Brabec, Elizabeth

Profile Picture
Email Address
Birth Date
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Job Title
Professor; Director, Center for Heritage & Society; President, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL)
Last Name
First Name
African American Studies
Cultural Resource Management and Policy Analysis
Historic Preservation and Conservation
Land Use Law
Landscape Architecture
Natural Resources Management and Policy
Urban Studies and Planning
Urban, Community and Regional Planning
climate change and heritage
cultural heritage management
cultural landscapes
heritage and place making
migration and heritage
urban agriculture
Culture and heritage, and how they affect our perceptions of land and nature are central to my research. My research focuses on the role of heritage in identifying our place in the world, a critically important understanding given the forces of migration and displacement that are facing us due to armed conflict and the impacts of climate change.  I study the role of land, our connection to it and how we organize our communities within it, particularly in the realm of urban agriculture and food systems.  Cultural landscapes and the heritage embodied within them, landscapes produced by the interaction between humans and nature, are key to sustainable development practices.   Since different cultures have very different ways of shaping their communities and understanding nature, I work cross-culturally with communities in the United States and in locations around the world including: Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belize, and the Bahamas. Understanding other cultures illuminates our own, and understanding indigenous and traditional lifeways can often lead to the reemergence of sustainable practices.

I am a Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts, and Director of the Center for Heritage and Society (  From 2015 though 2020, I served as the editor of the Taylor & Francis journal, Heritage & Society, focusing on research that expands the role of heritage in contemporary life.  A member of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), I serve as President and an expert member of the ISCCL (International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes) of ICOMOS and a member of the ICOMOS Climate Change and Cultural Heritage Working Group.

Before joining the University of Massachusetts as a Professor and Department Head, I served as Professor and Department Head in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at Utah State University and as an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment. With a Master in Landscape Architecture from the University of Guelph, Canada, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maryland, I founded and managed the landscape planning firm, Land Ethics, Inc. until 2002.

Search Results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 12
  • Publication
    Landscape Change: The influence of external cultural forces
    (2004-06-07) Brabec, Elizabeth
    In the cultural ‘melting pot’ of a world economy, traditional, culturally-defined landscapes are being modified under a myriad of international influences. In this context, it is often difficult to identify the landscape and design forms that are key to maintaining local identity and a sense of place. Identifying these forms is critical in the planning process, as local planners and decision-makers attempt to integrate new, globally-influenced development patterns in local communities and at the same time create spaces and places that will not destroy local values and associations. The landscapes, their vectors, and the changes they engendered, will be used to illuminate the design decisions made as a result of absorbing one culture’s norms of land patterning into another.
  • Publication
    Middleburg Plantation: A cultural and historical investigation into the formal gardens
    (2001-01-01) Brabec, Elizabeth; Appel, Mike; Davidson, Katie; Faiks, Sarah; Ion, Bonnie; Kest, Jarrett; Lewis, Geoff; Mather, Mimi; Pollock, Dave; Rome, Clea
    This report details the remaining remnanats of the formal garden at Middleburg Plantation, one of the oldest intact plantation sites in the lowcountry of South Carolina. In private hands, the plantation house grounds are well preserved. The report presents both the historical documents and references as well as the existing conditions and makes recommendations for stabilization of the historic landscape remnants. This report was the result of a field studies class held at the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, in Landscape Architecture. Led by Professor Brabec, the class travelled to the site for the week of August 26th to September 2nd, 2000.
