‘Love Made Public’: Identity, Justice and the Public Land Legacy

October 31, 2017

Hundreds assembled to hear Carolyn Finney share her perspective on public lands for the 6th annual Jordahl Public Lands Lecture Series in her talk, "Ten Thousand Recollections: The possibility of us and the land on which we stand."

Finney, assistant professor of geography at the University of Kentucky and author of the book Black Spaces, White Faces, explored the nature of identity and its relation to not only ownership, but also the kinds of ownership that can take place on the land. In fact, for Finney, the two are impossible to separate.

"I have to think about relationship and race and difference because it’s so deeply embedded in this country; about how we think about land in the first place,” Finney expressed.

Finney emphasized the importance of understanding and sharing who you are, how you are seen, and how you are seeing the world to construct an understanding of how to view the relationship between human and landscape.

She also believes identity is central to the narrative because, historically, it has perpetuated the myth of certain identities being either unable to contribute to the environmental conversation or incapable of even having that relationship in the first place.

"[You] don't assume that because someone is poor, or is black, or comes from a certain part of the country, that they don’t have the potential to be amazing," Finney remarked. "They may have already been amazing, you just haven’t heard about them."

Finney says stories have the power to make people feel, and not just think about the broader ideas of land, ownership and identity. She wants people to actively engage in the conversation by unpacking their identities, examining their value systems and considering the history of their own personal relationships with the land around them.

For Finney, this land is not one that was not built on love, but one that was built on possibility. According to her, the possibility exists for each of us to develop our own understanding of the land and to choose how we’re going to live with it.
 She also says that we must think about how we have acted in the past if we want to have a future where public land is truly made for everyone.

"If we don’t own who we’ve been, we cannot become who we can be," Finney challenged.

Finney has visited Madison on numerous occasions, most notably for her keynote speech at the Nelson Institute's Earth Day Conference in 2016.

The Jordahl lecture series is held in honor of the late Wisconsin conservation pioneer Harold "Bud" Jordahl, and is meant to continue his legacy of public lands work.  Sponsorships and private gifts enable us to offer this annual event and we hope you will join us in supporting the legacy. Gifts in any amount are needed and appreciated and may be made online.