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Cotton Kingdom, Now

February 19, 2019 | Sara Zewde

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Frederick Law Olmsted, A Map of the Cotton Kingdom and Its Dependencies in America, 1862, London, England. Courtesy of Cornell University–PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography.

In 1852, the New York Times commissioned 31-year-old Frederick Law Olmsted to conduct an immersive research journey through the Southern Slave States. The country was headed for civil war, and the paper thought to dispatch young Olmsted for his unique ability to reveal the cultural and environmental qualities of landscape in narrative voice. Olmsted’s book—Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom—would prove timely, published within weeks of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter.

Notably, Olmsted’s 1852 travels would coincide with his seminal Central Park design competition entry, a project that shaped the profession of landscape architecture and Olmsted's legacy. This research project, entitled Cotton Kingdom, Now, explores the relevance of Olmsted’s travels to the contemporary discipline of landscape architecture. The project positions Olmsted’s text as a methodological proposition, framing Olmsted’s modes of inquiry and literary devices as allegories for landscape architectural research and design process today.

Sara Zewde is a Spring 2019 Mellon Fellow and founding principal of Studio Zewde, a design firm practicing at the intersection of landscape architecture, urbanism, and public art.

Read more about Zewde’s work and Midday Dialogue in our Q&A series.