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Studying Cultural and Historical Connotations of U.S. Lands


Charlotte Guterman ’22 was the recipient of a summer Emerson Foundation grant to study “Through-Hiking and American Identity: How Wilderness Trails Reflect and Shape Culture in the United States.” Here she describes her interest in this area  and how she’s approached the project.

In the fall of my freshman year I took a course called Interpreting the American Environment with Lecturer in History Peter Simons. Cross-listed in history and environmental studies, it challenged my preconceptions of the great outdoors and made me question the origins of my comfort within “wild” spaces. This learning has carried through my Hamilton experience as I participated in geology field studies on preserved land in Arizona, led trips into the Adirondacks with the Outing Club, and worked at a sleep-away camp in the New Hampshire woods.                                                          

About Charlotte Guterman ’22

Majors: Studio Art, Environmental Studies

Hometown: Andover, Mass.

High school: Andover High School

read about other student research 

This summer, I received an Emerson grant to further pursue the cultural and historical connotations of American wilderness, its exclusivity along with its grandeur. Simons has been my advisor through this endeavor. Originally, I had planned to hike the Long Trail in Vermont as a part of my project. However, given the pandemic, that quickly became an impossibility.

As a double major in studio art and environmental studies, I shifted the focus of my investigation from hiking to visual representation, culminating in a project on the colonization of the American landscape in art.

My research examines depictions of the land that has become the United States spanning from the 1500s to the late 20th century. It focuses specifically on the Hudson Valley School of painters, the social realism movement, and conceptual art.

I am particularly interested in the power of American art to simultaneously document and reinforce narratives of violence, conquest, and white supremacy. These themes are evident in our nation’s “public” lands, where white people have designated wilderness areas, national parks, memorials, and monuments. These structures and spaces often glorify white ingenuity over nature and artificially elevate settler conquest of the vast, untamed wild.   

Charlie Guterman '22 monument
Guterman built this monument out of cardboard and old table legs as a marker, to ground and remember the white supremacy within and intrinsic to America past and America present.

Artmaking has been one way I have been learning to reject these colonial narratives and to identify my own complacency. In addition to writing an essay on the history of landscape art, a second aspect of my Emerson is a monument I built out of cardboard and old table legs. I created it as a marker, to ground and remember the white supremacy within and intrinsic to America Past and America Present, to my past and my present. I built it as a conscious act of deconstruction, of unlearning. This piece, and my Emerson as a whole, strive to document what came before and envision what can grow in this new and changing American landscape.  

I look forward to presenting my work on campus this fall semester.

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