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  • Garden Allée at Oak Spring Garden Foundation (photo by Roger Foley)
  • Book of Hours, attributed to Simon Bening, c. 1524 (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)
  • Library at Oak Spring Garden Foundation (photo by Roger Foley)
  • Detail of flowers by Franz Anton von Scheidl, c. 1770 (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)
  • Library interior at Oak Spring Garden Foundation
  • A butterfly metamorphosis by Maria Sybilla Merian, 1719 (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)
  • Landscape at Oak Spring Garden Foundation (photo by Roger Foley)
  • Atlas of landscape at Mangé, late 18th c. (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)
  • Broodmare Barn at Oak Spring Garden Foundation
  • Lodging in Broodmare Barn at Oak Spring Garden Foundation
  • Views of château and gardens of Vanvre, 18th c. (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)
  • Biocultural Conservation Farm at Oak Spring Garden Foundation
  • Detail from Book of Hours, attributed to Simon Bening, c. 1524 (Oak Spring Garden Foundation)

Writing the Landscape

A Residential Short Course at Oak Spring Garden Foundation
Dates: October 18-22, 2021

This four-day short course in environmental writing and literature is being offered by the Harry Ransom Center in partnership with the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Upperville, Virginia (the former estate of Paul and Rachel Mellon). The residential short course will occur at Oak Spring with its celebrated library of rare botanical materials, garden, and biocultural conservation farm.

This short course explores what is often referred to as “nature writing” or “environmental literature.” Land, place, nature, environment, wilderness: what words tend to describe the natural world? This course will deepen understandings of landscape through language. Participants will read to hone their writing, and write to “read” the landscape, attuning attentions toward both land and language. Against the backdrop of the climate crisis, what narrative, poetic, and representational strategies expand or limit our perceptions of “nature”? How do personal and cultural histories and professional practices influence our ways of “seeing” (or not seeing) environments and interdependent inhabitants? In addition to reading, writing, and field practices, participants will keep an active notebook where process becomes part of the product.

While immersing in Oak Spring's evocative landscape, participants will visit its celebrated Library of rare collections known for specialties in botany, horticulture, landscape design, natural history, and environmental subjects. There also will be opportunities to learn about Oak Spring's renowned Garden and Biocultural Conservation Farm.

Both experienced and emerging writers are welcome. Topics will include: how to keep a writing field guide, vocabularies of landscape, expanding categories of “nature” and “environmental” writing, natural-cultural histories, embodied knowledges, ecotones of voice, (dis)placed perceptions, narrative timescales, interdisciplinary research methods, among other topics. Special focus will be given to forms of nonfiction around “nature writing” and “environmental writing,” from scientific to personal essays, with exposure to other genres and art forms to gain techniques and hone craft.

  • Ransom Center and Oak Spring

    About OSGF: The Oak Spring Garden Foundation (OSGF) is a philanthropic foundation based at the former primary estate of the late Paul and Rachel Mellon, who were major philanthropists in the U.S. of the arts, humanities, and sciences in the second half of the twentieth century. OSGF is located in the northern Virginia Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains region (ca. one-hour drive from Washington, D.C.). Led by Sir Peter Crane, the Foundation’s inaugural President, OSGF provides short courses and supports residencies for artists and scholars. Its celebrated Library comprises rare books, manuscripts and works of art relating to horticulture, landscape design, botany and natural history. It is becoming a new center of stimulation of all things botanical, from fundamental research in plant evolution and conservation, to horticultural and plant conservation practice, to the history and art of plants gardens and landscapes.

    About the Harry Ransom Center: The Harry Ransom Center is an internationally renowned humanities research center at The University of Texas at Austin. Its extensive rare collections illuminate the creative process of global writers and artists, deepening the understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, performing arts, and cultural history more broadly. The Ransom Center is located in central Texas, in the city of Austin, near the Colorado River and Balcones escarpment separating the Hill Country from the Blackland Prairies. The Center supports a global fellowship program for scholars and artists, inspires creativity through robust public and academic programming, and is dedicated to a wide range of educational and collections conservation efforts.