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Episodes at the End of Landscape: Hudson River School to American Modernism

Maggie Cao, Harvard University, Junior Fellow 2012–2013

I spent my time at Dumbarton Oaks writing my dissertation, which explores complexities in the failure of American landscape painting from the 1870s to the 1910s through the work of four artists: Albert Bierstadt, Martin Johnson Heade, Ralph Blakelock, and Abbott Thayer. I began the fellowship with a few loosely connected case studies and very little sense of how they would come together as a coherent project. While in residence, I wrote one full chapter and completing three others, and will leave with a completed first draft. The library resources were particularly useful when I worked on one portion of the project dealing with nineteenth-century perceptions of marshland and early ecological thinking in America. The idyllic environment, ample time to work, and frequency of intellectual exchange made Dumbarton Oaks an ideal place for me to grapple with the framework and larger goals of my project.

Communicating across disciplines at Dumbarton Oaks, both within and beyond my own program, has been immensely rewarding. I am grateful for the thoughtful questions and feedback of my colleagues in Garden and Landscape Studies, who directed me to new sources and expanded my understanding of what constitutes landscape. This input has not just allowed me to extend the scope of my dissertation but has also inspired me to incorporate broader and more diverse material into my future teaching of art history. Finally, my Byzantine and Pre-Columbian Studies colleagues have given me the unique opportunity to speak about my work across the humanities. From them I gained invaluable expertise on anthropological theory, numismatics and theological discourse, which each found their way into own project.