Keynote Speakers

Keynotes and Speakers

A Geography of Hope: The Aspirational Nature of America’s Public Lands

Monday, February 25, 8:00 am

Public lands have always contained an aspirational element. In the late nineteenth century, renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted passionately argued that national parks of great natural beauty increased our capacity for happiness. A century later, celebrated western writer Wallace Stegner adamantly advocated for wilderness as Americans’ “geography of hope,” tangible evidence of our freedom from the shackles of industrialization. Certainly, all the public lands managed by the federal government have always embodied the aspirations and excitement of our forbearers as they looked across the North American continent and envisioned themselves carving out farm homesteads, ranches, mines, logging operations, and recreational spaces. Understanding public lands as a geography of hope is essential to understanding the ways in which Americans have interacted with their public lands. The aspirational nature of public lands explains how Americans have approached them and the various attitudinal configurations of those approaches. It offers us a way of hearing the multitude of individuals who use these lands today.

In this address, historians Michael Childers and Leisl Carr Childers will explore this aspirational quality of public lands through the tensions they have created, from park and wilderness ideals to the livelihood and lifestyles they support. Collectively, these tensions emerge from and coalesce around the fact that Americans have always aspired for their public lands to meet their personal interests and needs.

Presented By:


Leisl Carr Childers, Ph.D.

Colorado State University

Public Lands History Center


Michael Childers, Ph.D.

Colorado State University

Public Lands History Center