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Posts Tagged ‘New York City

“History is what we choose to remember”*…

In the mid-1940s, Edmund S. Morgan, a mild-mannered young historian, was teaching at Brown and making a name in the quiet field of early American studies. Having published a slim, well-received collection of essays on the New England Puritans, he might have seemed the very model of the unassuming scholar at the outset of a modest career, satisfied to refine the work of great forebears in a narrow field. That wasn’t Edmund Morgan. The Second World War was over. The United States was developing an energetic vision, which would come to fruition in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy, of its new global leadership role. In keeping with that vision, Morgan launched a bold new interpretation of the nation’s founding.

Throwing out elder historians’ prevailing focus on the founding generation’s self-interest (Clarence Alvord had said that George Washington became a patriot to defend speculations in Indian land) and on its class conflicts (Carl Becker had said that the Revolution was not only over British rule but also over the rule of elite Americans), Morgan sought to identify the grand principles that the revolutionary generation agreed on. “What the colonists had to say about Parliamentary power and about their own rights deserved to be taken seriously,” he explained later.

As the U.S. began to exercise new power around the world, Morgan set out to show that the protests in the 1760s and ’70s against the Stamp Act and other British policies offered slam-dunk evidence of a founding American consensus on principles of rights. Inherent to the American character, that consensus unified the colonists, he said, inspired the Revolution, and brought about the United States. In the larger context of his work, and the work of similarly minded colleagues, the lesson was that the founding American commitment to rights persisted in postwar U.S. commitments to modern liberal democracy.

The impact of this interpretation was by no means limited to the late 1940s and the 1950s. Historians who built out what Morgan largely began—what became known as the consensus approach—turned early American history into a booming field and made big names for themselves. Born about a century ago, in Morgan’s generation, were Douglass Adair, Daniel Boorstin, Richard Hofstadter, Forrest McDonald, and Bernard Bailyn. Born in succeeding decades were Pauline Maier, Gordon Wood, Carol Berkin, Sean Wilentz, and Akhil Reed Amar, among others. As dissertation advisers for scores of scholars, many of them have held great sway in their profession.

Even more striking is their success in shaping conceptions of the American founding widely held among the American public. That power and some of its complications were seen in recent controversies involving two of the younger members of the group (though not young anymore), Wood and Wilentz. In late 2019, Wilentz organized a letter, also signed by Wood and three other historians, criticizing The New York Times Magazine’s much-discussed 1619 Project, which frames slavery, racism, and Black Americans’ struggles for equality as the key drivers of American history. The signers said the 1619 Project ignored objective historical fact and was steeped in politically influenced bias. In early 2020, Wilentz followed up with an essay in The Atlantic whose title put the issue bluntly: “A Matter of Facts.” Because these objections to the 1619 Project were made not on the basis of a competing framework but on the basis of plain fact revealed by deep expertise, they struck many readers as insurmountable on their face.

That’s how consensus history works. Anyone hoping to explore the depths of America’s not-so-consensus-filled past will run into this presumption, on the part of widely respected scholars, of their superior objectivity as a basis for higher authority. The roots of that presumption can be found in the approach launched by Edmund Morgan about 70 years ago…

William Hogeland (@WilliamHogeland) explains how not to learn about the American past: “Against the Consensus Approach to History.” Eminently worthy of reading in full (soft pay-wall).

* “In fact, the past is not history, but a much vaster region of the dead, gone, unknowable, or forgotten. History is what we choose to remember, and we have no alternative but to do our choosing now.” -Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph J. Ellis

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As we ponder our past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1653 that a Dutch settlement on the southern tip of Manhattan Island was incorporated as New Amsterdam. It became the seat of the colonial government in New Netherland… and in 1664, after the English took over from the Dutch, New York City.

The Castello Plan, a 1660 map of New Amsterdam (the top right corner is roughly north). The fort gave The Battery its name, the large street going from the fort past the wall became Broadway, and the city wall (right) possibly gave Wall Street its name.

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Happy Groundhog Day!

“Simple pleasures are the last healthy refuge in a complex world”*…

“The bench was comfortable, big broad arms, the seat was a good height and had a subtle curve, a great base, a plaque and a wonderful view. It’s a a very solid 7/10.”