  • Publication
    When you can't see the trees for the forest: An analysis of heritage tree protection and the implications for nature culture integration
    Brabec, Elizabeth
    Heritage trees provide a sense of permanency and sense of place, spiritual connections, and also a critical repository of a gene pool, climate adaptation history and future human resources. Characterized as the oldest and/or largest tree of a species, heritage or "champion" trees as they are often termed, contain a "library" of climate changes that have taken place over hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. But in the designation and protection of heritage trees, the criteria of ecosystem services and economic values are mentioned much more frequently in the legislation and research, than cultural or heritage values. This is particularly apparent when looking at the national registries of heritage trees (e.g. American Forests 2017; National Trusts of Australia 2013). During the past few decades, in an effort to support their protection and maintenance, research has been conducted in many countries into the use, importance, and value of heritage trees. With the rare inclusion of the analysis of heritage trees and their importance in tourism (Hall, James and Baird 2011), research has focused primarily on ecological system services, human food and lumber value, and overall economic value. In addition, there are various registries that focus on the status of heritage trees as endangered, as icons in the landscape, or as the largest of their species as a proxy for age (Ritchie, Szuster and Kaufman 2021). Most are merely honorary designations, with legal protection delegated to local laws or as a part of other heritage legislation. In the drive towards nature culture integration in World Heritage and cultural landscapes more broadly, there is a need to place the cultural value of trees on equal footing with their ecological values. This paper will explore changes to policy, and approaches to documentation and protection that must occur for nature-culture parity to be realized. Français : Les arbres patrimoniaux procurent un sentiment de permanence et d'appartenance, des liens spirituels, ainsi qu'un dépôt essentiel d'un pool génétique, d'une histoire d'adaptation au climat et de ressources humaines futures. Caractérisés comme l'arbre le plus ancien et/ou le plus grand d'une espèce, les arbres du patrimoine ou « champions » comme on les appelle souvent, contiennent une « bibliothèque » des changements climatiques qui se sont produits sur des centaines et dans certains cas des milliers d'années. Mais dans la désignation et la protection des arbres patrimoniaux, les critères de services écosystémiques et de valeurs économiques sont évoqués beaucoup plus fréquemment dans la législation et la recherche, que les valeurs culturelles ou patrimoniales. Cela est particulièrement évident lorsque l'on examine les registres nationaux des arbres patrimoniaux (par exemple, American Forests 2017 ; National Trusts of Australia 2013). Au cours des dernières décennies, dans un effort pour soutenir leur protection et leur entretien, des recherches ont été menées dans de nombreux pays sur l'utilisation, l'importance et la valeur des arbres patrimoniaux. Avec l'inclusion rare de l'analyse des arbres patrimoniaux et de leur importance dans le tourisme (Hall, James et Baird 2011), la recherche s'est principalement concentrée sur les services du système écologique, la valeur de l'alimentation humaine et du bois, et la valeur économique globale. En outre, il existe divers registres qui se concentrent sur le statut des arbres du patrimoine en tant qu'espèce en voie de disparition, en tant qu'icônes du paysage ou en tant que plus grand de leurs espèces en tant qu'indicateur d'âge (Ritchie, Szuster et Kaufman 2021). La plupart sont simplement des désignations honorifiques, avec une protection juridique déléguée aux lois locales ou dans le cadre d'autres législations patrimoniales. Dans le mouvement vers l'intégration de la culture de la nature dans le patrimoine mondial et les paysages culturels plus largement, il est nécessaire de placer la valeur culturelle des arbres sur un pied d'égalité avec leurs valeurs écologiques. Cet article explorera les changements de politique et les approches de la documentation et de la protection qui doivent se produire pour que la parité nature-culture soit réalisée. Español: Los árboles patrimoniales brindan un sentido de permanencia y un sentido de lugar, conexiones espirituales y también un depósito crítico de un acervo genético, la historia de la adaptación climática y los recursos humanos futuros. Caracterizado como el árbol más antiguo y / o más grande de una especie, los árboles patrimoniales o "campeones", como a menudo se los denomina, contienen una "biblioteca" de cambios climáticos que han tenido lugar durante cientos y, en algunos casos, miles de