John Stenzel
American Studies 151, American Landscapes & Places
Fall Quarter, 2000

Assignment 1--Short Autobiographical Essay
Due Wednesday, October 11, start of class
Length: no shorter than 1 page, no longer than 5 pages (250-1250 words)

When J.B. Jackson discusses "The Word Itself," he offers a new definition for landscape as "a composition of man-made or man-modified spaces to serve as infrastructure or background for our collective existence," to go along with what he calls "that old-fashioned but surprisingly persistent definition of 'A portion of the earth's surface that can be comprehended at a glance.'" These are deceptively simple-sounding definitions, worth exploring on many levels with multiple perspectives.

In this essay we will explore your experience of landscape and place without benefit of much theoretical or academic apparatus. It's an opportunity to think critically about place, about the ways we experience place, creating meanings and absorbing significance of human interaction with the environment. If you have visited Yosemite enough to have it be the geographical focus, fine; if not, don't worry--you may apply this topic to a place of your own choosing.

Your aim here is several-fold: you want to describe the place well enough to give your reader a basic understanding of your experience; you want to narrate briefly the ways this place constituted and communicated significant messages to you, and you want to articulate how you have read the "discourses" or "text" of this place. Ideally your essay will discuss your preconceptions of this place (what you had heard about it, what you expected of it), your perceptions of it as you visited it, and any changes you experienced as a result of your visit(s).

Hints for essay writing: stay concrete, not abstract; show me, don't tell me; don't get it right, get it written (and then revise); when in doubt, stay active. I'm interested in what you have to say, so the "I-voice" is fine to use.

Tentative dates to set your (sleep) schedule:

Last updated: 4 October