Everybody has a hobby. It can be anything as simple as collecting coins or stamps, partaking in certain sports, whether as a player or a spectator, or even cosplaying, but it can also be a bit more uncommon, like trainspotting, collecting pictures of doors, and rating benches.

Never heard of the last one? Well, then meet Samuel Wilmot, a 23-year-old recruiter from Bristol, England with an educational background in history studies who spends much of his time rating the various benches found around the UK on Instagram…

More at “This Guy Rates Benches All Around The UK And The Reviews Are Spot-On,” and at Samuel’s Instagram feed.

* Oscar Wilde

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As we lean back, we might recall that on this date in 2012 New York City recorded no incidents of murder, shooting, stabbing, or other violent crime through the entire (24 hour) day.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The car has become an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete in the urban compound”*…

 

Langdon Clay spent two years in the 1970s roaming the streets of the Big Apple at night, photographing parked and abandoned cars.  See more of the results at “Eerie portraits of cars in 1970s New York.”

* Marshall McLuhan

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As we slip behind the wheel, we might recall that it was on this date in 1921 that Thomas Midgley Jr., then a young engineer at General Motors, discovered that, when added to gasoline, a compound called tetraethyl lead (TEL) eliminated the unpleasant noises (known as “knock” or “pinging”) that internal-combustion engines made when they ran.  Midgley could scarcely have imagined the consequences of his discovery: for more than five decades, oil companies saturated the gasoline they sold with lead– a deadly poison.

(Resonantly, 13 years later Midgley led the team that developed chlorofluorocarbons [CFCs]– specifically, Freon– for use in refrigeration [and ultimately, air conditioning and aerosols].  Like the lead additive, CFCs were celebrated in their time…  but later banned for their contributions to climate change.)

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December 9, 2016 at 1:01 am

“To face the sunlight again, that’s clearly trouble. I like the city better when the neon lights are going”*…

 

Like scenes from a modern noir film, Frank Bohbot’s images of New York City conjure up allure and heartbreak. The Paris-born photographer spent 18 months capturing nighttime scenes across Manhattan and Brooklyn, and has compiled them into a project dubbed Light On.

Bohbot’s work is first and foremost a study in signage, and features many instantly-recognizable storefronts including Katz’s Deli and the Sunshine Cinema, but pay attention to each frame’s shadows and open space. Light On isn’t just focused with dazzling neon—it’s also a study of snowstorms, puddles, fire escapes, and, occasionally, people. It’s as if you gave William Eggleston an unlimited Metrocard and forced him to stay up all night.

There are jazz clubs, delis, porn shops, theaters, and a wide variety of bars featured in his photographs, each captured after the sun has gone down and only moody, unnatural light remains…

More at “Photos Bring NYC’s Neon Nights To Life,” and at Bohbot’s website.

* Charles Bukowski, Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame

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As we refuse to go gentle into that good night, we might recall that it was on this date in 1891 that Carnegie Hall was officially opened.  First know simply as “Music Hall,” it was formally named for it’s funder, Andrew Carnegie, in 1893.

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

A: Practice, practice practice…

Carnegie Hall in 1895

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Carnegie Hall today

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected”*…

Just one of the scores of maps available at the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab’s Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States.

And as a (more global) bonus: Edward Quin’s 1830 Historical Atlas in a Series of Maps of the World as Known at Different Periods, with an Historical Narrative, featuring 21 plates that visually depicted what Quin called “the world as known at different periods.”  Dramatic clouds cover the “unknown,” rolling back slowly as time moves on.

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Click the image above or here for an enlarged and animated version of the  GIF that runs through the plates in sequence, from 2348 B.C., “The Deluge” (Quin, not unusually for his time period, was a Biblical literalist) through A.D. 1828, “End of the General Peace.”

* Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

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As we travel through time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1861 that New York City Mayor Fernando Wood, a “Copperhead” (sympathizer of the incipient Confederate cause), suggested to the New York City Council that New York secede and declare itself a free city, to continue its profitable cotton trade with the Confederacy.  Wood’s Democratic machine was concerned to maintain the revenues (which depended on Southern cotton) that maintained the patronage that provided its electoral margins.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 6, 2014 at 1:01 am

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