In the remarkable degree of scholarship that has been written on Frederick Law Olmsted since a resurgence of interest in his life during the early 1970s, there have been a number of varying interpretations regarding the social attitudes with which he approached his first major project, New York’s Central Park. Following a classic pendulum pattern, study has vacillated between emphasizing his democratic vision for the park to placing more of a focus upon his esteem for gentility. In the former, scholars such as biographer Laura Wood Roper described Olmsted’s idea of Central Park as a place for Americans of all classes to come and enjoy natural beauty together; the park’s open access reflected Olmsted’s interest in the park’s service to all city-dwellers. In the latter, however, historians such as Geoffrey Blodgett objected to this flattering view and instead drew attention to Olmsted’s sympathy for aristocratic notions of refinement, with the park acting as a civilizing institution for the betterment of the working classes. These views were eventually somewhat reconciled by later scholars such as Susanna Zetzel, who portrayed Olmsted as one with democratic convictions, qualified by his regard for gentlemanly manners. This more balanced approach has recently been overtaken somewhat with another wave of more positive scholarship, linked with historians such as Witold Rybczynski and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers who accept Olmsted as a man of his time but have chosen to cast his intentions in a sympathetic light, writing in a general tone of celebration rather than critique. For many of these men and women, the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted have been an invaluable resource and the compilation of his letters and writings has been a major catalyst for ongoing scholarly discussion of Olmsted’s life, philosophy and work.
History, Philosophy and Political Science
Library Research Prize - First Place Winner
HIS499 History Senior Seminar
Murray, Matisse, "Trees Nestled Among Skyscrapers: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Creation of Central Park" (2013). Library Research Prize Student Works. 11.
Reflection on Library Research process required to qualify for Library Research Prize
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.