Now this must be the sweetest place
From here to heaven’s end;
The field is white and flowering lace,
The birches leap and bend
Place attachment is the way we relate, interact, experience and understand our relationship with our environment, our memory and our past.
To understand history it is important to understand why place attachment is so powerful, and also to understand how we as humans use the concepts of landscape when remembering our past.
Place attachment is experienced through all of the senses; it fires our spatial awareness. Spatial awareness has been confirmed by research on perception and shows us the link between the engagement of several senses and orientation or path finding and how we build a map of our world. Children, for example, do identify with place from ages of two to three years old.
Environmental psychologists also argue that as a psychological process place attachment is similar to an infant’s attachment to parental figures, and they go on to suggest that place attachment can develop social dimensions, as individuals develop ties to their community. They then develop these ties by going on to own land, and participating in the public life of their community.
Another interesting aspect about place that arises out of the spatial and multi-sensory way in which we experience it is it seems that we can instantly transport ourselves back in time and space. We have all experienced how the smell of a rose can convey us back to grandma’s garden. It acts as a powerful memory mnemonic, and can transport us back in time to a place were at when we were younger.
Similarly, if we go to a place we often find that memories otherwise forgotten come flooding back; this immersion of place acts as a trigger, again acting as a powerful mnemonic device, giving us strong memory associations recovering memory, unlocking the past and building out map of the world.
Therefore we move through life not responding to the world around us, but by responding to our model or the map of our world that we have created, therefore it is our the map that we assimilate ourselves to, not the physical territory.
We experience the world through our senses, sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. We then take these external observable facts and make an internal representation in our brains, our map. It is this internal map that we create of our external world, which is then shaped by our perceptions and our cultural and social backgrounds.
Therefore two people in the same place will not generate precise replicas of their maps. It is therefore understandable how two people can both experience the same event, but do so differently, and if after the event they are asked the following day to recall and record what had happened, they would each give a different account of those very same events.
These internal representations that we make about these events are different to the event itself. Now this of course does not change the world, it simply means that you can, with the appropriate stimulation; your social background, with your cultural codes, change the way you perceive or observe your past.
We must also remember that our senses are constantly being bombarded with trillions of bits of information every hour of the day, but our minds will only deal with a tiny fraction of this information at any one time. Therefore this must mean that there is going to be a vast surplus of information that is filtered out, so subsequently our view of the world is in fact is like we are looking through a lens with a filter attached to it.
The structure of this lens and filter is constructed around our own values, our beliefs, our past memories, our past experiences, previous decisions, successes, failures, our culture and social backgrounds. All of these things tune our filter of the world so that it only allows through, what we are tuned to accept.
If I relate this to personal experience, when I am out walking in the countryside, I can quite often spot sites of previous industrial activity; other people I am with, often fail to spot this, and will ask me how I know that this is an industrial site; its is just the way I relate to place and have developed my map of the world.
I have often seen this attribute in others too; whilst talking to salmon fishermen in the Severn estuary I have seen how they will try to place themselves in the mind of the fish they seek as quarry. What we are of course seeing is their map of the world at work. But what is most interesting is that they have developed an understanding of the salmon’s map of its own world, a practice well observed and documented with some of the African tribes who still practise the art of persistence hunting.
It is this map of the world that connects us with our landscape, and how our landscape enlarges our consciousness.
Sources; Poem, Landscape by Dorothy Parker