Sightseers on a topographic tour

Landscapes
April 26, 2002

In recent years a number of publishers, observing the growing popularity of archaeology and kindred studies, and believing it to be a niche market, have jumped on the bandwagon of journal publication. Insofar as new journals enable academic work to be put quickly into the public domain, this is to be applauded. But for hard-pressed university librarians it means that painful choices have to be made: taking on a new title often means dropping an existing subscription.

Competition is fierce, and for a journal to succeed financially it must first satisfy its core institutional market not only by offering high-quality well-researched material that is new and innovative but also, if possible, presenting a range relevant to more than one discipline. However, since institutional buyers are comparatively few, it must also make itself attractive to individual subscribers who may not have access to academic libraries. To serve both markets is a challenge. So how does this journal measure up?

Landscapes is part of the commercial output of a new publishing house, and its editor is a freelance writer who publishes widely on landscape matters and, in this venture, is supported by an impressive academic editorial board. Its mission statement (if that delightfully old-fashioned phrase is still acceptable) is clearly set out. It is "to provide a rich and stimulating new forum for the latest thinking about the history, archaeology and significance of cultural landscapes to serve and articulate the growing interest in landscape history and archaeology as a field of interdisciplinary study and (to) draw upon the ideas about landscape which have developed in disciplines such as history, geography, anthropology and ecology. It will focus on the human role in the evolution of landscapes and facets of landscape." The blurb goes on to say that the journal is designed to serve the amateur and the professional and is aimed specifically at the fieldworker.

First impressions are important and Landscapes is out to impress. Its format is clean, crisp and attractive. The full-colour image (of a landscape, of course) on the cover is an immediate draw; so, too, is the four-page colour section inside. The individual papers are equally well presented. The texts are illustrated and are supported by full bibliographies, and each is prefaced by a short abstract. They are also, for the most part, free of the clutter of footnotes once thought to be the necessary hallmark of academic excellence. Contributions are comparatively short (six per part, together with a short review section) allowing for a lively and welcome variation within the mix of papers in each part.

Its claim to academic respectability is unshakeable. Many of the top practitioners of landscape archaeology - well-known names such as Andrew Fleming, Ian Simmons, Bob Bewley, Oliver Rackham and Christopher Taylor - are already contributors, and all papers are submitted to academic peer review, which is an essential inducement to academic authors at a time when the research assessment exercise reigns supreme. The review sections are also usefully informative because few titles are chosen, allowing for longish reviews, and the team of chosen reviewers seems more intent on reviewing the books than on presenting their own personas.

There is also a conscious effort to develop the concept of landscape studies. The introductory essay, "Conceptualizing landscape", by the editor, Richard Muir, successfully sets the subject in its historical context, paying due homage to the founding fathers of the discipline, Sir Cyril Fox and W. G. Hoskins, though somewhat surprisingly there is no mention of perhaps the most influential of all the pioneers, O. G. S. Crawford, whose study, The Andover District (1922), set the agenda. Crawford learnt his field archaeology from the Hampshire doctor J. P. Williams-Freeman, author of Field Archaeology as Illustrated by Hampshire (1914), and went on to pioneer aerial photography and archaeological mapping. The gap is, however, made good by Mark Bowden's lively sketch of Crawford in the autumn edition of volume two.

In his editorials, Muir attempts to set landscape studies in the context of current debates and live issues - an editorial policy that spills over into the rest of the journal. In volume two, for example, consequences of the foot-and-mouth outbreak for the rural landscapes of Britain are explored by the editor and five other writers, and a regular feature, "What landscape means to me", considers landscape through the eyes of selected individuals: a planning archaeologist (Humphrey Welfare), a landscape photographer (Mike Sharp) and a geographer (Jay Appleton). Another theme, which receives attention in a paper by Stephen Mills, is the part played by open-air museums in Ireland and America in communicating a better understanding of landscape issues to the public. All of this helps to build up the image of landscape studies as concerned, relevant, varied and accessible. Landscapes is a journal with a mission and the more welcome because of it.

The rest of the menu is nicely varied, although, perhaps inevitably at first, with a heavy British Isles bias. Many of the subjects covered are also comparatively familiar - enclosures, ornamental landscapes, aerial photography and monasteries - but in presenting them through well worked-out examples the authors invariably offer new data and new insights. A few papers, such as A. J. Parker's "Maritime landscapes" and Andrew Fleming's "Dangerous islands: fate, faith and cosmology", are genuinely original and break new ground. So, too, does Peter Jordan's "Cultural landscapes in colonial Siberia", which presents landscape studies in their proper anthropological context, and in doing so makes some of the other, more conventional papers look decidedly old-fashioned and even a little tired. But then these contrasts and comparisons are exactly what one would expect in a lively journal dedicated to advancing its discipline while satisfying a wide audience.

How then do the first two volumes of Landscapes match up to the editorial aims and aspirations? The journal can fairly claim to be "a stimulating new forum" and overall it shows itself to be striving to be interdisciplinary. It is also most certainly accessible, not only in its appearance and style but also in its price, and is, by any standards, a highly professional publication. The target audiences of amateur and professional should be well satisfied with what is on offer. But to win a permanent place in our grossly underfunded university libraries, Landscapes will have to shift ground a little and strengthen its entertaining and informative fare with more innovative and cutting-edge contributions. I wonder how many of the papers in the first two volumes will be regularly cited in academic works in five years' time.

Barry Cunliffe is professor of European archaeology, University of Oxford.

Landscapes

Editor - Richard Muir
ISBN - ISSN 1466 2035
Publisher - Windgather Press
Price - Individuals £25.00; Institutions £45.00
Pages - - (Twice a year)

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