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Stilgoe, John R. Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982.
Stilgoe offers a well-written narrative about landscapes of the American past from the late sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. The author is interested in a particular kind of landscape he refers to as "common." For Stilgoe, common landscapes represent those spaces and building traditions that are created through the sharing of ideas and skills via oral or example-based tradition. Stilgoe also sees landscapes as inherently rural spaces where common building traditions thrived. In this lengthy volume, Stilgoe explains how the built environment was created through common practice by offering countless examples from the placement of roads to the organization of graveyards. One of Stilgoe's main contentions is that, by his definition, "common" rural landscapes were disintegrating by the mid-nineteenth century. To Stilgoe, agriculture of the common landscape changed during the mid-nineteenth century from a practice based on husbandry to a practice based on production and efficiency. Likewise, trades such as saw mills and factories were based on craft traditions before the mid-nineteenth century and the advent of standardization changed the character of the built environment. Most of Stilgoe's landscapes are from the East Coast with the exception of a couple examples from the Southwest. Common Landscape would be particularly helpful to those who are interested in pre-industrial landscapes of North America. Many scholars would find useful Stilgoe's particular definition of landscape and his discussion of the role of common knowledge in the construction of the built environment. [M. Lucas]