años. Pero en la designación y protección de los árboles patrimoniales, los criterios de los servicios ecosistémicos y los valores económicos se mencionan con mucha más frecuencia en la legislación y la investigación que los valores culturales o patrimoniales. Esto es particularmente evidente cuando se examinan los registros nacionales de árboles patrimoniales (por ejemplo, American Forests 2017; National Trusts of Australia 2013). Durante las últimas décadas, en un esfuerzo por apoyar su protección y mantenimiento, se han realizado investigaciones en muchos países sobre el uso, la importancia y el valor de los árboles patrimoniales. Con la rara inclusión del análisis de árboles patrimoniales y su importancia en el turismo (Hall, James y Baird 2011), la investigación se ha centrado principalmente en los servicios del sistema ecológico, los alimentos humanos y el valor de la madera y el valor económico general. Además, existen varios registros que se centran en el estado de los árboles patrimoniales como en peligro de extinción, como iconos en el paisaje o como los más grandes de sus especies como indicador de la edad (Ritchie, Szuster y Kaufman 2021). La mayoría son designaciones meramente honoríficas, con protección legal delegada a las leyes locales o como parte de otra legislación patrimonial. En el impulso hacia la integración de la cultura de la naturaleza en el Patrimonio Mundial y los paisajes culturales en general, es necesario colocar el valor cultural de los árboles en pie de igualdad con sus valores ecológicos. Este documento explorará los cambios en las políticas y los enfoques de la documentación y la protección que deben ocurrir para que se realice la paridad naturaleza-cultura.
  • Publication
    Meridian Hill Park: The making of an American Neoclassical Landscape
    (2002-10-01) Brabec, Elizabeth
    The neoclassical design was the dominant design movement in landscape architecture at the turn of the last century, dictating the form and design of public parks for most of the first half of the twentieth century. Meridian Hill Park, located just north of the White ouse in Washington, DC, is considered the most ambitious neoclassical park ever conceived in the United States. The paper provides an overview of the design development of the park, illustrating how classical design precedents were used to create a contemporary neo-classical park.
  • Publication
    KC 1.1: Cultural Heritage and Climate Change: Exploring the Impacts and Issues
    Brabec, Elizabeth; Potts, Andrew; Polanco, Julianne
    As noted at the 2017 ICOMOS Assembly in Delhi, cultural heritage is both under threat from climate change, and an asset in our attempts to adapt to and mitigate its impacts. The Paris Agreement emphasizes the need for urgency about climate change; cultural heritage can play a central role in this effort. For example, iconic sites at risk from storms, coastal erosion, wildfires or permafrost thaw can alert public to the very real impacts and costs of climate change. World Heritage Sites (WHS) around the world play a key role in alerting the public to the impacts of local climate change because they are highly visible, and are acknowledged as being important to national, regional and local heritage. As such, broad publicity about impacts and continuing losses such as the news coverage of the sea-level rise at Rapa Nui and Skara Brae and the degradation of the Cedars of Lebanon illustrate the value of both the iconic sites, their resources, and the wide media coverage they can project. Loss and damage due to climate change also includes the impacts on large landscapes and their associated communities. The loss of cultural heritage in these landscapes runs the gamut from intangible heritage such as folk tales, to immoveable cultural heritage, to the lifeways of cultures that have developed over centuries and millennia. Placing those impacts into a broader context is the role, and the goal, of the CCHWG Working Group. This session will address ongoing work by the Climate Change and Heritage Working Group (CCHWG) of ICOMOS that explores the nexus between climate change and heritage. Heritage interacts with climate change through a spectrum of impacts from the physical degradation of standing structures and site ecosystems, to the role that cultural heritage plays in the resilience of communities and their ontological security. Although the focus of the session will be on the impacts of climate change on rural landscapes, the discussion will cover the broad range of the work of the committee. Attached to this abstract is the full report of the Working Group, delivered to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) on June 3, 2019 at the 43rd Meeting of the WHC in Baku, Azerbaijan. The audience will be asked to engage with the report to identify publications and case study examples that should be incorporated into the next steps of the work of the CCHWG.
