Olmsted: Bicentennial Perspectives, “The Several Selves of Frederick Law Olmsted”

Event Description:

The Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in partnership with the Arnold Arboretum, will host a two-day academic conference as part of the national Olmsted 200 celebration. While Olmsted was central to the conceptual formation of the degree program in landscape architecture at Harvard University and the design of the Arnold Arboretum, the interpretive ambitions of the conference are anything but parochial.

“The Sesquicentennial of a Great American.” Under that unambiguous heading, in 1972 the Olmsted Sesquicentennial Committee elaborated its “simple” reasons for celebrating the living legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted: “to dedicate ourselves to the idea of human survival and to identify this dedication with America’s first and greatest environmentalist.”

Fifty years into our ongoing act of survival, it is time again to reconsider the image of this representative American. America has changed, and so too have its (shared?) notions of greatness, of identity, and certainly its understanding of the varied historical sources of environmentalism. To what ideas do we remain dedicated in this, the year of Olmsted’s bicentennial? The story of Olmsted is perhaps no longer so simple; arguably it is more relevant than ever.

The conference consists of six panels composed of scholars from a variety of disciplines engaged in critical research on both new and familiar areas of Olmsted study. National parks, suburban subdivisions, world’s expositions, battlefields, dispossessed communities, family homesteads, English gardens, slave states, city parks, scenic parkways, forests, and swamps are but some of the sites and scenes that will be examined from a diversity of perspectives.


“The Several Selves of Frederick Law Olmsted”

Moderated by Samantha Page

Edward Eigen, “Papering Over Olmsted”
Catherine Seavitt, “Seeds, Grafts, and Offshoots: Olmsted on (and off) Staten Island, 1848–1857”
Charles Birnbaum, “The Road to the Olmsted Renaissance”

00:00 Introduction from Samantha Page
02:31 Presentation by Edward Eigen
27:00 Presentation by Catherine Seavitt
47:27 Presentation by Charles Birnbaum
1:15:04 Panel Discussion
1:19:42 Q+A



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