The scientific research of the Centre for Landscape Studies focuses on the following five themes:
Theme 1 Wetland landscapes of the Northern Netherlands, Wadden Sea and former Zuiderzee area
The first aim of this research is to reconstruct and explain the chronology and spatial variation of landscape formation in the wetlands along the Wadden Sea and former Zuiderzee during the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. The second aim is to understand the way that medieval inhabitants of these wetland landscapes coped with the increasing problems of sea level rise, land subsidence and flooding of their territories. Methodologically, the research consists of a series of interdisciplinary regional and thematic case studies, combining sources and methods of the earth sciences, landscape archaeology, landscape history, toponymics and medieval history. The final goal will be the development of a new conceptual model for the co-adaptation of man and nature in the long term history of the wetland landscapes of the Wadden Sea area. Specific research projects concentrate on the Roman and Early Medieval peat reclamations in Frisia; Palaeogeography and reclamation history of peatland landscapes in the Hunze-Aa tidal basin (Northern Netherlands) during the Middle Ages; Chronology and spatial variation of medieval peatland reclamations in Southeastern Frisia and Northwestern Overijssel. This research theme will be elaborated in close cooperation with the Groningen Institute for Archaeology (RUG-GIA) and the Frisian Academy of Sciences (FA). Contact person: Theo Spek (theo.spek rug.nl).
Theme 2 Landscape, society and economy in the sandy regions of the Low Countries during the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period
This research theme concentrates on the interaction between society, economy and landscape in the Pleistocene sandy areas of the Low Countries during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period. Using concepts and methods from the disciplines of landscape history, socio-economic history and the history of law comparative studies will be done on the influence of social and political institutions, legal relations and socio-economic structures on cultural landscape formation, and vice versa. Comparative studies of various microregions and regions in The Netherlands such as Drenthe, Twente, Salland, Achterhoek, Veluwe, Utrecht and Noord-Brabant should lead to a deeper understanding of the chronology and spatial variation of medieval landscape formation. At a later stage these studies can be compared and integrated with those in Flanders, Northern Germany and Western Denmark in order to develop multivariate models and new theories on the interrelations mentioned above. Contact person: Theo Spek (theo.spek rug.nl).
Theme 3 Comparative and interdisciplinary research on castles, country houses and landed estates in past and present
This theme focuses on the research of historic castles, country houses and landed estates in the Netherlands and Europe since the Middle Ages. The research group has an interdisciplinary character, ranging from history and anthropology to geography and archaeology. Both the history of the owners (with respect to their power, wealth and status), as well as the architecture and interiors of their houses and the design of its gardens, parks and estates get attention. Castles, country houses and landed estates are viewed as manifestations of broad historical developments in culture, society and economy; special attention will be paid in this respect to the interrelationship between countryside, town and landscape. Specific research subjects are the influence of noble, patrician and entrepreneurial families on the representational culture of country houses and surrounding landscapes; the recreational and economic aspects of landed estates and the choice of location of country houses; the relationship between landed elites and the designers of their houses, parks and gardens, ranging from patronage of the arts in the past to the persistence of country houses and estates by owners and institutions nowadays, in regards to its value as cultural heritage. The country house culture in the Netherlands in terms of terms of historical processes, trends and patterns is the overall theme of this research group. Its specific character will be reconstructed by comparison with cultural manifestations and representations of landed elites in other European countries and regions. Contact person: Yme Kuiper (y.b.kuiper rug.nl).
Theme 4 Landscape biographies as a tool for spatial planning
Cultural heritage can be an important driving force for rural and urban development. Knowledge of the cultural-historical layering of landscapes and the integration of material and immaterial cultural values in planning procedures could result into a better social basis for spatial planning projects. Since the late 1990’s researchers from the humanities have developed the concept of the cultural biography of landscape, which gives a suitable framework for the integration of archaeological, historical-geographical and architectural-historical knowledge. In this fourth theme the relevance of this concept for modern day planning issues will be investigated. Research themes are the further operationalization of the concept in various national and international contexts; the development of reliable evaluation systems for cultural heritage; the integration of scientific knowledge and local knowledge as well as the development of planning strategies in which local communities can have a well-balanced role. The research includes Dutch as well as foreign case studies, under which Kalimantan (Indonesia). Contact person: Theo Spek (theo.spek rug.nl).
Theme 5 Historical ecology as a tool for nature and heritage management
This research theme is situated on the interface between the humanities and the natural sciences and therefore has a a strong interdisciplinary character. Concepts and methods of the earth sciences, (palaeo)ecology and (palaeo)hydrology are combined with those of landscape archaeology, landscape history, toponymics and history in order to reconstruct landscape-ecological processes and patterns of natural as well as semi-natural landscapes of the past. The concept of the ‘cultural biography of nature’ will be one of the guiding principles. This new interdisciplinary approach not only serves fundamental research, but also the valorisation of scientific knowledge in the fields of cultural heritage management and nature management. Regarding the preliminary stage of this type of research in The Netherlands, our research group will start with several pilot studies in the National Landscapes of Drentsche Aa (2013-2015) and Noordoost-Twente (2013-2016) in the Northeastern Netherlands. In the next few years, we will investigate the possibilities for a long-term research programme in which several Dutch research institutions and several large nature and heritage management institutions will take part. Contact person: Theo Spek (theo.spek rug.nl).
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