Chapter

Introduction of Light Bulbs and Bathtubs: Excavating the Modern City

in Untimely Ruins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780226946634
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226946658 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226946658.003.0001
Introduction of Light Bulbs and Bathtubs: Excavating the Modern City

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During the early twenty-first century, visions of an American city in ruins served as a stock backdrop to post-apocalyptic science-fiction cinema, novels, video games, and comics. This book explores the distinctive urban imaginary of dereliction and decay in its period of emergence: in the nineteenth century. Ruins were ubiquitous across diverse cultures and landscapes of the United States during this period. Desolation, whether imagined or actual, had many causes. Ruins could be the outcome of natural forces, man-made activities, or economic in origin. This book argues that visions of modern cities in ruins were not necessarily expressions of cultural pessimism or nihilism, or even of antipathy toward modernity or urbanism as such. It describes “inland cities” in New York such as Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo that rose up along the Erie Canal. It also examines the radical transformations of urban space within antebellum Manhattan, how a city like San Francisco was transformed and simultaneously rendered vulnerable to earthquakes, and the birth of skyscrapers in New York City.

Keywords: ruins; dereliction; decay; desolation; cities; modernity; Manhattan; skyscrapers; San Francisco; New York City

Chapter.  7194 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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