Garrett G. D. Nelson

Postdoctoral Fellow, Society of Fellows

I am a historical geographer who is interested in the ways that social change and landscape change are intertwined. My work focuses on how human communities make choices about transforming and managing the shared places in which they live, and, in turn, how those same places structure the formation of communities, states, and social groups. In particular, I am interested in the many themes which come together in the field of planning—concerns about justice, equality, aesthetics, ecology, and administration—and how these are related to the spatial pattern of human life on the earth’s surface. In addition to explaining the historical formation of landscapes and societies, these lines of inquiry also help to frame contemporary questions about how to make decisions about people and places.

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My dissertation, A Place Altogether: Planning and the Search for Unit Landscapes, 1816–1956, is an exploration of the debates amongst planners, landscape architects, geographers, politicians, social reformers, and others about what the appropriate “unit” of planning ought to be. It is focused on an intellectual history of the question: what types of geography can be considered “single” places? This is not only a descriptive question about how to interpret and organize the world; it also invokes an administrative question about jurisdiction and efficiency, as well as a moral-ethical question about the togetherness of communities and polities. In the dissertation, I try to answer why planners wanted so badly to create territories which enclosed coextensive political, social, economic, and ecological units—and also why this ideal was so maddeningly difficult to realize in practice.


In addition to my historical work, I am also interested in creative experiments with maps, interactive technology, and computation, for purposes ranging from activism and art to public policy and storytelling.

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Personal Website
HB 6017
Ph.D. University of Wisconsin–Madison, Geography
M.A. University of Nottingham (UK), Geography / Landscape and Culture
A.B. Harvard University, Social Studies / Visual and Environmental Studies