Landscape biography as a tourism research method to ‘read the landscape’

A landscape biography resembles a biography that is usually written about persons. Basically, it is an extensive description of the history of a specific landscape and the ideas, meanings and representations that are applied to, and the memories that conform with, the landscape in different time periods. A landscape biography includes a rich and varied body of knowledge about a variety of aspects of the landscape which throughout many years (we are talking here about centuries) have been formed by both geological processes and humans.

The history of landscape biography

The term landscape biography was first coined in the geographical work of Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1915), in which mainly the terms ‘pays’ (land) and ‘genre de vie’ (a way of living) played an important role. The New Cultural Geography movement, moreover, added important concepts such as perception, symbols and ideologies as being valuable components of the landscape. Archeologist Jan Kolen developed the theory further and perceives a landscape biography as ‘a progressive interplay of forces between the richly varied material landscape and the world of ideas, meanings, representations and memories’ that are connected with the landscape.

What does it entail in actual practice?

In the writing of a landscape biography, a variety of disciplines are normally included and different themes are elaborated. It is, for example, interesting to know what the history is of a certain landscape in respect of the paleontology, toponymy, ecology, anthropology, or would we like to know the stories of amateur archeologists, local historians and/or nature lovers. In this way can the writing of a landscape biography more or less be seen as a participatory (action) research method, in which multiple professionals, experts, but also local citizens and other stakeholders, collaborate in order to increasingly map a specific landscape. However, the time periods that are used in landscape biography differ per project. So might it be for example interesting to research in what way the landscape looked like in the Neolithic period, Bronze Age, Iron Age and/or the Middle Ages, or throughout the Renaissance or the Age of Enlightenment.

What might be the aim of a landscape biography for tourism purposes?

The writing of a landscape biography might entail a variety of objectives, depending on for what reason or project the biography is written for. If we take a look at the objectives a landscape biography might have for tourism purposes, this could be that writing such a biography might unravel certain old characteristics of a landscape which might be used for tourism purposes. For example, bring back certain aspects of a landscape in a somewhat old state in order to make it interesting for potential tourists. In addition, a certain site of archeological masterpieces might be transformed into a tourist attraction, or can the stories about the past be used for promotional activities.