Bells ringing from a forest of steeples, horseshoes striking cobblestones, boat whistles in the harbor, Yiddische mamas scolding children from tenement windows. These are instantly recognizable noises that evoke a historical time and place, adding up to what today’s historians sometimes call a “soundscape.”
In today’s cities when the most characteristic sound may be the giant crash of falling brick walls as old buildings are demolished, soundscapes are a precious way of experiencing history outdoors. This heritage is particularly relevant in urban settings where so many layers of the city have gone missing. Continue reading
In Spring 2014, the New-York Historical Society will present a range of exhibitions that will examine New York City architecture, fashion and photography through the lens of the legendary Bill Cunningham; the early history of African American basketball before the dawn of the National Basketball Association; the second installment of Audubon’s Aviary, showcasing New-York Historical’s collection of Audubon watercolors; and an exhibition of quilts and textiles created during the Civil War. Continue reading
During the holiday season of 1945, a most unusual conversation was taking place in the Northern New York. It was a pivotal year in the twentieth century―history’s worst war had just ended, and an effort to prevent future wars had resulted in the formation of the United Nations, which officially came into being on October 24. The groundwork had been laid earlier in San Francisco, where delegates from fifty governments joined forces and drafted the original UN Charter.
The next order of business was to find a home for the new alliance, referred to widely then as the UNO (United Nations Organization). Since San Francisco hosted the charter conference, it was considered a favorite in the running. But as the process played out, northern New York was abuzz with the possibility of being chosen as permanent host. Continue reading
Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914 by Joseph J. Varga (Monthly Review Press, 2013) considers how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces through an examination of the famous Manhattan neighborhood during the “Progressive Era.”
Hell’s Kitchen is among Manhattan’s most storied and studied neighborhoods. A working-class district situated next to the West Side’s middle- and upper-class residential districts, it has long attracted the focus of artists and urban planners, writers and reformers. Now, Joseph Varga takes us on a tour of Hell’s Kitchen with an eye toward what we usually take for granted: space, and, particularly, how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces. Continue reading
In cultural studies the cosmic center refers to the meeting point between the heavens and the earth at the center of the universe. It often is associated with a high place perhaps in nature like a mountain or human-built like a ziggurat.
For the United States of America, New York City is the cosmic center, the crossroads of the universe, ground zero. But as New York prepares to ignore the 350th anniversary of when it became New York, it’s also appropriate to remember that when New York began as New Amsterdam, no one thought of it as a city on a hill. There is a story to tell of how it turned out that way. Continue reading
Drivers exiting the New Jersey Turnpike for Perth Amboy, and map readers marveling at all the places in Pennsylvania named Lackawanna, need no longer wonder how these names originated.
Manhattan to Minisink: American Place Names in Greater New York and Vicinity (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013) provides the histories of more than five hundred place names in the Greater New York area, including the five boroughs, western Long Island, the New York counties north of the city, and parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Robert S. Grumet, a leading ethnohistorian specializing in the region’s Indian peoples, draws on his meticulous research and deep knowledge to determine the origins of Native, and Native-sounding, place names. Continue reading
With nearly 49,000 people living in city shelters, including almost 21,000 children—a modern-day record that may well be broken—there has never been more of a need to step back and understand how New Yorkers have confronted poverty and homelessness over time.
The Poor Among Us: A History of Family Poverty and Homelessness in New York City (2013, White Tiger Press), puts current policies in perspective through the lens of nearly 300 years of public and philanthropic efforts to alleviate poverty in New York City. Continue reading
The Historic Districts Council, along with the Union Square Community Coalition (USCC) have been advocating for the designation of Tammany Hall for several years (USCC first asked for its designation in 1984). Finally, at the end of October the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate Tammany Hall an individual landmark Continue reading
Here’s a quick look at some of the latest New York history resources to hit the web:
The Bronx Zoo is digitizing three dozen scrapbooks of its first director, William Temple Hornaday (from 1896 to 1926). The work is being done with a grant from the Leon Levy Foundation. The zoo director promoted habitat preservation worldwide, and the scrapbooks include letters, postcards, legal briefs, newspaper clippings and pamphlets. His involvement in the infamous Ota Benga scandal in 1906 is not recorded. Hornaday died in 1937. The collection can be found at the Wildlife Conservation Society Library and Archives website. Continue reading
City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013) by urban politics historian Mason B. Williams is a loving exploration of the history of the New Deal and its role in the making of modern New York City.