  • Publication
    Panel 7. Paper 7.3: Small Sacral sites as both religious features and landscape networks in Central Europe
    Brabec, Elizabeth
    Though often overlooked due to their scale, networks of small sacral Christian architecture in the form of local churches, pilgrimage churches, chapels and small sacral sites, hold a significant importance in rural cultural landscapes in Europe and beyond. The networks are significant in their social stratification, diversity, distribution and abundance across cultural landscapes. The most significant development of networks of small sacral architecture in central and eastern Europe was during the Baroque under Catholicism, although the tradition builds on the marking of sacred sites during earlier periods of history throughout Europe. A case study of the cultural landscapes of sacred sites in Bohemia, Czech Republic, illuminates the social layers that these sites produced, and identifies critical issues of documentation and challenges of interpretation of these networks. Sacred sites in Bohemia form three networks of cultural landscapes that are distinct from each other and only minimally connected: the sacred landscapes of the ruling class connecting family churches, crypts, shrines and hermitages; the networks of pilgrimage sites and routes; and the networks of small sacred sites, chapels and churches that dotted the agricultural landscape. These networks individually and collectively connected nature and culture in both intimate and large scale landscapes. Small sacral sites are often accompanied by monumental single trees or a compositionally organised group of trees to create a sacred composition of nature and culture. They were important landmarks, indicators of place and landscape features of spatial organization for the residents of rural communities. At the other end of the range of scales, the monumental composed landscapes of the ruling class, covering upwards of 30 kilometers in length, connected religious sites (hermitages and pilgrimage chapels), family churches and crypts, and important natural sites, particularly natural water features. This session elaborates on the origin, historical development and landscape values of small sacral Christian architecture, as well as their relation to separate natural features that create part of the sacral composition. The session explores the issues of documentation of these networks of sites, and the challenges that interpretation of connected sites over such large land areas creates.
  • Publication
    2022 Secretary General's Report
    Brabec, Elizabeth
    2022 Annual Report and 2023 Work Plan
  • Publication
    Panel 7 The role of Religious Sites and Structures in Rural Landscapes and Communities
    Brabec, Elizabeth
    This panel explores the heritage of religious sites in rural landscapes and communities of central and eastern Europe, and Morocco. Religious sites and their community networks within the rural landscape are often overlooked as a collective resource. However, they provide overlapping levels of order in the landscape that derive from various social classes and religious traditions. Often these layers of class and spiritual tradition are invisible to those outside of the class/social/cultural group that created it and appear only as isolated remnant icons unrelated to their communities or landscape complexes. However, closer reading of the monuments, sites and landscapes of these areas reveal connected networks of places and routes that define a cultural and nuanced reading of both society and the natural landscape. They are also an important resource, that if interpreted, can be a driver for tourism and economic development. This panel will present experiences from three different regions: Musteata on the fortified churches of Transylvania, Romania; Ziss and Smolik on the place of Jewish sites in the Saharan region of southern Morocco; and Brabec on the sites and sacral architecture of the rural landscape of western Bohemia, Czechia.
