Harry Ransom Center

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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.

  • Enrollment and Application Information

    Enrollment: 9

    Tuition: FREE for up to 2 selected UT applicants (graduate students, faculty, or staff) covering tuition, on-site lodging and meals, and travel.

    Dates: The course runs for four (4) days beginning Monday, October 18, 2021 and ending Friday, October 22, 2021.

    With the goal of increasing access, we are offering this short course free of charge to 2 selected UT applicants (graduate students, faculty, or staff). This scholarship will cover tuition, on-site lodging and meals at Oak Spring during the short course, and round-trip domestic economy travel to/from Austin. Beyond UT, the application to participate in Writing the Landscape is open to anyone who is interested in environmental writing and literature.

    The course is suited to professionals from a range of backgrounds who wish to hone their skills of communication beyond professional “jargon” to write for a general audience. Humanists, artists, scientists, social scientists, educators, and advanced students across disciplines are all welcome, whether experienced or emerging writers. Participants should come with a sense of curiosity, and be ready to read and write actively in the process of understanding landscapes, to learn alongside peers in group seminars, to share and listen while actively contemplating the surrounding landscape of garden, biocultural conservation farm, and rare library in the Virginia Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains region.

    Accommodation and Travel Information: Participants will be accommodated with all meals and private lodging on site at Oak Spring. They will need to bring proper clothing for being in the field (a suggested list will be provided after acceptance) as well as materials for writing. Participants are responsible for arranging their own travel to the Washington, D.C. area. If flying, please book flights to Dulles International Airport. International applicants are welcome, but fluency in English is necessary. Closer to the start date, OSGF's Programs team will assist with coordinating travel arrangements to the Oak Spring Garden Foundation site, as necessary.

    The application should be submitted through the Oak Spring Garden Foundation (deadline July 1, 2021). UT applicants must apply with your UT email. If UT applicants have questions, please contact: ransomfellowships@utexas.edu.

    Applicants will be notified of decisions no later than August 1, 2021.

  • Instructor

    Gretchen E. Henderson is the Associate Director for Research at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. In 2018 and 2019, she held the position of Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah and also was a writer-in-residence in nature writing at the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature, Switzerland, and at the Taft-Nicholson Center for Environmental Humanities, Montana. Her publications span four books, performances, arts media, and journals recently including Ecotone, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Notre Dame Review and, thanks to collaborations with the Luc Hoffmann Institute/World Wildlife Fund, Nature Sustainability and Conservation Biology. Gretchen has taught on the faculties at Georgetown, University of Utah, MIT, Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and other writing programs. Over the years, her interdisciplinary research has led to affiliations crossing English and Creative Writing, Environmental Humanities, Art History, Museum Studies, Comparative Media Studies, Social Work, and other fields. Her training includes a B.A. in History summa cum laude from Princeton University, M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University, Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities from MIT. This past year, Oak Spring Garden Foundation published her photobooklet, Where a Library Meets a Landscape, and The Thirteen recorded her opera libretto on the climate crisis, Cassandra in the Temples (composed by Elena Ruehr). Gretchen’s book related to writing the landscape, Life in the Tar Seeps, is forthcoming in 2021 from Trinity University Press. You can read more about her here.

    Guest instructors for this course will include members of OSGF's Library, Garden and Biocultural Conservation Farm, including Sir Peter Crane. Peter Crane is a renowned botanical researcher and evolutionary plant scientist who previously served as Director of the Field Museum in Chicago, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the U.K., and Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is the founding President of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation.

  • 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.

Gretchen E. Henderson

Dr. Gretchen E. Henderson
Associate Director for Research