2 Categorizing methodologies

There are multiple ways to study past landscapes, and as the first larger-scale division those approaches can be entitled the eagle and the frog perspective.

Those metaphoric titles present the perspective of the observer. The eagle flies high above the landscape and sees the large-scale patterns but lacks the closer perception. This absence can be filled in by the frog that moves close to the ground, sees and perceives the surrounding landscape – the high and the low, the obstacles and the passages. When the eagle flies, a water body is not an obstacle, but for the frog, who walks on the ground, the water body needs passing through or going around, and this is why those two different methodologies can be used in studying different aspects of landscapes, and in the best case they, of course, support each other and produce a more wholly picture of the landscape. In other words, the eagle’s perspective sets the stage and the frog’s perspective helps to (re)create the dynamics of the landscape, that is for these authors the key aim in past landscape research.

From the eagle perspective the most common ways of studying past landscapes are settlement history and archaeology. In those fields settlement patterns are studied very thoroughly, using all the available information. Key tools to these approaches are historical maps that help researchers to analyze changes in settlement patterns, but also in communications joining different settlement units. Changes in different aspects of people’s lives – economical, political, religious – also cause transformations in settlement patterns, and drawing maps of settlement patterns of different periods is usually the main goal of these approaches.

When settlement historical and archaeological approaches focus on the result of a transformation, path dependency concentrates on the reasons why changes have taken place. So, in a way, path dependent approach fills in the gaps that are left by the latter two mentioned approaches. Path dependency is mostly used in historical geography, but quite the same kind of approach can also be found in some archaeological works, although it has not been defined so. This approach can be considered as a means of social history and archaeology, but it also focuses on the large-scale changes and tries to see uniform transformations that have taken place in different areas.

When more individualistic approaches are concerned, landscape phenomenology is certainly a way of seeing the world from the frog perspective. It focuses on what people would see from a certain point in the landscape and how they would use what they see in building their landscape. Considering that past landscapes are very often fragmented, meaning that not all has preserved and the environment has also changed, it is questionable whether this approach alone would help to reconstruct a past landscape, but it definitely gives information that other approaches do not.

In the next four sections it is shown how landscapes are de- and reconstructed in historical geography and settlement archaeology, then are made dynamic again by the help of path dependency and phenomenological archaeology, and how those methodologies should help to build up a landscape biography.

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