21 March 2017 -

Report: DHS Research Publication Grant by Helena Chance

In February 2016 I was delighted to hear that my application for a Design History Society Research Publication Grant towards the preparation of my book The Factory in a Garden: A History of Corporate Landscapes from the Industrial Digital Age was successful, and that I was to be awarded a full grant of £1000.

When working with academic publishers, authors are often responsible for paying illustration reproduction fees. In my original proposal to Manchester University Press, I suggested 65 black and white images, photographs and artwork for the book. My collection of images, mostly from company archives and local history societies, contributes an important body of evidence to the discussion, and so I was pleased when MUP allowed me an additional 8 colour illustrations. Many of the images were free to use, but I found that historical societies, particularly those in the United States, are commercially run and the fees soon added up. The grant has, consequently, made a substantial contribution to total costs. A huge thank you to the DHS for your support, which is of course fully acknowledged in the book.

The Factory in a Garden traces the history and development of the corporate landscape movement in Britain and the United States, from its origins in the late eighteenth-century, to its twenty first-century equivalent in company pleasure, sports and vegetable gardens, such as those at Google in Mountain View California, or on the roof of their new offices in London. The book is the first study of its kind that examines the development of parks, gardens, and outdoor leisure facilities for factories and offices in Britain and America as a model for the reshaping of the corporate environment in the twenty-first century. This is also the first book to give a comprehensive account of the contribution of gardens, gardening, and recreation to the history of responsible capitalism and ethical working practices.

The Sears Roebuck & Co. plant, Chicago after 1906. Author's archive.

In the book, I focus primarily on the period from the 1880s to the 1950s, when it became common for large companies to provide sports and recreation grounds for employees, and many employers opened pleasure gardens and allotments, or community gardens. The making of gardens and parks around or near office and factory buildings, designed by professionals, was driven by a belief in the value of gardens and parks to drive recruitment and retain staff, to industrial welfare, and to advertising, corporate identity and public relations. The book tells how factory gardens and parks contributed to employee welfare and to wider social changes, including the sports and leisure revolution, women's employment, gardening and health cultures, and suburban development. I discuss the idea of the garden as utopianist space, and show how industrialists appropriated the historical, cultural and metaphorical meanings of designed green space to impose their cultural and economic power, and to harmonise industry and nature. I also question the integrity of industrialists, who used gardens and gardening as forms of social engineering, control and promotion, and suggest that today's domesticated and 'playful' office landscapes are created in the same spirit as those in the early twentieth-century.

Early Spring Colour autochrome of the National Cash Register Company Boys Garden by Arnold Genthe, circa 1911. Courtesy of Dayton History.

The book has been conceived within the theoretical parameters of cultural geography and social science on the organisation of place and space, and the power relations that operate within social space. I have based my research on primary sources from company archives in the UK and the USA, supported by secondary sources from cross-disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, architectural history, social history, histories of sports and leisure, landscape history and theory, the history and theory of photography, and women's studies.

I am developing my research into the history and design of corporate landscapes, including those in the rest of Europe, Australia and East Asia. If you are a historian with similar interests, I would very much like to hear from you.

Helena Chance
Buckinghamshire New University

Headline image: Secluded seating among vegetable gardens at
Googleplex, Mountain View. Photograph by the author.


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