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Projects in American Landscape Design History

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

During the past year work has concentrated on the History of Early American Landscape Design Database (HEALDD), a comprehensive digital repository of primary source materials, both visual and textual, documenting the history of American garden and landscape design from the early colonial period through the mid-19th century. This online archive of people, places, texts, and images will offer a comprehensive and extensively cross-referenced compendium of information on the social and geographical history of landscape design in early American history.

This digital project expands on the scholarly contribution of the 2010 publication of Keywords in American Landscape Design by the National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press. In 2011, this historical and visual reference work received the J. B. Jackson Book Prize and the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Award. The digital phase of the project will make available the research material gathered to date along with new scholarly essays, a gallery of almost two thousand images, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources that far exceeds what could be included in a single printed volume. 

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

At the beginning of 2016, the HEALDD project moved to a dedicated National Gallery of Art development server from its previous home on an external host. This move gives HEALDD direct technical support from the Gallery and better integration for its future release, the specifications of which are currently being drafted by the HEALDD team in conjunction with the Gallery's technical services. The site's look and feel have been improved for better viewing on an array of devices, from desktop computers to tablets and mobile phones. Almost 200 content pages and 1,300 images have been added to the site to date, with more being added weekly.

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 digital format, scholars will be able to consider gardens and landscape as part of a larger set of processes—aesthetic, social, economic, and political—rather than as static sites. The 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.

Under the direction of Associate Dean Therese O’Malley, the project team is building digital entries for 100 keywords, 800 sites, and 800 people (artists, designers, site owners, and contemporary witnesses) relevant to the design and depiction of early American landscapes and gardens. The entry for each keyword, site, and person includes an authoritative essay and a bibliography, with primary source materials drawn from a corpus of more than two thousand digitized images (prints, drawings, and paintings from collections throughout the United States) and several thousand texts (including poetry, travel literature, legal documents, and correspondence). By providing scholars worldwide with open access to an extensive body of historically significant images and primary texts, the HEALDD online archive will contribute significantly to research on the role and meaning of gardens and designed landscapes in colonial and antebellum America.

Research Associate: Robyn Asleson (until January 2016)
Robert H. Smith Research Associate: Benjamin Zweig
Assistant to the Program of Research: Courtney Tompkins

Publication

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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.