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Join us for “Cultures of the Garden: The Hidden Histories of an American Obsession”

Join us as Dr. Jennifer Atkinson and Dr. Robert S. Emmett explore the garden’s unique role in American history and literature, including ways it has shaped U.S. culture and the arts, social justice movements, environmental advocacy, and other public and private visions of the good life.

5:30pm, Friday, June 22, 2018
S. Dillon Ripley Center Lecture Hall
1100 Jefferson Drive, SW

Copies of Gardenland: Nature, Fantasy, and Everyday Practice and Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of US Garden Writing will be available for sale; the talk will be followed by a book signing.

This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP here.
For access services, please contact us at or 202.633.2241, preferably two weeks prior to the program.

Jennifer Wren AtkinsonJennifer Atkinson is a senior lecturer in Environmental Studies and American & Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, Bothell and the author of Gardenland: Nature, Fantasy, and Everyday Practice (forthcoming August 2018, University of Georgia Press).

As she argues in this new study of our nation’s romance with gardens, gardening literature is not just a place to find advice about roses and rutabagas; it also contains hidden histories of desire, hope and frustration, and tells a story about how Americans have invested grand fantasies in the common soil of everyday life. Given the popularity of gardening practices today, we are increasingly aware that gardens appeal to desires for beauty, community, creative expression, contact with nature, and meaningful work.  Yet the fantasy-elements of gardening have always been with us, and in order to understand their unique role in our daily lives, we must also understand their past. Her talk will chronicle the development of this genre across key moments in American literature and history, from nineteenth-century industrialization to the twentieth-century rise of factory farming and environmental advocacy, to contemporary debates about public space, social justice, and even humanity’s place on a changing planet.

In exploring the hidden landscape of desire in American gardens, Gardenland examines works ranging from literary fiction and horticultural publications to science fiction. Ultimately, Atkinson asks what the past century and a half of garden writing might tell us about our current social and ecological moment – and offers surprising insight into our changing views about the natural world, along with realms that may otherwise seem remote from the world of leeks and hollyhocks.

Robert S. Emmett

Robert S. Emmett is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Roanoke College Environmental Studies program and the author of Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of US Garden Writing (UMass Press, 2016).

While Michael Pollan and others have popularized ideas about how growing one’s own food can help lead to environmental sustainability, environmental justice activists have pushed for more access to gardens and fresh food in impoverished communities. This culminated in the dramatic revival of the White House kitchen garden in 2009–not despite but because of the depth of the Great Recession. In Cultivating Environmental Justice, author Robert S. Emmett emphasizes the intergenerational work of gardeners and garden writers who, from the 1930s on, asserted increasingly radical socioeconomic and ecological claims to justice. Drawing on ecocriticism, environmental history, landscape architecture, and recent work in environmental justice and food studies, Emmett explores how the language of environmental justice emerged in descriptions of gardening across a variety of literary forms. He reveals early egalitarian associations found in garden writing, despite its focus on elite suburban lawns and formal southern gardens. Emmett considers a wide range of texts by authors including Bernard M’Mahon, Scott and Helen Nearing, Katharine S. White, Elizabeth Lawrence, Alice Walker, and Novella Carpenter.

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