“Even Eden, you know, ain't all built”: <i>Paper Cities, British Investors, and the Ruins of Cairo, Illinois</i>, 1837–1844

in Untimely Ruins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780226946634
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226946658 | DOI:
“Even Eden, you know, ain't all built”: Paper Cities, British Investors, and the Ruins of Cairo, Illinois, 1837–1844

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Cairo, one of many town speculations of the 1830s commonly known as “paper cities,” is a classic example of a town in decline. It was at Cairo that Charles Dickens abandoned whatever hopes he still had for the American democratic project. Situated at the confluence of two regularly overflowing rivers, the Ohio and the Mississippi, Cairo's failure could easily be attributed to the natural forces of flooding. Contemporaries, however, link the untimely ruins of such “paper cities” to the larger social and economic forces shaping the American urban frontier. This article argues that Cairo and its fellow paper cities fell victim to the whims of British investors and the instability of American banks and paper money. It examines the various interpretations of Cairo's ruins to expose the contingencies and contradictions that appeared to mark the process of urban growth throughout America. The article also considers Dickens's economic geography of America, focusing on the role of boosters, banks, and bank notes.

Keywords: Cairo; paper cities; Charles Dickens; economic geography; America; investors; banks; bank notes; urban growth

Chapter.  16144 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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