Why a Cultural Landscape?

Throughout our postings, we have talked about the cultural landscape of the town of Gettysburg. But what we haven’t really talked about is why a cultural landscape is so important and effective for learning about the past. A cultural landscape is the combined effects of humans and nature on a certain section of land over time. Gettysburg’s cultural landscape has much more to do with the human side, as humans have had much more of an effect on the area (at least in recent times). By being inclusive and looking at all of the elements that go into a cultural landscape, we can learn about all the parts of the landscape, but also how they relate to each other. This is extremely helpful when anthropologists and archaeologists come across something they don’t know a lot about in the landscape. They can make inferences about it and figure out what it is or does or how it was used based on the context of the surrounding elements of the cultural landscape. For example, a button. If you or I found a button on the ground, our curiosity would be peaked and we would wonder where it came from. We might look around, but because we probably don’t know enough about our surroundings, we probably couldn’t figure out anything about it. Now if an archaeologist was looking at the remains of a house in Gettysburg, and found a button, they could probably figure out more. First of all, they have better technology, so they could test its age and make up. Then, given where it was found, they could probably figure out who or at least what kind of person used it. Its all about the circumstances. That’s what a cultural landscape provides. The context and circumstances to figure out the what, when, where, why, and how of an item. Its an invaluable tool for discovering our past.

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One comment on “Why a Cultural Landscape?

  1. alwagnerv says:

    As Noah said above, looking at a place like the town of Gettysburg as a cultural landscape is a helpful tool in uncovering and discovering history and cultural change over time. If we were to only examine the Jennie Wade House in our blog, for example, it would tell us very little about the history and culture of the town as a whole. We have examined historic buildings, businesses devoted to tourists, and restaurants. Together, they paint a good picture of what Gettysburg is today, as well as what it was many years ago. Historians and archaeologists think in a similar manner when they are researching or excavating a site. One shard of pottery will tell very little about a people or a past civilization, but that piece of pottery put into context with other artifacts, ecofacts, and features from the same site can tell researchers a lot about a past culture. Gettysburg was once a very different town, comprised of private homes, businesses and a railroad station. Most of these buildings served a very technomic purpose. After the 1863 battle, the cultural landscape of the town changed drastically. Most of the buildings have remained the same over the last 150 years, but their purpose is quite different. The David Wills house and the Jennie Wade house are now museums, the train station is abandoned, and the town has become a tourist destination because of its history. When you put pictures of buildings that were here 150 years ago and are still here today, you can truly grasp what a cultural landscape is. The old picture of the David Wills House from long ago includes horses pulling wagons and dirt roads, far from the mecca that downtown Gettysburg is today. A cultural landscape is always changing, absolute times and space frozen in the past while the town continues to change in the future. It would be interesting to see how different the town is in another 150 years, will the historic buildings still be standing, and if so, what purpose will they be serving.

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