The 2021 HALS Challenge: Historic Black Landscapes

by Chris Stevens, ASLA

Anne Spencer Garden, HALS VA-59, Lynchburg, Virginia. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Update: the 2021 HALS Challenge winners were announced at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville!

For the 12th annual HALS Challenge, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) invites you to document historic Black landscapes. Black people have built and shaped the American landscape in immeasurable ways. Examining these histories and spaces will expand our understanding of America’s past and future. From plantations to segregated cities, the nation’s landscapes retain the physical manifestations of our racist history. Yet historic Black landscapes also represent creative achievements and reflect Black culture, as seen in residential gardens, parks, and college campuses across this country. Documenting historic Black landscapes will reveal patterns of community that have been built over the course of four hundred years.

Some useful and inspiring resources:

Marian Anderson Heritage Village, HALS PA-23, Southwest Center City Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Please contact your state ASLA Chapter’s volunteer HALS Liaison if possible when you have selected a site to document for the HALS Challenge to be sure no one else is already preparing a HALS historic report for it. If your chapter’s volunteer HALS Liaison position is vacant, please consider volunteering yourself or suggesting it to a colleague who may be interested.

Dearfield Agricultural Colony, HALS CO-7, Wiggins vicinity, Weld County, Colorado. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Short format histories should be submitted to HALS at the National Park Service no later than July 31, 2021.

The HALS Short Format History guidelines and digital template may be downloaded from the NPS HALS website. NOTE: updates to HALS Challenge rules and to the MS Word digital HALS Short Form History Template are reflected within the template itself. Please download and read it thoroughly before entering the competition.

If you would like to learn by example, you may view or download the HALS Challenge winners from 2018 and before. All properly prepared HALS Challenge entries are added to the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection at the Library of Congress and will eventually be made available online.

Bush Stadium, HALS IN-6, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana. Click here to view at a larger scale. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The biggest recent change in the rules is that no more than ten (10) digital photographs may be included at the end of each HALS Challenge entry. These may ONLY consist of digital, existing-conditions photographs taken by the author(s) of the site being documented. Your research should still include analyzing historic drawings and photos of the landscape you are documenting. Historic graphics are often the most important primary source for analytically writing about a historic landscape. Due to complicated and frustrating copyright restrictions, we are discouraging the reproduction historic graphics within HALS Challenge entries. Historic graphics may still be referenced and described in the text with their repository source named. A thoroughly written analysis is even more useful to readers than a reproduced copy of historic graphic itself, and all copyright issues may be avoided. This is primarily a writing competition. If you are interested in our drawing competitions, check out the HABS/HAER/HALS Holland Prize and Peterson Prize Competitions.

Myakka River State Park, HALS FL-16, Sarasota, Sarasota County, Florida. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Winners will be announced at the HALS Subcommittee Meeting at the 2021 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, Tennessee. Employees of the National Park Service, American Society of Landscape Architects, and Library of Congress may submit HALS Short Format Historical Reports but are ineligible for prizes.

Daughters of Zion Cemetery, HALS VA-69, Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

And, here is a sneak peek at the theme for the 2022 HALS Challenge: Olmsted Landscapes. The National Association for Olmsted Parks, managing partner of Olmsted 200, is pleased to help promote this theme in 2022 in honor of Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday. Participants will have the opportunity to document parks, gardens, communities, estates, campuses, etc., designed by FLO and the firm continued by his sons. For more on FLO, see the Olmsted Archives – Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service).

The Smokey Hollow Community, HALS FL-9, Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

For 2021, people from every state are hereby challenged to complete at least one HALS short format history to document historic Black landscapes.

Preservation through documentation!

For more information, contact Chris Stevens, 202-354-2146,

Chris Stevens, ASLA, is Acting Chief of the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) at the National Park Service, past chair of the ASLA Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (PPN), and past ASLA HALS Subcommittee chair / coordinator.

To highlight the 2021 HALS Challenge, Historic Black Landscapes, each month between now and the July 31 HALS Challenge deadline, we’ll be showcasing historic Black landscapes that have already been documented for HALS, like the Smokey Hollow Community showcased in February. Coming up next in March: a post by Chris Pattillo, FASLA, on Allensworth in Tulare County, California. And, coming up on February 24, 2021: a webinar on Acknowledging Historic Black Landscapes (recording now available). Learn more from Elizabeth J. Kennedy, ASLA, NYCOBA-NOMA, Andrea Roberts, Ph.D., Joseph Disponzio, Ph.D., and Christopher Stevens, ASLA.

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