This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Although landscape-level studies can be said to date to the 1960s or 1970s, it was in his 1992 article in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology that Westerdahl coined the term (in English). He defined it as “human utilization of maritime space by boat, settlement, fishing, hunting, shipping and its attendant subcultures and features.” As his own work on this evolved over the years, he has clarified that maritime culture indeed “covers all possible angles of man’s relationship to the sea and the coasts.” He emphasizes the importance of the cognitive landscape: “the ‘remembered’ landscape of nature,” and “the landscape at the back of your mind.” Getting at this naturally requires multiple ways of knowing.
The concept grew into a dull roar by the mid-2000s, when a critical mass of folks realized that implementation was lacking. Ben Ford organized a maritime cultural landscape (MCL) session during the 2008 Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology which grew into his 2011 compilation of 18 articles that represents a crucial transitional phase for the concept. To paraphrase Dave Stewart’s preface of the volume, it was time to put the wheels on the bandwagon: to graduate from theory to method, and then importantly, even further into cultural interpretation – which, again, requires an interdisciplinary approach. Ford states succinctly and powerfully that “landscape exists at the intersection of culture and space,” and that it therefore “falls neatly within and between the disciplines of history, geography, and archaeology.” As the various chapters in his volume illustrate, representing a fraction of recent scholarship on cultural landscapes, this has to mean archaeology as a branch of holistic anthropology – “taking into account all aspects of humanness.” Multiple sources of data and ways of knowing are required: geology, biology, ethnography, oral history, folklore, and many more.
Around this time, there was a perfect storm of brain power being devoted to this topic. In addition to all the work described in Ben’s book, folks on several other fronts were also trying to, as a colleague said to me, “figure out how to do this, or stop talking about it.” Tapping into this capacity, a number of federal initiatives began grappling with the question of implementation. I started in my current position in 2009. Here is a bit of background on my office; The Marine Protected Areas Center was established by Executive Order in 2000 to help protect and conserve the nation’s natural heritage, cultural heritage, and sustainable production (or fisheries) resources. By developing a national system of MPAs, existing MPAs can build partnerships and networks to better accomplish these common goals and areas can be identified where new MPAs would be beneficial. The MPA Center serves as the Nation’s Hub for Building Innovative Partnerships and Tools to Protect Special Ocean Places, and last year we merged with ONMS. Existing MPAs include federal programs and sites such as NMSs, NWRs and NPs with a marine component. They also include federal/state partnerships such as NERRs and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, as well as state and territorial programs and sites such as state marine or shipwreck reserves, state parks with a marine component, and sites under tribal authority.
I had the privilege of assembling a cultural heritage working group under the MPA Federal Advisory Committee, which was a really formidable brain trust including some of the folks in this room. In fact, John Jensen was the one who said to me, with that conspiratorial gleam in his eye, “what we really need to do is cultural landscapes.” The group’s work culminated with a white paper in 2011, Recommendations for Integrated Management Using a Cultural Landscape Approach in the National MPA System. Although MCL was not our abbreviation du jour, the recommendations focused on a landscape level approach to managing marine protected areas, beginning with more inclusive definitions and criteria for cultural heritage — encompassing not just sunken vessels eligible for the National Register, but other archaeological sites, paleoshorelines, sites than span the land/sea boundary, and sites and resources important to indigenous communities, including biological resources and intangible attributes and values.
A cultural landscape approach takes into account the fact that cultural heritage and resources are part of the ecosystem and part of the broader landscape, and it examines the relationships among all resources of the place and their environment over time. This is in order to integrate management of cultural and natural resources at the ecosystem and landscape level– similar and analogous to ecosystem-based management, adding the element of the past. This comparison helps non-cultural resource folks (at NOAA I call them the fish people) understand why it’s important.
At its most basic, this approach is based on the understanding that humans are an integral part of the landscape, both shaping and being shaped by it. Because of this, people in a community have an intimate knowledge of place, often over a deep time scale. As Brad Duncan states in his 2011 chapter, “the local knowledge held by community members is the product of many generations of collective knowledge.” Recognizing this, we then try to use that knowledge to inform planning and future management. Doing so, particularly with regard to indigenous communities, can not only lead to more effective and appropriate management of a landscape’s cultural resources, but also better management of its natural resources. One of the key points from the white paper is the artificial administrative divide between cultural and natural resources. They are considered and managed under separate policy and mandates, even though on the ground, they are interrelated, interconnected, and frequently one in the same, as with biological resources possessing cultural value.
