Reading List

List Author

Brian Davis

Cornell University

America 30:60

America 30:60 is a project to understand and engage with landscapes between the 30th north and 60th south parallel — roughly coincident with the stretch of land from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande — within the broader context of the Americas. The central thesis is that the Americas have more in common than is typically acknowledged, and that by drawing from indigenous and Latin American sources — scholars, practitioners, and landscapes themselves — we might develop the conceptual tools needed to grapple with American landscape on its own terms.

Modern American landscape architecture is usually thought to be directly descended from northern European antecedents, or to be the offspring from the minds and work of one or three great men. While these Eurocentric histories are real and significant, their over-emphasis has been to the detriment of landscape architecture and lead to a long-term impoverishment of American landscape. America 30:60 tests the idea that the modern practice of landscape architecture is just the latest in a long lineage of American landscape-making that stretches back thousands of years. And fundamental to this lineage are the substantial intellectual, material, and technological contributions of Latin and Native Americans.

Currently in the United States and Canada the history and theory of landscape leaves precious little space for the cultural contributions of indigenous and Latin American landscape-making. The discussion is typically limited to a few projects by Roberto Burle Marx, if discussed at all, and indigenous contributions are left to the archaeologists, anthropologists, and garden historians. This reading list is based in part on a course I built and taught years ago at Cornell University, “Latin America: Landscapes and Urbanisms,” which attempts to take on this work. It works as a sort of theoretical manual, introducing core questions and conceptual frameworks related to this broader interpretation of American landscape. Accordingly, the readings are organized along five broad themes which I have found helpful and orienting when trying to tackle a topic as expansive, uneven, and bewildering as American landscape. After the introduction, the themes are: American Wilderness and Domesticity, Frontiers and Borders, Violence and Memory, Mobility, and Landscape Futures.

One additional key thing to note — in this project, the common but tricky term ‘Latin America’ is not merely shorthand for the American nation-states south of the Rio Grande, nor is it a stand-in for a culturally homogeneous geographic region. Instead it works as an instrument for studying American landscapes in ways that transcend political borders, geophysical topographies and single points of origin. The hope is to develop a working methodology that is expansive, specific, and syncretic — a methodology fit for American landscape.

  • Good Neighbor/Bad Neighbor: Boltonian Americanism and Hemispheric Studies

    Teaching and Studying the Americas: Cultural Influences from Colonialism to the Present

    Palgrave Macmillan

    This chapter offers a brief introduction to hemispheric studies, focusing on its origins and potential effects in literary studies. It traces hemispheric ideas back to the very beginnings of the American Republics, through the words of Simón Bolivar and Thomas Jefferson.

  • Online

    Time, Complexity, and Historical Ecology

    Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands

    Columbia University Press

    This chapter by an archaeologist (Erickson) and anthropologist (Baleé) introduces the idea of historical ecology and outlines how societies throughout the South American tropics have created landscape — intentionally designed landscapes played out over a massive and difficult terrain. It’s a good salve to the outdated but still-dominant notion that Americans before the Europeans arrived were benign environmental agents, and while they may have modified their environment, they certainly didn’t build infrastructure, instigate large-scale management practices, or create art at the scale of landscape. All of these notions are wrong, yet still underlie most landscape history and theory. This introduction goes a long way to undoing that.

  • The Epic of Greater America

    Wider Horizons of American History

    University of Notre Dame Press

    Bolton’s famous 1932 Presidential Address to the American Historical Association in which he lays out several provocative ideas that became the foundation for hemispheric studies. They include the idea that the American revolution was actually a 48 year affair stretching from 1776 to 1824, when Bolivar and San Martín finished expelling the Spanish from South America. While still utterly Eurocentric, Bolton for the first time was at least able to get past Anglo-centrism, and see both Americas as a similar or correlated condition.

  • Ambiguous Territories

    Latin American Modern Architectures: Ambiguous Territories


    A fantastic overview of the term Latin America in architectural history, as well as an introduction to some of the main Latin American architectural figures in the modern period. The chapter does a great job of pointing out the issues from the ambiguous term, but also its potential for intellectual and cultural production in specific contexts.

