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Clues to the Landscape History of New England
Christopher J. Lenney

Revisiting New England

New Hampshire
2003 • 376 pp. 23 figs. 6 x 9"
Regional Studies / Geography & Geology / New England

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"Sightseeking . . . celebrates the New England landscape . . .The book proves to be wonderfully learned, intelligent, and altogether readable."—Choice

A startlingly original synthesis of keen observation and interpretive skill that will transform one’s understanding of New England’s man-made landscape

How does one “read” a landscape? Inspired by the classic work of Hans Kurath documenting the dialect geography sub-regions of New England, Christopher J. Lenney set out to determine whether such patterns of linguistic migration were repeated in the everyday features of our man-made landscape. Through inspired conjecture and methodical fieldwork, Lenney discovered that at least six cultural and material artifacts could be mapped into similar flows and clusters: placenames, boundaries, townplans, roads, houses, and gravestones.

With infectious enthusiasm and wit, Lenney guides the reader through a historical and cultural examination of how this artificial landscape came to be. Of the many possible sources of placenames, for example, there are evident patterns of Algoquian and transplanted English; there is the obvious irony of patriot and Tory honored side by side. But what do we make of the apparent hodgepodge of placename suffixes that dot our maps—the -fields, -tons, -hams, and -burys that append themselves to our life and land? And how do we explain the “Great-Big” line, a dramatic yet invisible scar across the map of Maine?

The other five cultural markers similarly reveal themselves in a surprising patterning of the New England countryside—in the areas where the connected farmstead dominates, where recessed balconies or twin rearwall chimneys distinguish the scene; in the migration of gravestone cutters and their motifs, which left odd undulating waves of artistic expression throughout the region. Lenney forces the reader to reconsider the shape of the village greens, to wonder why old roads go where they go, and to question where (good neighbors and Robert Frost notwithstanding) we built stone walls.

By pushing us beyond mere sightseeing to “sightseeking,” Lenney dares to fundamentally alter the way we—old-time Yankee, newcomer, and tourist alike—experience and interpret the New England landscape.

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Reviews / Endorsements:

“Examining town plans, boundaries, roads, houses, place names, and gravestones, Lenney analyzes how the linguistic patterns of New England, Algonquian, and English, recur in the cultural landscape. In a complex interpretive framework, the methodology of this work challenges many historical assumptions about landscape and the migration of culture.”—Connecticut History

"Sightseeking will likely become regarded as one of the most important works in this field of research . . . [Readers] will find this energetically written book to be especially delightful and rewarding. Travels through New England will never be quite the same!"—Thomas D. Visser, Vermont History

"Sightseeking offers an inspiration for others to continue to look carefully at the New England landscape to see how it is put together and how it got that way.—Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation

“Lenney exhibits more literary grace, intellectual range, and good common sense in writing about New England’s artifactual landscape than anyone I know.” —Jere Daniell, Professor of History, Dartmouth College

CHRISTOPHER J. LENNEY, a life-long New Englander, is a twenty-year employee of the Harvard College Library, an Appalachian and Long Trail hiker, and former Walden Pond tour guide.

Sun, 17 Jul 2016 10:26:48 -0500