Colonial Landscapes

(Anthropology 46700)


The central theme of this seminar is the quest for anthropological understanding of transformations of the cultural landscape under conditions of colonial interaction.  Landscape is used here in two interlinked senses.  It denotes, on the one hand, a dynamic, culturally ordered, lived physical space (constituted by architecture, boundaries, land divisions, sacred places, paths of communication, etc.) that both structures and is structured by social practice.  On the other hand, it denotes a perceptual space, a way of seeing and of relating places to history and identity, that structures lived experience of the colonial situation for both alien agents and indigenous peoples.  In other words, we will be concerned to understand the ways in which both unintended effects of colonial encounters and conscious strategies and practices of colonial control have altered the built environment of native peoples and colonists.  At the same time, we will seek to discern the ways in which the conjuncture of differing perceptions of  the landscape have affected experience of colonial encounters and transformations of identity.  The seminar is especially concerned to highlight archaeological contributions to this endeavor by exploring the possibilities for investigation of ancient colonial landscapes; and the Western Mediterranean will serve as the specific empirical focus against which general theoretical constructs and research strategies are to be evaluated.  The various colonial situations in the ancient Western Mediterranean are of particular interest in this context not only because of the unusual richness of the archaeological and textual record, but also because the set of colonial discourses and practices unleashed in this region during the first millennium BC had a profound influence on the course of modern European colonialism.  This last feature is an issue that will be discussed in greater detail at the end of the seminar, once ancient landscape perceptions and practices are better understood.


The seminar begins with an exploration of the literature on the general anthropological and archaeological understanding of landscape as a cultural phenomenon.  Themes will include particularly the phenomenology and cultural politics of space and place; the links between landscapes, monuments, collective memory and identity; and the reciprocal relationship between the built environment, habitus and social practice.  We then focus on understanding transformations of landscape under differently evolving colonial conditions.  This involves, in the first place, studying alterations of the structure of agrarian, urban, sacral and domestic space resulting from subtle, often unintended changes in the cultural economy associated with cross-cultural consumption. It also involves studying deliberate strategies of inscription of colonial hegemony on the landscape through the application of cultural technologies of control; and, of course, resistance to those colonial projects.  These technologies of control include practices of measuring, categorizing, bounding, and representing the landscape through cadastration, cartography, and textual discourse.  Also important are alteration of networks of communication, restructuring of rural landholdings, relocation of settlements, and the use of monumental architecture to reorient ritual practices and identity.  The ultimate goal is to develop a comparative understanding of how landscapes have been conceived and represented by various colonial powers, and how colonial practices and indigenous responses have transformed colonized spaces. 


The evolving Western Mediterranean colonial situations explored will include Greek and Phoenician activity in Italy; Phoenician and Roman incursions  in North Africa; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman ventures in southern France; and Phoenician, Greek and Roman colonization in Spain.  Investigation will entail the analysis of archaeological data concerning changes in settlement organization and domestic architecture, rural land demarcations and cadastral systems, sacred spaces and structures, communication routes, hydraulic resources, etc.  Greek and Roman texts, landscape painting, and sculptural works will also be employed to explore changing colonial perceptions of landscape and identity; and the rich tradition of Greco-Roman exploration literature, geographical/ethnographic description, and cartography will be examined to understand what Bernard Cohn called the "investigative modalities" that provided a foundation for Roman imperialism.


The first six weeks of the course are devoted to critical discussion of a set of common readings on the general themes outlined above.  The last four weeks are devoted to specific analysis of the various colonial situations in the Western Mediterranean.  Students will be divided into teams to work on these case studies and will be responsible for presenting a discussion and suggesting a set of appropriate readings for each of the last four weeks.  Teams are appropriate for these projects because much of the relevant literature for each area is in several different languages and complementary linguistic skills will be essential (generally French, Spanish, and/or Italian, in addition to English).  Each student will also be responsible for submitting a final research paper (maximum 20 pages of text, not including references ) on one aspect of the colonial landscape theme in his/her area.  

© 2015 by M Dietler. Created with 

 1126 East 59th St. Chicago IL 60637