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Wilderness Nation: Building Canada’s Railway Landscapes, 1884–1929

Elsa Lam, Columbia University, Junior Fellow 2009–2010, Spring

My fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks has been invaluable for the advancement of my doctoral research. My project examines a series of landscape-scaled projects undertaken by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. In addition to constructing and operating the railway itself, the Company created a wide array of infrastructures to encourage tourism and settlement, ranging from luxury mountain resorts to ready-made farmsteads. Presented to the public as wilderness areas, the resulting landscapes became influential during a period of growing nationalistic sentiment.

The library resources at Dumbarton Oaks have helped me in researching two new chapters of my dissertation, as well as drafting an introduction to the study. The large scope of the collection within the broad discipline of landscape made it a unique resource for my research. While at my home institution this project necessitates constant trekking between libraries, here everything I could desire was close at hand. More importantly, the community and atmosphere within Garden and Landscape Studies have been a huge support for my work. Conversations with my Director of Studies, John Beardsley, as well as my companion fellows and invited guests have led me to ask new questions of my research, and have given it a renewed sense of clarity. The gardens themselves have been a daily source of personal as well as professional inspiration. Dumbarton Oaks truly lives up to its billing as an academic paradise, and I feel lucky and honored to have sojourned here.