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Wed, May 22


The Barn

Lecture with former National Park Ranger and author Rolf Diamant

Rolf Diamant, co-author "Olmsted and Yosemite: Civil War, Abolition, and the National Park Idea," will discuss his fascinating take on the national parks, linking their creation to the abolition of slavery and questions of citizenship and nationhood in the Civil War years.

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Lecture with former National Park Ranger and author Rolf Diamant
Lecture with former National Park Ranger and author Rolf Diamant

Time & Location

May 22, 2024, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

The Barn, 19 Stephen Mather Rd, Darien, CT 06820, USA

About the event

The Mather Homestead will welcome Rolf Diamant to discuss his book, Olmsted and Yosemite: Civil War, Abolition, and the National Park Idea, which he co-authored with Ethan Carr.  The book takes a fascinating look at the creation of the National Park System, starting with the Yosemite Report. In it, Olmsted expressed the core tenet of the national park idea as a place for ALL citizens to enjoy the restorative benefits of nature, following the turbulent decade of the civil war and the abolition of slavery.  Diamant is not only an author, but also a  landscape architect, adjunct associate professor of historic preservation at the University of Vermont and former superintendent of five national parks, including the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

More about the book:

How the work and writings of Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture, inspired the creation of parks to benefit the public.

During the turbulent decade the United States engaged in a civil war, abolished slavery, and remade the government, the public park emerged as a product of these dramatic changes. New York's Central Park and Yosemite in California both embodied the “new birth of freedom” that had inspired the Union during its greatest crisis, epitomizing the duty of republican government to enhance the lives and well-being of all its citizens. A central thread connecting the apparently disparate phenomena of abolition, the Civil War, and the dawn of urban and national parks is the life of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Before collaborating on the design of Central Park, Olmsted had traveled as a journalist through the Southern states and published firsthand accounts of the inhumane conditions he found there, arguing that slavery had become an insurmountable obstacle to national progress. In 1864, he was asked to prepare a plan for a park in Yosemite Valley, created by Congress to redefine and expand the privileges of American citizenship associated with Union victory.

His groundbreaking Yosemite Report effectively created an intellectual framework for a national park system. Here Olmsted expressed the core tenet of the national park idea and park making generally: that the republic should provide its citizenry access to the restorative benefits of nature. His vision was realized with the passage in 1916 of legislation that created the National Park Service, drafted in large measure by Olmsted Jr. and based on the ideas and aspirations fully expressed fifty years earlier in his father's report.

The National Park Service has been slow to embrace the senior Olmsted's role in this history. In the early twentieth century, a period of “reconciliation” between North and South, National Park Service administrators preferred more anodyne narratives of pristine Western landscapes discovered by rugged explorers and spontaneously reimagined as national parks. They wanted a history disassociated from urban parks and the problems of industrializing cities and unburdened by the legacies of slavery and Native American dispossession.

Marking the bicentennial of Olmsted's birth, the forthcoming book sets the historical record straight as it offers a new interpretation of how the American park―urban and national―came to figure so prominently in our cultural identity, and why this more complex and inclusive story deserves to be told.

About Rolf Diamant

Rolf Diamant is adjunct associate professor in the University of Vermont’s Historic Preservation Program . A landscape architect and historian, Rolf was a Beatrix Farrand Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Loeb Fellow in Advanced Environmental Studies at Harvard University. In his previous career with the National Park Service, Rolf was a planner, resource manager and park superintendent. A believer in expanding the national park system in new directions, Rolf worked on the development of a variety of new areas including urban national parks, national heritage areas and partnership-based wild and scenic rivers. As superintendent of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, he organized a multi-year initiative to conserve and open-up the Olmsted Archives and was deeply involved with the launch of the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation. He currently writes about the history of national parks and their impact on American society. He is coeditor and contributing author of A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks and his column on the complexities and challenges associated with national parks regularly appears in the University of California’s journal Parks Stewardship Forum.


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