Informal subhead: The role of ethnicity in landscapes of culture

GRG 390C


The 20th century reads like a catalog of conflict, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. It also presents a mosaic of landscapes in which dominant and subordinate groups coexist and interact, in Latin America, the U.S.A., Canada and Europe, as a result of conquest or migration. Large and expanding minority groups in North America and Western Europe defy prognoses, and today confrontation is growing between the West and the Islamic World, against a backdrop of increasing numbers of failed states. This makes the conventional presentation of World Regional Geography appear to be static and increasingly obsolete. The ideology of ethnicity has been a key variable in this process, which offers another, if complementary perspective to the Global North/South dichotomy by emphasizing a different moment of dissonance.

This course first examines the details of rootedness in place, the rituals of community cohesion, and the accommodation of internal tensions. It then turns to broader questions of institutions, values, religion as culture, the roles of language, and ethnic identity as an ideology of social reproduction. These societal processes serve to imprint landscape with symbolic markers that identify and project historical myths as well as values and ideology, both to bind and educate. However these processes are complicated by conquest or migration, leading to the formation of ethnic mosaics or to transculturation and even ethnic reidentification. Landscapes of culture consequently may overlap, with interdigitation or hierarchical organization, e.g., mosques in France, or popular shrines versus formal churches in Latin America.

When dominant societies attempt to eliminate cultural, linguistic or ideological difference by appropriation, identity is mobilized and may lead to escalating tensions, terrorism or conflict, rather than long-term accommodation. When such conflict expands to a regional scale, as it has in the Balkans, the result may be ethnic cleansing, when dominant groups fear a loss of power and refuse to share their social and territorial space. The underlying current of increasingly violent conflict has in part been driven by the replacement of traditional, multicultural political structures (such as the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires) by centralized, unitary states. It has also been driven by colonial forces unleashed during the 19th century or earlier that continue to reverberate outside of Europe.

In the meanwhile the industrialized nations appear to be unable to find equitable solutions to accommodate resilient and rapidly growing minority populations. They also appear to be unwilling to accept difference on a global scale, still seeking to impose alien structures and policies in the old Colonial tradition.


  1. Ethnicity and how it works
  2. The creation and maintenance of ethnicity in the Alps
  3. The birth of Mexico 1: Indigenous maps (1500s-1700s)
  4. The birth of Mexico 2: Indigenous imprint on church architecture
  5. The birth of Medieval Europe: Christian iconography in the landscape
  6. Multiculturalism in the Balkans: a Christian-Islamic landscape
  7. A Christian landscape in Ethiopia: the rock-cut churches
  8. Modernism, the nation state, and nationalism
  9. Secular ‘heritage’ landscapes in North America
  10. Totalitarianism and the impress of power
  11. Ethnic cleansing: reconfiguring the cultural landscape
  12. Minority landscapes in the USA
  13. Indigenous peoples and land in Latin America
  14. Cultural contestation, neocolonialism, and Islam