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Restoration Roundtables

The 2017-2018 Center for Cultural Landscapes Research Roundtable Series will examine the theme of restoration as a theoretical concept and a professional practice spanning disciplines, geographies, and centuries. Through the lens of restoration, phenomena as seemingly unrelated as the election of Donald Trump, the revival of seagrass in the Chesapeake Bay, the reconstruction of slave quarters at Monticello, and the use of 3D printing to resurrect a damaged Rembrandt painting coalesce into a revealing matrix of American identity.

Led by faculty coordinator Lisa Goff (American Studies & English; Director, Institute for Public History), the roundtables will analyze restorations of places, politics, and cultural products, and the acrimonious debates that accompany such decisions. These conflicts illuminate contemporary fault lines in American culture that reveal divisions of national identity, race, class, and politics. One American’s restoration is another’s defamation, whether the object be an historical landscape, an environmental sustainability project, or a presidential election.

Futurity, and its relationship to restoration practices and ideologies, will be a special focus of the roundtables. The United States was the future for much of the last 250 years—or at least, Americans thought it was—but that is no longer true. Or at least, we fear it is not. Watching our tenure as the icon of futurity come to an end, face to face with our own decay, we pursue restorations with a relentless determination, assigning them symbolic meanings designed to reaffirm our commitment to enduring truths and principles as a way of asserting our capacity for future dominance.

The idea that conflicts over American identity get enacted on the landscape is nothing new. But by focusing on restoration, as opposed to preservation or conservation or political conservatism, these roundtables will attempt to bring together the most recent and most persuasive scholarship about restoration—and to put them in orbit with each other in ways that blur the professional distinctions between preservation and design, conservation and change.