  • Publication
    Looking Back Looking Forward: ISCCL 50th Anniversary Symposium, Abstracts and Presentations
    Brabec, Elizabeth; Adams, Betina; Laleh, Haeedeh
    During the past 50 years, the ISCCL has experienced great shifts in an understanding of cultural landscapes, the approaches to their conservation and protection, and the foundational concept of cultural landscapes themselves. The starting point was in 1971, in a meeting of Fontainebleau, where M. René Pechère led an international group of historic garden landscape architects and other professionals in the creation of a joint ICOMOS / IFLA Committee of Historic Gardens and Sites. While the focus of the original Committee was on classical gardens and their maintenance and protection, this was an important first step in the understanding of broader landscape issues. The Florence Charter on Historic Gardens was adopted by ICOMOS in 1982. It was ground breaking for the time, defining historic gardens as “monuments,” subject to specific rules acknowledging the “growth and decay” of a living system. However, the Charter also identified the need to preserve gardens in an “unchanged condition.” By 1992, the concept and definitions of Historic Gardens had expanded to the term “Cultural Landscapes,” approved for inclusion in the World Heritage Operational Guidelines at its 16th Session in 1992. By identifying cultural landscapes as “illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time,” and “the combined works of nature and of man [sic]” the stage was set for the following period of inclusion of traditional and indigenous landscapes, and the nature culture dialogues, intended to integrate the identification, protection and management of natural and cultural heritage sites. This Symposium will explore those changes and more over the past 50 years in the world of cultural landscapes. Français: Au cours des 50 dernières années, le Comité a connu de grands changements dans la compréhension des paysages culturels, les approches de leur conservation et de leur protection, et le concept fondamental des paysages culturels eux-mêmes. Le point de départ fut en 1971, lors d’une réunion de Fontainebleau, où M. René Pechère dirigea un groupe international d’architectes paysagistes de jardins historiques et d’autres professionnels dans la création d’un Comité conjoint ICOMOS / IFLA des Jardins et Sites Historiques. Alors que le comité d’origine se concentrait sur les jardins classiques, leur entretien et leur protection, il s’agissait d’une première étape importante dans la compréhension des problèmes de paysage plus larges. La Charte de Florence sur les jardins historiques a été adoptée par l’ICOMOS en 1982. Elle était révolutionnaire pour l’époque, définissant les jardins historiques comme des « monuments », soumis à des règles spécifiques reconnaissant la « croissance et la décadence » d’un système vivant. Cependant, la Charte a également identifié la nécessité de préserver les jardins dans un « état inchangé ». En 1992, le concept et les définitions des jardins historiques s’étaient étendus au terme « paysages culturels », approuvé pour inclusion dans les Orientations du patrimoine mondial lors de sa 16e session en 1992. En identifiant les paysages culturels comme « illustrant l’évolution de la société humaine et peuplement au fil du temps » et « les oeuvres combinées de la nature et de l’homme [sic] », le décor était planté pour la période suivante d’inclusion des paysages traditionnels et indigènes, et les dialogues nature-culture, destinés à intégrer l’identification, la protection et la gestion de sites du patrimoine naturel et culturel. Ce symposium explorera ces changements et bien d’autres au cours des 50 dernières années dans le monde des paysages culturels. Espagnol: Durante los últimos 50 años, el Comité ha experimentado grandes cambios en la comprensión de los paisajes culturales, los enfoques para su conservación y protección, y el concepto fundamental de los paisajes culturales mismos. El punto de partida fue en 1971, en una reunión de Fontainebleau, donde M. René Pechère dirigió un grupo internacional de arquitectos paisajistas de jardines históricos y otros profesionales en la creación de un Comité conjunto ICOMOS / IFLA de Jardines y Sitios Históricos. Si bien el enfoque del Comité original estaba en los jardines clásicos y su mantenimiento y protección, este fue un primer paso importante en la comprensión de los problemas más amplios del paisaje. La Carta de Florencia sobre Jardines Históricos fue adoptada por ICOMOS en 1982. Fue innovadora para la época, definiendo los jardines históricos como “monumentos”, sujetos a reglas específicas que reconocen el “crecimiento y decadencia” de un sistema vivo. Sin embargo, la Carta también identificó la necesidad de preservar los jardines en una “condición inalterable”. Para 1992, el concepto y las definiciones de Jardines Históricos se habían expandido al término “Paisajes Culturales”, aprobado para su inclusión en las Directrices Operativas del Patrimonio Mundial en su 16ª Sesión en 1992. Al identificar los paisajes culturales como “ilustrativos de la evolución de la sociedad humana y asentamiento a lo largo del tiempo”, y “las obras combinadas de la naturaleza y del hombre [sic]”, se preparó el escenario para el siguiente período de inclusión de los paisajes tradicionales e indígenas, y los diálogos naturaleza-cultura, destinados a integrar la identificación, protección y gestión de los sitios del patrimonio natural y cultural. Este Simposio explorará esos cambios y más en los últimos 50 años en el mundo de los paisajes culturales.