  • Seven Ways of Looking at a Mountain: Tetzcotzingo and the Aztec Garden Tradition

    Landscape Journal

    This article first shows that Tetzcotzingo in Mexico is a significant cultural landscape that likely predates the first botanical gardens of Europe. It then goes on to argue that rather trying to shoehorn any analysis and interpretation of this singular cultural landscape into Eurocentric categories, it should be understood and studied on its own terms, derived from its spatial and material characteristics, as well as its religious significance and political-economic context. Avilés then spends the last half of the article doing just that. It is a fantastic, well-written example of the type of history that is sorely needed.

  • Arts of the Contact Zone


    This seminal piece by Pratt introduces the idea of contact zone and then explores some of its social dynamics and aesthetic effects. It is a wide-ranging yet easy read, and not only introduces contact zone, but also the important concept of transculturation, both of which have great potential for understanding American landscape.

  • What Does It Mean to Be An ‘American’?

    Social Research

    Walzer’s essay explores the question of identity and politics in the United States through this basic question of Americanism. He notes all of the hyphenated identities that tend to persist (Japanese-American, Jewish-American, etc) and notes that this exists not only at the scale of the person but also the nation. This idea of the double-nature of identity is something first articulated by W.E.B Dubois and continues to be a theme in cultural theory today. In this piece Walzer suggests that it is a fundamentally American characteristic.

  • Wilderness and the Brazilian Mind (II): The First Brazilian Conference on Nature Protection (Rio de Janeiro, 1934)

    Environmental History

    This article excavates some of the key discussions taking place in Brazil nearly a century ago regarding wilderness, preservation, nation-building, and cultural identity. The piece is especially interesting as it reveals a discourse with many similarities and parallels to that which was taking place in the United States at the same time.

  • Online

    The Trouble With Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature

    Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

    W.W. Norton & Co.

    Environmental historian William Cronon excavates the history of the idea of wilderness and shows how it was constructed in the United States. He then goes on to explore the ramifications and effects of the realization that wilderness is not apart from culture at all, but is in fact the cultural product at a massive scale. It’s a seminal piece that offers something to the first time undergraduate reader as well as the grizzled theorist.

  • Amazonia 1492: Pristine Forest or Cultural Parkland?


    This piece pulls together a raft of information from archaeological work in the Amazonian Basin, especially the Upper Xingu region of Brazil. The findings reveal sophisticated and extensive regional settlement patterns and large-scale formations of landscapes and what we would today call infrastructures. The work raises the question of the Amazon as a cultural, productive landscape managed over extremely long temporal and spatial scales before the collapse of indigenous societies, knowledge traditions, and management practices in part brought on by disease and imperialism.

  • The Domesticated Landscapes of the Bolivian Amazon

    Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands

    Columbia University Press

    This piece gives an in depth look into the settlement patterns and management practices of some of the societies of the Bolivian Amazon and develops an extremely compelling speculative proposition related to domesticity: whereas Eurasian agriculture typically is thought of in terms of the domestication of individual plant an animal species, a better conceptual schematic for the societies of the Upper Amazon is the domestication (not necessarily domination) of entire landscapes. This hypothesis, if eventually proven out, has profound implications for the design and management of the great regional landscapes of the Americas, and suggests a host of new conceptual approaches to design, planning, and management of land are possible.

  • Online

    The Westward-Moving House

    Places Journal

    Now online, a classic essay on the American homestead.

  • Online

    The Significance of the Frontier in American History

    The Frontier in American History

    Henry Holt & Co.

    This article is the transcript of Turner’s famous Presidential Address in 1892 to the American Historical Association. It for the first time identifies the frontier in America (for Turner this meant only the United States) as different from that in Europe. It is here that Turner lays out his famous frontier thesis, that the presence of the frontier itself had been a fundamental part of American society and had irrevocably shaped the national character, its institutions, and its history. Rather than emanating out from the metropolitan centers and seats of power, Turner showed that American culture is created at the borders, the margins, at the edges of control.

  • Frontiers and Borders in the Trans-American Landscape

    Bracket 3: At Extremes


    This article collects and clarifies some of the schematics developed by frontier historians and relates them to contemporary spatial practices that today are the object of landscape architecture. I attempt to distill certain frontier characteristics from these different schematics that have stood the test of time and criticism. The piece ends with a conclusion that our post-industrial urban sites are actually a new form of the American frontier, a proposition that has implications for the way that these places are engaged with, interpreted, and redesigned.

