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  • IntroductionMoving Landscapes in the Transatlantic World
  • Stephen Bending (bio) and Jennifer Milam (bio)

over the last fifty years, some of the most compelling work on designed landscape on both sides of the Atlantic has focused on its symbolic power, on its ability to speak of nation and of national imaginings.1 Such histories of garden design, however, have also remained trapped within these imaginings of national landscapes and their geographies. This special issue explores the apparently "national" character of gardens in the context of their transatlantic connections during the long eighteenth century; here, we focus on shared cultures and outlooks, even as we recognize the powerful influence of local geographies and claims of national distinction. Central to this project is understanding designed landscape as constructed and contested by communities that defined themselves both by what they shared and by how they differed. Our aim is to explore the experiences of location and dislocation that might have played out on both sides of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.

By bringing together researchers who work at disciplinary boundaries, this special issue challenges understandings of the garden that continue to emphasize the borders of nation-states and national geographies. In their attention to the relation [End Page 433] between nationhood, economics, and individual desires, these essays acknowledge the well-known disjunctions between the designed landscapes of Europe and those of North America, while also exploring the ways in which the eighteenth-century transatlantic world imagined, felt, and articulated the connections between them. To understand gardens in these terms is to understand the larger physical and imaginative landscapes in which they were set, and so this issue's authors are also concerned with how the garden might have been imagined in relation to the farm, the city, and the plantation; the local and the national; the native and the non-native; and the past and visions of future progress. Thus, a central concern across these essays is to explore what people saw and felt in the experience of landscape, not only those who traveled or were forced from their land, but also those who stayed at home.

In approaching a collection of essays focused so closely on gardens, on national histories, and on changes in designed landscapes on either side of the Atlantic, readers may of course ask, why gardens? Why focus on a form of designed landscape that can easily be dismissed as insignificant in the face of larger economic and political concerns and that, by its very nature, can seem nothing if not slight? The answer we offer, in part, is that it is in these designed landscapes that eighteenth-century individuals—whether designers, owners, enslaved and free laborers, or simply visitors—often found themselves exploring their sense of place with a peculiar intensity, with an acute sense of that place's being at once physical and metaphysical, emotional and symbolic. That is, our focus on the physical making of landscape in the form of the garden acknowledges the peculiar status of the garden as a space at once abstractly symbolic and personally emotive, a space in which shared experience and national difference were repeatedly confronted. This is not peculiar to our period, of course, but those who write of gardens in the transatlantic world recognize the garden's ability to invite an experience at once intensely, even solipsistically, personal and, at the same time, insistently symbolic in ways that knitted individuals back into the cultures they inhabited.2

In part, this is because a garden is always a microcosm. It is always an account of how one imagines oneself in the world, and like all forms of landscape, it comes into being with a point of view. Not simply a product of vision, however, the garden is also an experience of emotion, a merging of geography, self, and sensation. It may focus attention on the local and the particular or on the generalized and the abstract, on the national or the global, but a tension remains between its physical form and what is imagined to be beyond, or represented by, that form. That is, a concern with [End Page 434] location often brings with it other forms of dislocation. And...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-399X
Print ISSN
0018-7895
Pages
pp. 433-446
Launched on MUSE
2022-04-02
Open Access
No
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