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Next spring will mark the first offering of the Cultural Landscape Field School in Veneto, northeastern Italy. The three credit course will be offered from May 12 to 26, 2010 to upper-level undergraduate and masters students from the faculties of Environment and Geography, Geology, the Natural Resources Institute, and Architecture at the University of Manitoba.
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The objective of the course is to introduce students to the dynamics of landscape formation, including natural and cultural processes, and the contemporary efforts to conserve cultural landscapes. Over an intensive two-week journey along the short, yet diverse transect that links the Venice Lagoon to the Dolomite mountains near the Austrian boarder, the course will provide students with the conceptual frameworks to identify the connections between historical and present day management systems, and gain hands-on experience in techniques of landscape research. Students will be working with an interdisciplinary group of peers, faculty, Italian scholars and local practitioners.

Part of my Anishinaabe education while working in Pikangikum involves learning to procure food on the land — trapping, hunting, and fishing. On a mild winter day I’m invited by elders Oliver Hill and norman Quill to set a fish net under the ice. The chosen location is a bay on Pikangikum Lake, a short 15 minute snowmobile ride from the community. We set up just off the winter road, a busy communication route between northern communities north of Red Lake.

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The Dolomites have a unique geology which has been identified as a defining feature in a World Heritage Site nomination. Although the site was originally proposed as a cultural landscape, geology eventually became central to the nomination. This is a gallery in the making which has been created to show some of the characteristic geomorphology of the Dolomites. The map (from google maps) shows the border of the Province of Belluno at the core of the Dolomites. With regrets to some, the images in the gallery have been resized to look best on larger monitors.

When Nathan and I returned to the community of Pikangikum after a month in the bush, the elders asked what we had eaten; not the white man’s food, but Anishinaabe food. We had a long list! Lots of fish – walleye, pickerel, whitefish, sucker, even trout; beaver, including the tail roasted on a fire; rabbit; several ducks; grouse, and muskrat. Gordon had specifically caught a muskrat for us to sample. Muskrat were once widely consumed in the springtime during trapping, but they were valued mainly for their fur. Elder Charlie Peters never got over the story, and continues to prod me for having eaten ‘rat’. So he started calling me ‘muskrat’,  waa-shaa-shk.

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Once, if you wanted to understand ties between local livelihoods and the flow of major commodities in global markets, you looked for the flow of water from the hinterlands into the major centers. As the flow of commodities has become denser and more complicated, this type of analysis would no longer be productive. The energy of water no longer facilitates travel and exchange as it used to. Where feasible, its great force, however, has been harnessed to drive economic growth through power generation. The use of water has increasingly become an issue of political contention around the world. Three European cases show how water courses have taken on symbolic meaning in the assertion of local claims to autonomy in the face of a changing global political economy.

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The essence of a place – this is what I am trying to capture with my art; the image, the thought, the memory that describes a place. What makes a place what it is? The vegetation, the architecture, the colours, its history, the organization and structure of objects within it, the people that inhabit it. When I experience a place I try to take in all these things. I pay attention to details, to colours, to smells, to sounds. I am consciously aware of everything going on around me and I want to retain everything within me. I want to take it with me wherever I go. I internalize the places I paint. My  prints and paintings are memories of landscapes and cultures that I am part of and that are part of me. I claim to capture the essence of a place, yet at the same time it is my personal perception of a place that I depict. I decide what I include or omit in a picture, what I want to remember and what I don’t care about, but there is enough visual information in my work for people to recognize a place.

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From downtown Belluno, in northern Italy, it’s only a short walk before I find myself immersed in a landscape of transition. I soon find myself in an urbanized rural landscape wedged between the valley town and the foothills of the Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi. I quickly leave the hustle and bustle of morning traffic behind as I venture into a neighbourhood where roads are windy and narrow, obviously designed for smaller vehicles and lighter traffic. I walk through what were once lands dedicated to agriculture, but that have increasingly been transformed into residential areas. Here, it is possible to see corn fields bordering apartment blocks, luxuriant flower gardens alongside productive fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, old farm houses alongside new mansions. This landscape – wedged as it is at the margins of urban development and the majestic alpine peaks of the Dolomites – is crossed with paths that urge me to imagine what was once there, and to explore what is there today. What I have encountered is an emerging cultural landscape. Yet, do we think of cultural landscapes as the merging of old and new features, or as the practices that continue to maintain this as a used and lived-in landscape?

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The first thing that strikes anyone looking at the Alberta oilsands developments in Northern Alberta is the scale. Everything is big. The equipment is big, the social and environmental impact is big, the profits are big. The sustained impact on Aboriginal people struggling through the madness is most troubling. As the earth itself, or in mining terms, “overburden”, is removed, the life it sustains is gone too. The Athabasca oilsands production region provides a fascinating yet lurid display of the clash between two kinds of cultural landscapes: the homeland of First Nation and Métis peoples, and the source of raw materials for industrial capital accumulation.

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An enduring tension, and often a contradiction, regarding cultural landscapes is whether we should conserve the form of a cultural landscape or the processes that allow cultural landscapes to emerge and adapt. I thought about this a lot as I travelled through northern California from Fort Bragg through the Anderson Valley, past San Francisco and into the area around Paso Robles.[nggallery id="14"]

This is a follow-up to an earlier post on paths (). The full article discusses the value of the cultural landscape concept in understanding the inter-relationship between paths and health. Paths can be read as a reflection of cultural values of health, and they can also be advocated as routes to good health, in all it’s physical, social and spiritual aspects.

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