J. B. Jackson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

John Brinckerhoff "Brinck"[1] Jackson, J. B. Jackson, (September 25, 1909, Dinard, France - August 28, 1996, La Cienega, NM) was a writer, publisher, instructor, and sketch artist in landscape design. Herbert Muschamp, New York Times architecture critic, stated that J. B. Jackson was “America’s greatest living writer on the forces that have shaped the land this nation occupies.” He was influential in broadening the perspective on the “vernacular” landscape.

Early life[edit]

Born in France to American parents, J. B. Jackson spent his early school years in Washington, D.C., and in Europe. At age 14 (1923) he enrolled at the elite Institut Le Rosey in Rolle, Switzerland, where he became fluent in both French and German. He savored an environment of mountains, meadows, and forests, but also absorbed the human face of the Swiss cities and cantons, and he would later draw upon his travels abroad in writings, sketches, and watercolors. He attended preparatory schools in New England and spent summers on his uncle’s farm in New Mexico.[2] During the height of his career Jackson lived just southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico, near an historic property known as El Rancho de las Golondrinas (The Ranch of the Swallows).

Education and early writings[edit]

Jackson’s experiences in college were influential in his approach to the shaping of the landscape. He attended the Experimental College of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Introduced to the writings of two contemporary social critics, Jackson gained an insight into architecture and planning from the writings of Lewis Mumford and he was fascinated by Oswald Spengler’s revelation in Decline of the West that “landscapes reflected the culture of the people that were living there.”

In 1929 Jackson attended Harvard for three years. One instructor, Irving Babbitt, was influential in Jackson’s opposition to modernism. His taste for Baroque style and history began to blossom at this time. He believed that the zest of the Baroque style was the essence of the connection between humankind and nature. While attending Harvard, Jackson wrote articles for the Harvard Advocate. His career of writing about what truly makes up the landscape began here.

Following his graduation from Harvard, Jackson tried courses in architecture, writing, and drawing. Each would later serve as the bases for essays, lectures, and articles for his magazine, Landscape. He wandered through Europe in 1934 to 1935 studying Baroque style. While in Europe, Jackson began to write articles critical of Nazism and published them in the American Review and Harper's. His interest in politics began to show in his works. In 1938, his novel, titled Saints in Summertime, was published. The book revealed the infiltration of Nazism and the soldiers’ attraction to energy emanating from power.

Military service[edit]

After briefly trying his hand at ranching in New Mexico, Jackson enlisted in the army, in 1940. As an officer during war he studied books to gain insight on the geography of the location. He deciphered code, studied maps, and learned the terrain. He read books by French geographers—Pierre Deffontaines, Paul Vidal de la Blache, and Albert Demangeon. It was at this time that his interpretation that the shaping and devastation of the landscape came from the necessities for human existence. Jackson believed that human history brought about human geography. The landscape was simply humankind’s effort to "recreate heaven on earth". As the war ended, Jackson began to contemplate publishing a magazine of geography.

Landscape magazine[edit]

In the spring of 1951, the first issue of Landscape was published, with the subtitle "Human Geography of the Southwest," which was later dropped. Jackson remained the magazine's publisher and editor until 1968. At first, Jackson argued, quite literally, for a lofty — an airborne — view of the world, reveling in the below-from-above perspective of aerial photographs. But Jackson's work, which dominated the first five issues of the magazine, was grounded in what he would later call the vernacular: an interest in the commonplace or everyday landscape, and Jackson expressed an innate confidence in the ability of people of small means to make significant changes, by no means all bad, in their surroundings. In an opening essay The Need of Being Versed in Country Things Jackson states that "It is from the air that the true relationship between the natural and the human landscape is first clearly revealed. The peaks and canyons lose much of their impressiveness when seen from above. What catches our eye and arouses our interest is not the sandy washes and the naked rocks, but the evidences of man." His writings allowed him to raise questions and present controversial statements especially in reference to humans and their role in shaping the landscape. Jackson’s works have been published in seven other books along with A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time which won the 1995 PEN prize for essays.


Jackson was influential in the lives of many students, colleagues, admirers, and friends. He taught landscape history courses as adjunct professor at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design and at the College of Environmental Design and the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. He wrapped up teaching in the late 1970s and then went on to give lectures, especially on themes pertaining to urban issues. Jackson states that “We are not spectators; all human landscape is not a work of art.” He felt strongly that the purpose of landscape is to provide a place for living and working and leisure.

The Association of American Geographers established a Jackson Prize, to "reward American geographers who write books about the United States which convey the insights of professional geography in language that is interesting and attractive to a lay audience." [2]


""The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes and seek to understand them, the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence and that that beauty derives from the human presence."[3]

"Let us hope that the merits and charm of the highway strip are not so obscure but they will be accepted by a wider public."

"The bicycle had, and still has, a humane, almost classical moderation in the kind of pleasure it offers. It is the kind of machine that a Hellenistic Greek might have invented and ridden. It does no violence to our normal reactions: It does not pretend to free us from our normal environment."

"The way a city grows, the direction in which it spreads, is a factor not so much of zoning or real estate activity or land values but of highways."

"Ruins provide the incentive for restoration, and for a return to origins. There has to be an interim of death or rejection before there can be renewal and reform."

Published works[edit]

Jackson's published works include:

  • Landscapes: Selected Writings of J. B. Jackson (1970)
  • American Space: The Centennial Years, 1865-1876 (1972)
  • The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays edited with D. W. Meinig (1979)
  • The Necessity for Ruins and Other Topics (1980)
  • Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984)
  • A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time (1994)
  • Landscape in Sight: Looking at America (1999)


John Brinckerhoff Jackson received the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time in 1995.


  1. ^ Brinck Jackson, 86, Dies; Was Guru of the Landscape - New York Times
  2. ^ entry for John Brinckerhoff Jackson, American National Biography Online, consulted July 23, 2009 [1]
  3. ^ Jackson, J. B. Landscape in Sight: Looking at America (Horowitz, H.L., Ed.), Yale University Press, 1999