In this webinar, Rolf Diamant and Ethan Carr will discuss their new book Olmsted & Yosemite: Civil War, Abolition, and the National Park Idea.

In 1864, Olmsted was asked to prepare a plan for a park in Yosemite Valley, created by Congress to 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: that the republic should provide its citizenry access to the restorative benefits of nature.

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, Olmsted and Yosemite 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 telling this more complex and inclusive story is critically important.

Preservation Book Club is a program of the Preservation League of NYS. Thank you to our sponsors, the Peggy N. & Roger G. Gerry Charitable Trust.