Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Winter 1982


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1982, pp. 3-4.


Copyright 1982 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The concept of landscape is inseparable from the history and life of the Great Plains region. The idea encompasses the character of the physical environment in relation to the social, economic, and cultural changes mankind has wrought upon the land.

In the past twenty-five years, and in several apparently disparate disciplines, there has been a convergence of interest in the concept of landscape as geographers, historians, art historians, literary critics, anthropologists, and folklorists have worked to produce a much broader understanding of how landscapes are imagined, represented, created, and viewed by different cultures. Geographers in particular have studied the ways in which human groups have etched their distinctive cultures upon the surface of the land. Other scholars have broadened and enriched the concept to include the ways in which images of newly settled lands are formed in the minds of people and in which landscape preferences are transplanted by culture groups from one region to another.

The five essays in this issue were originally presented at the American Pioneer Landscapes symposium sponsored by the Center for Great Plains Studies, April 29 to May 1, 1981. Each treats the ways in which human 3 groups modify the landscape and stamp the surface of the earth with the marks of their culture. Our own culture, for example, will leave remains of tract housing, irrigation canals, windbreaks, roads, fences, and gravel pits as records of our technology and values.

David Lowenthal, the author of the first essay, has been a major contributor to the study of cultural landscapes. An American by birth and training who teaches at University College London, Lowenthal has stressed in his earlier writings the importance of taste in the process of landscape formation. Here he suggests that pioneering was an ambivalent business. Plains pioneers are frequently portrayed as the tamers of nature, but it is far from clear that they saw themselves in that light. Moreover, society was often highly critical of those who went out to conquer the wilderness.