“The Noble Spectacle”: Historical Walking Tours and Ethnic Slumming, 1890S–1915

Catherine Cocks

in Doing the Town

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780520227460
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520926493 | DOI:
“The Noble Spectacle”: Historical Walking Tours and Ethnic Slumming, 1890S–1915

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This chapter discusses the consolidation of a canonical narrative of the American past and the fostering of a distinctively American culture in the present that required defining which people and events were truly American. Choosing the appropriate ancestors and casting ethnic minorities as picturesque peasants, popular writers participated in the process, reshaping the way that Americans imagined and moved through their cities and, more broadly, their nation. The members of ethnic minorities found opportunities in the commodification of their cultures that often gave them ways to make a living and to retain some aspects of their own heritage. Occasionally the racialized notions of culture that supported slumming also offered a prominent, symbolic place in the local and national communities. Such were the ambiguous consequences of replacing the dream of “the tangible republic” with that of “the noble spectacle.”

Keywords: American culture; American past; American; heritage; tangible republic; noble spectacle

Chapter.  11408 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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