Shifting Strata of a Geological Approach to Landscape Heritage

Session curators:
Natalie Koerner, Assistant Professor, KADK, Copenhagen, Denmark
Aisling O’Carroll, PhD candidate, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, London, UK

Session Presenters:
D. Graham Burnett, Princeton University, USA
Susan Schuppli, Goldsmiths University, UK
Marrikka Trotter, SCI-Arc, USA
Daniel Falb, Poet and Philosopher, Germany

Throughout history, from Charles Lyell to Mary Shelley to Robert Smithson, landscape has been read as an archive—a physical record of past histories to be deciphered and reassembled. This reconstruction, however, is not simply an objective investigation, rather it is an act of design produced through entangled means of both science and imagination. Shaped by the tools we use, the historical narratives we construct (and reconstruct, repeatedly) generate power, identity, and control and curate our present and future heritages. At the scale of geology, landscapes open up dimensions of space and time that encompass and exceed human frameworks, thus serving as a generative milieu for reformulating anthropocentric narratives into more inclusive/manifold storylines. In the context of changing climate, culture, and technology, readings of landscape heritage are increasingly urgent, while simultaneously ever more divergent.

This panel looks critically, through an interdisciplinary lens, at historical and contemporary ways in which heritage, identity, and power are constructed through landscape with a focus on narratives extracted from geological readings. Panellists, drawn from a range of fields including history, philosophy, art, and architecture, present varying approaches to the reading and reconstruction of geohistory. Architectural historian and theorist Marrikka Trotter turns to the conceptualization of “human-geological entanglements” in the work of nineteenth-century American geologist William Morris Davis. Through a re-reading of seminal landscape design projects in the United States, Trotter explores how Davis’s idea “of the earth as a historical entity” strongly influenced the field of landscape architecture.

While we are used to reading history through literary accounts and written, archival records, by thinking of heritage in geological terms, we are challenged to consider the other material records of history — those set in strata, frozen in ice, or petrified in sediment. Panellist Susan Schuppli, researcher and artist, explores geology as a material witness. Schuppli’s forensic reading of ice core science offers clues for decoding and reassembling a revised planetary history. The inherent ability of materials and sites to document themselves is also a concern of panellist D. Graham Burnett, Historian of science, who turns to sand and petroleum as “portal-spaces in the landscape” that “shed light on the relationship between 'collapsing into the earth' and the production of energy in the Anthropocene.” 1

In the context of changing climate, culture, and technology, readings of landscape heritage are increasingly urgent, while simultaneously ever more divergent. Poet and philosopher Daniel Falb, explores the dichotomy inherent in the juxtaposition of the concepts of the Anthropocene and heritage. Falb will examine the geologic gaze as a conceptual resource for issues relating to climate justice and trans-generational governance.

Through a historical analysis of the relations between landscape processes and cartographic practices, the forensic analysis of frozen records, a re-reading of human-geological entanglements within designed landscapes, and a philosophical interrogation of the structure of geological “history” as a cultural construct, each paper offers a new reading of history through a re-reading of the geological archive, examining what each of these narratives offer us now and in the future. The emerging histories will frame a discussion on past and future geoheritages that continue to evolve in parallel with today’s engagement with landscape, revealing the pluralities, subjectivity, and complexity of landscape heritage.


  1. D. Graham Burnett, "Tar Pits and Quick Sands: Fear and Trembling at the Edge of the Archive," ACHS 2020 abstract