The story of a remarkable collaboration between Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia, this is a case study in creative political leadership in the midst of a devastating depression. Roosevelt and La Guardia were an odd couple: patrician president and immigrant mayor, fireside chat and tabloid cartoon, pragmatic Democrat and reform Republican. But together, as leaders of America’s two largest governments in the depths of the Great Depression, they fashioned a route to recovery for the nation and the master plan for a great city. Continue reading
Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson (SUNY Press, 2011) is a candid account of the author Mike Freeman’s two-week canoe trip down the Hudson River which offers an introspective and humorous look at both the river and recession-era America.
New to fatherhood and fresh from ten years in an Alaskan village, Freeman sets out to relearn his country, and realizes it’s in a far greater midlife crisis than he could ever be. With an eye on the Hudson’s past, he addresses America’s present anxieties—from race, gender, and marriage to energy, labor, and warfare—with empathy and honesty, acknowledging the difficulties surrounding each issue without succumbing to pessimism or ideology. Continue reading
The annual guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan featuring the Great Crash of 1929, sponsored by the Museum of American Finance, will be held on Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 1 pm, (no tour in inclement weather).
This is the 26th anniversary of this unique tour, the only regularly-scheduled event that commemorates the Great Crash of 1929, the Panic of 1907 and the 1987 stock market collapse. It delves into the political, financial, real estate and architectural history of Wall Street and New York City. Continue reading
Affordable housing, historic preservation, and neighborhood organizations representing a cross-section of New Yorkers joined forces today to hold a press conference in front of the Real Estate Board of NY (REBNY) headquarters slamming what they say is the board’s recent campaign to paint landmarking as undermining New York City’s affordability, and the cause of a reduction in the economic and racial diversity of New York’s residents. Continue reading
One of the first battles of the American Revolution, the Battle of Brooklyn (a.k.a. the Battle of Long Island) took place on August 27, 1776 in what is now Western Brooklyn around Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery.
This Saturday the historic Districts Council of New York City is hosting a Battle of Brooklyn Scavenger Hunt, co-sponsored by the urban archaeology firm Chrysalis and Green-Wood Cemetery. Continue reading
Quietly, a line of singers circled a lone tree on the edge of the Harlem River, in the shadow of the 145th Street Bridge, late Sunday afternoon on September 29. The group swelled in numbers as the shadows lengthened. Hums, moans, soft cries and low tones began to form a chorus of spirit noises as the performance “Saved” got underway. Continue reading
Before 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment requiring the direct election of U.S. Senators went into effect, the state legislature elected them. In the pre-Seventeenth Amendment era, 150 years ago, one of the most tangled and acrimonious U.S. Senate elections took place.
The term of the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator, Preston King of Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, was set to expire on March 3, 1863. King sought reelection but powerful forces within the Republican Party led by the aging party boss Thurlow Weed and former U.S. Senator William H. Seward opposed King, as did the Democratic Party. King’s political fate would be decided by the newly elected 1863 legislature after it organized itself for business on January 6, 1863. Continue reading
The New York Times’s Op-Docs and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) have debuted an immersive, interactive multimedia series on urban highrise living. The series, “A Short History of the Highrise,” had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival and launches today on NYTimes.com.
The series unfolds in four short, interactive films that viewers can navigate using touch commands like swipe, pinch, pull and tap. On desktop and laptop computers, users can mouse over features and click to navigate. Smartphone users can view the four films via the New York Times Mobile Web site. Continue reading
The New-York Historical Society has announced eight fellowship recipients for the 2013-14 academic year. Leveraging its collections of documents, artifacts, and works of art documenting American history from the perspective of New York, New-York Historical fellowships provide scholars with material resources and an intellectual community to develop new research and publications that illuminate complex issues of the past. Continue reading
What were the consequences of the 1568 revolt which began in the Low Countries against the Habsburg Empire and lasted 80 years? People were displaced – some fleeing the ravages of war; others were fleeing religious persecution.
A disconnect from the Empire meant a disruption in normal commercial activity. Markets and waters once friendly turned hostile. Trading companies eventually replaced the former commercial routes and exploration for new routes and markets was undertaken. On October 5th in New York City five Dutch and Belgian speakers will give illustrated lectures about the effects of this revolt on the Low Countries and the settlement of North America. Continue reading
On September 29, 2013 a walking tour of lower Manhattan which traces Jewish history will celebrate “Arrival Day”, the day in 1654 that Jews first landed in North America.
The tour begins at the flagpole in Peter Minuit Park near the Staten Island ferry that commemorates the arrival in 1654 of 23 Jews in Lower Manhattan (then New Amsterdam) after a harrowing journey from Recife Brazil. Continue reading