One logistical question that has been raised is: does a holistic approach mean that everything is important? If so, that would make the task of preservation overwhelming and impractical. Not everything in the lens is worthy of preservation. An example from the white paper is “scour marks from draggers, ballast dumps, sunken logging timber, or old navigation markers, may not need preservation, but they can provide important evidence about the way humans interacted with the marine environment.”
Following on to the white paper, and around the time that the MPA Center got assimilated into the Sanctuaries Office, the Maritime Heritage Program convened an internal workshop involving expertise from the good doctors Ford and Jensen. The led to the MCL Initiative, intended to implement this approach in existing sanctuaries, but also taking into account broader regional perspectives, since landscapes don’t have the decency to stop at Sanctuary boundaries.
Beyond cultural interpretation and resource preservation, we’re also charged with management. In Brad Barr’s 2013 article on MCLs, he outlines some of the “wicked problems” confronting coastal communities. Some are “more traditional resource management issues, such as maintaining water quality and the status of living marine resources, but also extend to issues such as jobs and economy, the impacts of large seasonal changes in population, insufficient transportation and infrastructure, and even more fundamental social problems such as crime and poverty.” Typical approaches to addressing these problems, “from local coastal zoning to formulation of national ocean policies,” tend to focus on individual sectors, or on the snapshot of current conditions, or on large geographic areas, of a scale people do not feel a connection to. An MCL approach considers multiple sectors and perspectives, incorporates local historical knowledge as context for managing today’s problems, and is grounded in people’s “back yards,” places they know and value.
Speaking of artificial divides and boundaries, another important one worth mentioning is the shoreline as bridge, not boundary. It’s the title of Ford’s own article in his edited volume, and it’s a phrase that really resonates. Whether we’re talking about the wreckage of errant ships, lost during their passage from one shoreline to another, the remains of ancient communities now submerged as the shoreline itself has risen, or modern indigenous communities who conduct subsistence harvest from the sea using traditional knowledge, the unifying element is their connection to the marine and coastal environment. As government managers, we are required to use lines to mark land from sea, but these too are administrative. MCL has the power to break down this divide.
A number of other federal initiatives and projects have begun in response to—and hoping to take advantage of—the collective brain power and capacity being devoted to cultural landscapes. In 2011, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Park Service (NPS) held a forum to discuss Native American traditional cultural landscapes in Seattle. This led to ACHP’s Traditional Cultural Landscape Action Plan later that year. Around 2012, project ideas regarding tribal cultural landscapes and paleoshorelines converged from multiple directions to be funded by BOEM. Not only do they involve indigenous communities in the characterization of their own important places and resources, but they are pioneering methods for pre-consultation, so that coastal tribes and agencies can build relationships in advance of any proposed undertakings and tribes can have a stronger voice in planning and management. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail has an Indigenous Cultural Landscape Team, which you’ll hear about in this session. In 2013, the National Register Landscape Initiative began as a forum for discussion of the way cultural landscapes are considered in the Register, and it led to the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium in 2015. In 2014, the MPA Center received a small grant to create an online cultural resources toolkit for MPA managers, in which we outline a 7-step process for implementing a cultural landscape approach. I’m sure there are other initiatives that I’m not mentioning, but you get the idea. The MCL movement is big (Arlo Guthrie says we can call it a movement if we have 50 people a day, which you can see that we do), and it is happening now.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to share my excitement over the announcement last week that two new sites have started the designation process (and I emphasize process) to become new National Marine Sanctuaries: Mallows Bay in the tidal Potomac River in Maryland, and an 875-square-mile area of Lake Michigan right here in Wisconsin—both based on the areas’ collections of shipwrecks and maritime heritage. A third site, based on Chumash Heritage in southern California, has had its nomination accepted by NOAA and has been added to the inventory of areas under consideration for potential designation. These nominations were among the first to come in when a new grass roots process was created last year for sanctuary designation, following a long hiatus. In an era where we’re constantly challenged, as historic preservationists, to demonstrate relevance and justify funding, I’m gratified and excited that when people are given a chance to convey what’s important to them to preserve and celebrate, it turns out that it is heritage.
It is truly an exciting time to be in historic preservation, with many opportunities to influence the future direction of our collective field. Researchers, practitioners, managers, and officials seem to be in agreement that the time has come to work more appropriately—using a cultural landscape approach, including its indigenous and maritime components—which will help us all better accomplish our common goals of preserving what’s important from our past, learning from it, and using it to be better equipped for the future.