John R. Stilgoe

John R. Stilgoe is Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape at Harvard University, where he has taught for forty years. He is the author of many books, most recently Old Fields: Photography, Glamour, and Fantasy Landscape.

  • What Is Landscape?

    What Is Landscape?

    John R. Stilgoe

    A lexicon and guide for discovering the essence of landscape.

    “Mr. Stilgoe does not ask that we take his book outdoors with us; he believes that reading and experiencing landscapes are activities that should be kept separate. But, as I learned in his book, the hollow storage area in a car driver's door was once a holster, the 'secure nesting place of a pistol.' I recommend you stow your copy there.” —The Wall Street Journal

    Landscape, John Stilgoe tells us, is a noun. From the old Frisian language (once spoken in coastal parts of the Netherlands and Germany), it meant shoveled land: landschop. Sixteenth-century Englishmen misheard or mispronounced this as landskep, which became landskip, then landscape, designating the surface of the earth shaped for human habitation. In What Is Landscape? Stilgoe maps the discovery of landscape by putting words to things, zeroing in on landscape's essence but also leading sideways expeditions through such sources as children's picture books, folklore, deeds, antique terminology, out-of-print dictionaries, and conversations with locals. (“What is that?” “Well, it's not really a slough, not really, it's a bayou...”) He offers a highly original, cogent, compact, gracefully written narrative lexicon of landscape as word, concept, and path to discoveries.

    What Is Landscape? is an invitation to walk, to notice, to ask: to see a sandcastle with a pinwheel at the beach and think of Dutch windmills—icons of triumph, markers of territory won from the sea; to walk in the woods and be amused by the Elizabethans' misuse of the Latin silvaticus (people of the woods) to coin the word savages; to see in a suburban front lawn a representation of the meadow of a medieval freehold.

    Discovering landscape is good exercise for body and for mind. This book is an essential guide and companion to that exercise—to understanding, literally and figuratively, what landscape is.

    • Hardcover $21.95 £17.99
    • Paperback $16.95 £13.99

Contributor

  • Trees

    Trees

    National Champions

    Barbara Bosworth

    Hauntingly beautiful photographs of 70 "champion" trees—each the biggest of its species—in a book that offers a dignified portrait of the American landscape and its true environmental heroes.

    Trees capture our imagination because they are rooted solidly in the earth but point ethereally toward the sky. They occupy a dimension that has as much to do with time and patience as with place and landscape. They are vertical beings to whom we attribute qualities both divine and human. Since 1991, photographer Barbara Bosworth has been on a quest to photograph America's "champion" trees—trees that are the biggest of their species, as recorded in the National Register of Big Trees, a list established and maintained by the nonprofit conservation organization American Forests. She has traveled down highways and up back roads, walked through forests and across clear-cut land, sometimes led by local tree enthusiasts, sometimes alone, to photograph trees that are remarkable not only for their size but for their endurance.

    Bosworth finds champion trees in backyards, fields, and forests, near roadways, power lines, and sidewalks. Her photographs document the trees' magnificence but also show how they are markers of a changing landscape. The yellow poplar, for example, stands on the fringes of a suburban housing development, in the center of a park for the enjoyment and relaxation of residents. The western red cedar stands alone in the middle of a clear-cut, saved from logging only because it is recorded in the Register as the biggest of its kind. The trees and their surroundings tell us about our relationship with nature and the land.

    Bosworth captures the ineffable grace and dignity of trees with clarity and directness: the green ash that shades a midwestern crossroads, the common pear that blooms in a Washington field, and the Florida strangler fig with its mass of entwining aerial roots. Her photographs, panoramic views taken with an 8 x 10 camera, show the immensity of the largest species and the hidden triumphs of the smallest. Some trees are dethroned each year because of sickness or destruction, but more often simpy because a new and bigger specimen is discovered; only three trees from the original Register in 1940 are still living today. Bosworth's 70 photographs of champion trees are not only a collection of tree portraits but the story of an American adventure as well.

    A copublication with the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson.

    • Hardcover $26.95 £22.00