The Rhode Island Historical Society will host public historian and filmmaker Laurence Cotton on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m., for its annual Goff Lecture highlighting the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, the master designer of public parks and a founder of the field landscape architecture.

Cotton will discuss the remarkable life and career of the Renaissance man Frederick Law Olmsted, a prolific writer, social reformer, and advocate for the preservation of natural spaces. The talk will explore the influences of design traditions, aesthetics, and philosophies that shaped Olmsted’s thought—including English garden design, the Hudson River School, and Transcendentalism.

The program will be hosted at the historic Corlis-Carrington House across the street from the John Brown House Museum. Guests are encouraged to walk the grounds of the Great Lawn of the John Brown House following Cotton’s talk to learn more about the RIHS’s 200th-anniversary initiative Putting Down Roots, which will see the transformation of Benefit’s Street’s largest greenspace. The new plans pay homage to the original landscape design of the Olmstead Brothers, circa 1900.

Registration is limited. Event tickets are free and available at

The Annual Goff Lecture is a part of the Rhode Island Historical Society’s Bicentennial Celebrations, sponsored by Amica Insurance.

A practicing public historian, Cotton was trained as a cultural anthropologist and brings that lens to bear on much of his work. He served as a historian, filmmaker, originator, and consulting producer for the PBS special Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, Cotton originally hails from Boston, renowned for its Olmsted landscapes and the home base for the Olmsted Brothers firm.