“Plagued by Their Own Inventions” <i>Refmming the Technological Ruins of San Francisco, 1906–1909</i>

in Untimely Ruins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780226946634
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226946658 | DOI:
“Plagued by Their Own Inventions” Refmming the Technological Ruins of San Francisco, 1906–1909

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Photography has played a central role in the representation of both cities and ruins. No one can dispute the camera's prolific capacity to reproduce ruins in large quantities—especially those of modern wars and disasters. This is evident in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of April 1906. Through the medium of photography, the city's ruins were reproduced, circulated, and consumed. In “The Ruins of San Francisco,” a prospective history published in 1873, the California poet Bret Harte anticipated the destruction of the city by an earthquake, although he erred in the dating of the event. This article explores how a city like San Francisco was transformed by the introduction of new technologies of transportation, communication, and construction, as well as the provision of gas, electricity, water, and sewerage. These technologies rendered the city all the more vulnerable to an earthquake.

Keywords: photography; earthquake; fire; San Francisco; Bret Harte; technologies; transportation; construction; sewerage

Chapter.  17802 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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