprises, including Australia’s compromise in an early 1900s rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, an ornately designed Canberra; Brazil’s promotion of interior development and postcolonial redefinition with its proposal for a new capital in its 1889 constitution and its eventual 1956 designation of...


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pp. 326-341
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