  • The Frontier in Brazilian History: An Historiographical Essay

    Pacific Historical Review

    Lombardi offers a comparative overview of the historiography of the Brazilian frontier, and situates it within a broader American including the ideas of Turner and Bolton. She finds that while there is no single interpretation of the significance of the frontier in Brazilian history, there are many similarities. Most significantly, Brazilian historians over the last hundred years have concluded that, like in the United States, the presence of the frontier, the characteristics of the institutions it spawned, and the fortitude of the people from those places have been essential to the formation of a national character and identity in Brazil.

  • The City Planning Ordinances of the Laws of the Indies Revisited; Part II: Three American Cities

    The Town Planning Review

    In addition to a basic introduction to the significance of the Law of the Indies into North American urbanism, this article helps illustrate that the laws were in part territorial protocols developed as an adaptation to an expansive and contested geography that was difficult to control but lured prospectors through a promise of economic and social gain. In short, they can be seen as an adaptation to the frontier.

  • pdf

    A Case Study in Hydrology and Cultural Identity: 2,500 Years of Landscape-Making in Mendoza, Argentina

    Landscape Research Record

    This paper develops a landscape history of the frontier city of Mendoza, Argentina. It positions the contributions of French immigrant Carlos Thays alongside the material and intellectual contributions of the indigenous Huarpes people to consider the practice of landscape architecture as part of a long line of landscape practice in the challenging Andean environment.

  • Memory Sites in An Expanded Field: Memory Park in Buenos Aires

    Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory

    Stanford University Press

    This article offers a great critique and contextualization of the Parque de la Memoria in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This project is a monument to the estimated 30,000 victims of state terrorism who were disappeared (desaparecidos) during the military dictatorship of the 70’s and 80’s in Argentina. In addition to peeling back some of the layers on a significant landscape project with regional implications (oppressive military dictatorships were in power throughout the Southern Cone of South America during the 70’s and 80’s), this article examines why landscape is chosen as that the public medium for memorializing the victims of these acts

  • Returning to the Site of Horror: On the Reclaiming of Clandestine Concentration Camps in Argentina

    Theory Culture Society

    This article also looks at the situation and site of terror in Buenos Aires, Argentina, specifically the center for the torture and assassination of those the military dictatorship deemed to be enemies of the government. The article examines the various and multiple viewpoints and competing ideas regarding how the site should be treated and the victims memorialized. It notes that rather than a limitation, the irresolvable multiplicity of perspectives preventing any form of neat closure is a fundamental and important social and historical dynamic for dealing with these sorts of crimes.

  • The Transformation of Mining and Mining Mythology

    The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America

    University of North Carolina Press

    An explanation of the shifting political-economic context of mining in the South American Andes and an examination on the resultant social and cultural effects of the rapid scaling up of extractive processes that took place under Spanish Imperial rule.

  • pdf

    The Reserva Ecologica: Three Streams of Material Excess in Buenos Aires

    New Constellations, New Ecologies; ACSA Conference Proceedings

    This paper examines the Reserva Ecologica in Buenos Aires, Argentina as an urban landscape resulting from three streams of material excess (demolition debris, dredge material, and floodwaters) derived from the political, geological, and economic forces of the industrial city. Intentionality, scale of operation, and the potential of landscape aesthetics to shift the ethical position of local communities are examined and discussed.

  • Introduction

    Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor

    Harvard University Press

    The introduction to this book develops the idea of slow violence. Violence is typically thought of as temporally short acts with immediately devastating consequences (a flood, a murder). Nixon develops the environmental idea that violence can also be slow-moving and slow-developing (such as toxic contaminants in drinking water, or the poisoning of soil) and shows that far from being more benign, this type of violence can be even more insidious and tends to affect poorer populations throughout the globe. This concept is critical for landscape studies in the Americas, where huge wealth disparity and a five hundred-year history of cultural violence have created large swaths of inhabited landscapes subject to this dynamic.

