The History of New York City
New York City is a city of superlatives. It is the city of seemingly limitless possibility and potential, a theme applied to culture, innovation, opportunity, development, immigration, and public life. New York sets a global example for urban culture, business, and politics, but at the same time is exemplary and unique. This class will explore the history of these superlatives and contradictions. To begin, we will consider the 1600s establishment of New York as New Amsterdam, Dutch and Native American relations, and the creation of the city, examining urban design and civil culture into the early 1800s. The second section of the course will explore the nineteenth century city. In 1800 New York was a small colonial seaport at the tip of Manhattan Island. By 1898 New York City spanned not just Manhattan but the four outer boroughs as the nation’s largest city. How did this transformation occur? What was it like to live in this growing city? To govern it? The third section of the course charts the modernization of the urban city. We will approach the late 19th and early 20th century as a period of great reform, a moment of hopeful investments in urban infrastructure, political reform, and social uplift. The final section of the class will consider New York during the urban crisis and the redevelopment of urban infrastructure, civil life, and culture at the turn of the 21st century. To understand the future of the city requires a consideration of the debates surrounding urban “blight” and urban renewal, the racialization of poverty, and gentrification. The ideas of culture and urban life, diversity and inequality, politics, and urban design will unite these sections.
The History of Queens: A History of New York from the Outer Boroughs
New York City is more than Manhattan Island. Since 1898, Greater New York has been made up of five boroughs: New York on Manhattan, the Bronx on the mainland, Brooklyn and Queens on Long Island, and Staten Island. This course takes on the task of exploring beyond Manhattan to consider the spaces of the periphery and the people there who contributed to the shaping of the regional city. The multi-layered history of the outer boroughs is a microcosm of America, an opportunity to study the linkages between race, ethnicity, class, and industrial growth in the city’s historical growth and its contemporary identity. Queens is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten borough.” The borough has a rich history, but beyond local narratives, its story remains largely unwritten. Drawing on literature and archival materials such as maps, images, diaries, newspapers, and government documents, in this class students will create original scholarly research on the history of Queens. To explore this tension between the city center and outer boroughs, topics for this course will include but will not be limited to colonial agricultural communities, suburbanization of the outer boroughs, the evolution of urban governance, the expansion of urban infrastructure (parks, bridges, highways, and water systems) as a process of modernization and urban imperialism, urban planning and suburban designs, the role of leisure in the development of the urban fringe, diversity, race, and immigrant identity in local community life, and the post-WWII urban ghetto and gentrification.
Also taught as Hist 786: The American Urban Environment, 1830–1930
Nature and the City: U.S. Urban Environmental History
Americans often think of cities as places without nature, and nature is often defined as the antithesis of urban spaces. This course challenges this assumption, drawing on scholarship from the growing field of urban environmental history to uncover the interconnections between urban America and the natural world. We will explore the process of urbanization, one of the fundamental themes of American history, to examine how nature and cities have shaped one another. Readings and discussion topics will survey urban spaces in the nation across space and time, include the role nature played in the situating of cities across North America; colonial and nineteenth-century cultural reactions to urbanization; the social and economic relationships between cities and their hinterlands; the debates around public parks, pollution, and public health; and gentrification and the urban environmental justice movement. The goal of this course is to investigate how American society has drawn upon nature to build and sustain urban growth, and, in the process, transformed the natural world and ideas about it.
Also taught as Hist 777.1: The City in American History since 1890
History of the American City
This course provides a comprehensive overview of the development of the American city and its impact on society, culture, ethnicity, race and gender relations, economics, and politics. We will examine the geography of cities, the social and cultural patterns of urban life, and the impact of class, race, gender, and ethnicity on the urban experience. The course will ask the following questions: What makes urban life unique? What is the role of the city in American culture? Should a city be defined by its geography, its population, or its cultural institutions? How are public and private spaces defined in an urban environment? What makes a successful city? What does it mean to say a city has failed? To address such questions and themes course topics will include, but are not limited to: infrastructure (bridges, tunnels, subways, parks, streets, sewers); migration and immigration; urban design; health in the city; preservation and development; planning and replanning; ideas of urban decline; tourism and leisure; and the use of public space.