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Cotton Kingdom, Now

Sara Zewde, independent scholar, Mellon Fellow 2018–2019, Spring

I critically reread Frederick Law Olmsted’s published works and letters and situated them within a wide range of disciplinary contexts regarding the mid-19th century, including economic, agricultural, and political discourses. For instance, I examined works on topics ranging from the botanical history of cotton to the African influence on agricultural practices of the Americas to the infrastructural history of the Mississippi River. This thorough review of the antebellum American landscape offered new insights into the significance of Olmsted’s journeys through the South as well as his observational methodologies. I was then able to craft my own itinerary and methodologies for a forthcoming research trip to retrace Olmsted’s travels, immediately following the end of the fellowship period. I made contacts with people along the route, made accommodations, and charted my stops so as to establish an effective dialogue with Olmsted’s 1862 book Cotton Kingdom.