  • Major Motion Picture: Teaching and Studying the Americas

    Teaching and Studying the Americas: Cultural Influences from Colonialism to the Present

    Palgrave Macmillan

    This article shows the importance of mobility as a concept for understanding the American condition. He gives a brief discussion of migrant populations, the diaspora tendencies of national populations, and even the relative instability of national borders in the Americas, historically speaking.

  • Plazas, Streets, and Markets: Puerto Ricans and Urban Spaces in Northern Climates

    Landscape Journal

    This discussion of specific populations in New England offers an instructive case study into the ways that populations transport their cultural practices with them to new locations. More than simple local adaptation of a pre-existing practice, the authors suggest that this is actually a generative process, whereby new cultural practices are developed from multiple points of origin, including those pre-existing in the place itself, and those transported from other places by migrant populations. This dynamic is indicative of a contact zone and the process of transculturation which is so essential to a new authentic understanding of American landscape.

  • Online

    Nature as Infrastructure: Making and Managing the Panama Canal Watershed

    Social Studies of Science

    A description of the management of the Panama Canal as a regional watershed with social, economic and political implications. Here Carse shows that the demands of a preeminent logistics infrastructure are fundamentally political in nature, and directly implicate the construction and management of the larger landscape.

  • Indian Adaptations in Flooded Regions of South America

    Journal of Latin American Geography

    In this reprint of Nordenskiöld’s earlier piece, Denevan adds context and updates. The article discusses the transportation canals, causeways, mounds, and raised field of societies in different parts of South America, and how these landscape infrastructures were created and maintained in the interest of mobility in flood-prone areas of the great basins of the continent.

  • The Hybrid Modernism of Roberto Burle Marx

    Roberto Burle Marx in Caracas: Parque del Este, 1956-1961

    University of Pennsylvania Press

    This chapter describes the political-economic context in which Burle Marx developed his modernist project Parque del Este in Caracas, Venezuela. Through a critique and theorization of the aesthetic, ecological, and technological techniques and concepts Burle Marx employed Berrizbeitia suggests that the work was a thoroughly modern and culturally situated landscape creation that drew from and contributed to the multiple cultural influences (Indigenous, African, European) and unfinished nature that scholars have argued is at the core of Venezuelan and Brazilian societies.

  • A Projective Space for the South American Hinterland: Resource Extraction Urbanisms

    Harvard Design Magazine

    This article presents the initial results of Correa’s South America Project that traces and speculates on the urban implications of large-scale resource extraction and super-regional integration in South America through the important and controversial IIRSA project (Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America.

  • Online

    Delta Urbanism and New Orleans: Before

    Places Journal

    Campanella provides a detailed account of the events in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, especially leading up to and during the storm, including responses to levee breaches and widespread flooding. This is followed by a history of the decisions, constructions, and forms of urbanism that directly contributed to the regional environmental and social crisis in 2005 brought on by the storm.

  • Online

    Delta Urbanism and New Orleans: After

    Places Journal

    Insight into the machinations, competing viewpoints, and possibilities inherent in confronting the problems of urbanization in the delta of one of America’s great river basins. The role of local politics, federal policy and funding, racial tension and community activism in shaping the future of settlement, urbanization and infrastructure here are discussed and contextualized.

  • Online


    Places Journal

    This introduction and photo series explores the main topographical feature in the city of Buenos Aires: the gradual bluff on the edge of the Rio de la Plata that the city was originally founded on and which continues to serve as the anchor from which the metropolis spreads out into the surrounding Argentine pampas. This slope serves as a dividing line between rich and poor, domestic and industrial, vulnerable and protected sectors in a city that is growing economically and in terms of population, and which is under ever increasing threats from environmental toxicity and flooding.

  • The Latino Metropolis

    Magical Urbanism


    Mike Davis looks at large North American cities and focuses on the ways immigrant and second generation Latino families in those places are changing and reviving the North American city. While guilty of essentializing and caricature, the book nonetheless uses some empirical and statistical evidence to make a very compelling case that the influence of Latin American populations in urban communities in the United States is significant and growing. This insight squares with and furthers a general—and often hotly debated— conversation being had today in the United States, and suggests that designers and theorists focused on public landscape, planning, and design must understand and engage with this cultural influence.

Are You Sure You Want to Delete This List?

This cannot be undone.