Republic of Shade : the emergence of the American elm as a cultural and urban design element in nineteenth-century New England
Author(s)Campanella, Thomas J
Emergence of the American elm as a cultural and urban design element in nineteenth-century New England
Lawrence J. Vale.
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This dissertation is a cultural history of the American elm. It explores the transformation of a native tree into a major icon of New England culture in the nineteenth century-both as a multi valanced symbol of New England life, and a defining element in the spatial design of its villages, towns and cities. Drawing from a wide range of source material-traveler's records, local histories, town and municipal records and contemporary newspaper accounts-the study traces the forces and events which made the elm a ubiquitous feature of the Yankee scene, and a core element in the identity and image of the region. The historical narrative begins with a description of the tree in the pre-European era, and explains how cultural disturbance by both native Americans and colonists amplified the elm's presence in the landscape. Subsequent chapters examine the tree first as a solitary or totemic artifact in the landscape, and then as a element which, following a region-wide "village improvement movement" in the 1840s, was planted in vast numbers in villages, towns and cities. The totemic elm endowed Yankee space with meaning, as a civic centerpiece, a relic of antiquity, or a monument to specific historical events or persons. Planted en masse as a street tree, elms changed the quality of that space itself, transforming the appearance of the common landscape, and forging one of the most powerful images of place in American history-the elm-tossed New England town. The study culminates by examining the symbolic and spatial significance of the tree in the urban context, and argues that city elms were perceived by nineteenth-century observers as a mechanism of synthesis between rus and urbe. Long before the Olmsted park, planting elms on city streets placed the elusive ideal of a "pastoral city" within reach. As Charles Dickens observed of New Haven in his American Notes (1842), city elms brought about "a kind of compromise between town and country; as if each had met the other half-way, and shaken hands upon it." In conclusion, the seminal influence of New England on American culture at large is considered, a factor which eventually made the elm a national icon, and "Elm Street" an American institution.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, 1999.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 214-228).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning