In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chorographical and Landscape Writing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Landscape Archaeology and Landscape History
  • Art History Overviews

British and Irish Literature Chorographical and Landscape Writing
Bridget Keegan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0080


The relationship between the human and the natural, particularly as it is expressed in the vexed term “landscape,” is a subject of interest to a wide variety of disciplines. Thus any treatment of the topic of literature and landscape may also draw upon the fields of architecture, art history, philosophy, geography, archaeology, gardening history and theory, and social history, among others areas. What precisely constitutes “landscape” is the topic of heated debate among modern scholars. Whether the author in question believes it is an object that is seen, a way of seeing, or a performance affects how it is analyzed. Representations of landscape occur in a wide variety of texts and are written about in numerous modes. Topographical poetry, regional fiction, nature writing, travel writing, or natural history writing are only some of the genres featuring landscape that can be described in the bucolic conventions of the pastoral or within a more grandiose discourse of the sublime. Chorography, one of the earliest formal manifestations of writing about landscape, dates back to classical times and is associated with definitions of regionality. It witnessed a resurgence in the early modern era, primarily in works such as William Camden’s Britannia (1607). Chorography investigates and articulates what makes a specific place or region distinctive, which may have to do with geographical features and the historical traces of human action on those features. The impact of human actions on the natural environment became one of the features of the landscape poetry and painting that reached the height of its popularity in the 18th century and Romantic period. Never just “pure description,” representations of landscape served powerful ideological functions, influencing concepts of nation and of class. Threats to the landscape and nostalgia for a particular vision of landscape in the past began to predominate in the 19th and 20th centuries, with nature-centered environmental and ecocritical concerns growing in importance. Whether viewed chronologically, generically, discursively, topographically, or by other categories such as nation or gender, landscape is a broad but compelling subject. Because “landscape” as a topic belongs to historians, archaeologists, geographers, art historians, and literary and cultural critics, work from all of these areas is represented below, with special emphasis given to how the topic is explored in literary criticism. Interdisciplinary conversations are also highlighted. Given the broad scope of the topic, studies devoted to the representation of landscape and a single figure (such as Wordsworth or Constable) have been excluded.

General Overviews

Because many disciplines have an interest in the topic of landscape, general overviews are typically slanted toward the background of the author and his or her field. Since the concepts of nature in general are foundational to the idea of landscape, intellectual and social historians offer essential contextual information, as in Glacken 1967 and Thomas 1984. Schama 1995, a hugely popular cultural history, is organized by particular types of landscapes and draws upon myth, literature, and art. The representation of landscape in literature specifically is surveyed in Siddall 2009. Scholars from the field of cultural geography have emphasized shifting theoretical perspectives on the topic, as in Wylie 2007, while Johnson 2006 brings the insights of the discipline of archaeology to the topic. Muir 1999 provides a balanced view of the historical and cultural ways of interpreting and studying landscape. Howard 2011 adds an important practical and political dimension in a survey that looks toward the future of landscape by probing the goals of conservation and preservation.

  • Glacken, Clarence J. Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

    Detailed and erudite history of human ideas of nature from the classical world to Enlightenment Europe. Essential foundational reading.

  • Howard, Peter J. An Introduction to Landscape. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011.

    Thoroughgoing overview of ideas of landscape from several disciplinary perspectives. Howard was instrumental in establishing the European Landscape Convention. Reviews how different disciplines contributed to the convention’s definition of landscape as “an area of land as perceived by people.” Addresses practical problems of determining which landscapes should be protected, managed, and enhanced.

  • Johnson, Matthew. Ideas of Landscape: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

    Surveys theoretical debates about landscape. Demonstrates the influence of Wordsworth and Romantic ideas of landscape on the undisputed “father” of English landscape history, W. G. Hoskins, and, through Hoskins, on much of the field. Useful general introduction, aimed at reforming the discipline of landscape archaeology.

  • Muir, Richard. Approaches to Landscape. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1999.

    Reviews key figures and concepts in the study, representing an array of disciplinary approaches. Chapters on the history of landscape, on landscape symbolism, and landscape politics and aesthetics. Balanced and thorough account for readers new to the topic.

  • Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. London: HarperCollins, 1995.

    Engaging, interdisciplinary examination of the persistence of various Western myths of landscape. Draws upon literature, art, philosophy, psychology, and all eras of history. Organized topographically, around the locales of woods, rivers, and mountains. Celebrates how cultural memories infuse human experiences of nature.

  • Siddall, Stephen. Landscape and Literature. Cambridge Contexts in Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Introductory textbook complete with assignments, surveys how English literature has represented the landscape. Proceeding chronologically from ancient times to the present, examines recurring themes, issues, and privileged topoi. Includes extracts from primary sources and resources for undergraduates seeking further information.

  • Thomas, Keith. Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 1500–1800. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1984.

    Comprehensive historical examination of how humanity has questioned and rationalized its ascendency over nature. Focuses on changing human attitudes toward animals and plants, as reflected in theology, philosophy, science, and art; the taste for landscape is included among the topics.

  • Wylie, John. Landscape. Key Ideas in Geography. London: Routledge, 2007.

    Superbly researched and elegantly written overview from the perspective of cultural geography. Emphasizes theoretical approaches from the 1980s to the present. Provides detailed summaries and critiques of the most important modern figures. Final section introduces landscape phenomenology.

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