Life Was Doing Something New: The Making of the American Metropolis, 1870-1920 Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Culbertson, Graham
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This dissertation seeks to shed new light on the moment in American history when the U.S. became an urban nation. To that end, it marshals a diverse range of thinkers - including Henry Adams, Frederick Douglass, Daniel Burnham, Edith Wharton, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jacob Riis, William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser, and Jane Addams - all of whom investigated the processes which shaped the cities in this era. The central conflict that emerges is the tension between rational planning and unpredictable evolutionary forces. Many of those who wrote about American cities in the Gilded and Progressive Ages chose to emphasize one isolated extreme - either the controllable nature of cities or the chaotic manner of their growth - while others sought to synthesize them. In each of the three major American cities that I have chosen to survey - Washington, D.C.; New York; and Chicago - this tension exists: the interplay between the unregulated flows of economic, political, and social capital and the various attempts to impose order on them. Expanding upon such historicist work as Walter Benn Michaels's The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism and Jennifer Fleissner's Women, Compulsion, Modernity, Life Was Doing Something New provides an interdisciplinary account of the birth of the American city, one that reveals the hitherto unrecognized ways realism and naturalism participated in larger debates about the new, industrial America and the forces shaping it.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • McGowan, John
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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