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LSS240:2015 Student Guide: Theory Versus Practice

Created by students in LSS240 - Spring 2015


Theory vs Practice 

Who Has a Voice in Processes of Designation and Interpretation?

Why is that my street name? What determines how my city is organized? Who says what's historically significant in my local landscape?

Throughout the various readings and sites examined in this course it will become apparent that although cultural landscapes and historic preservation are generally perceived as the responsibility of museums, the National Parks service, or Historic Societies, it is in reality quite interdisciplinary, involving a variety of stakeholders from multiple fields. This interdisciplinary nature may seem less apparent in historic preservation practice than in theoretical writings, but looking at Northampton it can be observed that a variety of parties both in the private and public sector contribute to the interpretation and designation of different kinds of sites using quite interdisciplinary approaches.

The study, preservation, and interpretation of cultural landscapes raises a variety of questions and issues related to community planning, development, resiliency, identity and historic memory. Who is involved in these processes and how do contribute in different ways? It is important to remember that cultural landscapes are not just historical, but contemporarily active spaces, continuously evolving. Within this processes various parties have different agendas that play out in the politics of the built environment. Northampton in particular has a vibrant community of organizations which approach cultural landscapes in a variety of interesting ways.

Use this as an opportunity to apply your class readings and theory to real case-studies and gain first-hand exposure to the ways in which historic preservation and cultural landscape work plays out in the real-world. When researching cultural landscapes it can be incredibly helpful to keep in mind the interdisciplinary nature of cultural landscape theory, and the way in which it manifests in rich and unorthodox research materials such as board agendas, YouTube videos, Google maps, photographs, meeting minutes, topographical maps, zoning laws, professors, professionals, arts and music, Facebook pages / events (the list goes on!).

How Are Cultural Landscapes in Your Community Actively Interpreted?

As Sylvie has helped you begin to explore, both the build and natural environment are palimpsests that can be mined for a variety of stories and experiences. Groups such as The Mill River Greenway Initiative choose to interpret not only the visible built environment in Northampton, but also the larger overarching history of the Connecticut River and its accompanying ecological processes in relation to human activity. They do this through some very interesting and unusual means, collaborating with Smith College students and the City of Northampton to create a self-guided walking tour map, and curated web resources in addition to various other forms of outreach  community members with their landscape history. While other citizen groups such as Ward Three and others deal less directly with historical interpretation, their work related to citizen stakeholder interests in environmental conservation and urban planning involve them in questions of site use related to historic preservation.

The Meadow City Conservation Coalition

Examples of more traditional, or formal modes of interpretation and designation are the Community Preservation Fund law discussed by Nina in the Law tab and the Elm Street Historic District Design Standards discussed by Sylvie in Built Environment / Open Space. Northampton Law example of the (Community Preservation Fund) is a moral formal historical interpretation which largely focuses on the built environment.

Tab Author Profile

Geneva Strauss-Wise '16

Check-Out These Great Local Resources!

Relevant News Articles

Locally relevant newspapers such as MassLive and the Hampshire Gazzette can be a great place to gain insight into questions and issues of cultural landscapes in the area.



1) The Mill River Greenway Initiative. Northampton Mill River Tour. N.p.: Mill River Greenway Initiative, n.d. Print.

2) Elm Street Historic District Design Standards. Historic District Commission Office of Plannning & Sustainability, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. September 2010.

3)"What Is the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission?". PVPC. Web. 3 May 2015. <>.