Projects in American Landscape Design History


Robert Mills, Picturesque View of the Building, and Grounds in Front, 1841, depicting the Smithsonian Institution. National Archives, Washington, DC

This project, under the direction of Associate Dean Therese O’Malley, seeks to map the evolution of a regional vocabulary of design as well as the transformation of features within the changing environmental and cultural traditions of early America, as defined by the current boundaries of the United States. A digital database of images, people, places, texts, and terms will offer a comprehensive and extensively cross-referenced compendium of information on the social and geographical history of landscape design in the early American history.

The goal of the project is to provide a corpus of images and texts and a database of information about historic sites, images, and people that can be examined comparatively by scholars, enabling them to investigate designed landscapes in dynamic contexts and through materials that are in many cases rare and difficult to access. Because of the flexible nature of the new digital format, scholars will be able to consider gardens and landscapes as part of a larger set of processes—aesthetic, social, economic, and political—rather than only as static sites. An electronic database will not only allow for the addition of new terms, images, and sources but, through search functions, will also permit the user to direct how the information is compiled, organized, and viewed.


Keywords project team, Washington, 2015: Robyn Asleson, Benjamin Zweig, Therese O'Malley, Courtney Tompkins

Currently, a database of images and citation information, a gallery of almost two thousand digital images, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources constitute the foundation of what will become a fully searchable relational database. Project staff iare augmenting the database through image research, updating and correcting data, adding new images and information, scanning nondigital images in the Keywords corpus, and upgrading image files as needed. They are also exploring model digital image databases and research websites.

This phase of the project follows the 2010 publication of Keywords in American Landscape Design by the National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press. The printed compendium comprises descriptions of, and references to, gardens and ornamental landscape from a wide variety of sources, both published and manuscript, illustrated with one thousand images. Each of one hundred keywords is accompanied by a short historical essay, a selection of images, and a chronologically arranged section of exemplars of usage and citations. Three longer interpretive essays provide a broader historical and cultural context for terms, sites, and images. In 2011 this historical and visual reference work received two book prizes: the J. B. Jackson Book Prize and the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Award for a Significant Work in Botanical or Horticultural Literature. It has been adopted for coursework at several major universities internationally. The digital phase of the project will make available the research material gathered to date, which far exceeds what could be presented in a single printed volume.

Research Associate: Robyn Asleson
Robert H. Smith Research Associate: Benjamin Zweig
Assistant to the Program of Research: Courtney Tompkins



Winner of the 2011 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize, sponsored by the Foundation for Landscape Studies

Winner of the 2011 Award for a Significant Work in Botanical or Horticultural Literature, in the Technical Category, presented by the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries

This beautifully illustrated historical dictionary of landscape design vocabulary used in North America from the 17th to the mid-19th century defines a selection of one hundred terms and concepts used in garden planning and landscape architecture. Ranging from alcovearbor, and arch to verandawilderness, and wood, each term presents a wealth of documentation, textual sources, and imagery. The broad geographic scope of the texts reveals patterns of regional usage, while the chronological range provides evidence of changing design practice and landscape vocabulary over time. Drawing upon a wealth of newly compiled documentation and accompanied by more than 1,000 images, this dictionary forms the most complete published reference to date on the history of American garden design and reveals landscape history as integral to the study of American cultural history. Copublished by the National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press.