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158 CanadianReview of AmericanStudies Revuecanadienned etudesamericaines an artist sought to communicate themes and ideas by means of defined and understood representations. On the other hand, the science of phrenology, applied to all aspects of physical appearance, underlay a platform for practical application and reform. Beauty, for instance, became an ideal towards which one could aspire by the development of specific faculties or adherence to certain habits. Beauty, however, was also an indicator of individual character; properly diagnosed by the tools of phrenological knowledge, beauty would provide a more certain knowledge of interpersonal interactions. A Measure of Perfection enriches our understanding of phrenology as a viable scientific alternative and as a justification for social and institutional reforms. Today, however, phrenology enjoys the status of rejected knowledge ; we no longer attempt to delineate natural causes behind mental phenomenon according to the shape and size of the skull or to impute moral qualities by the disposition of our anatomy. Thus, the views held and expressed by many of Colbert's case studies seem strange and foreign to us. Indeed, it is the very foreignness of these views which enables us to identify the diffusion of phrenological principles within American society generally, not as a marginal or suspect philosophy, but as part of a positive and proactive program. Colbert has penetrated the arts of antebellum America in an attempt to understand the specific meanings which that society placed on its own culture. Readers who believe, as I do, that history should understand the ideas, events, motives, and personal interactions that contributed to the construction of individual creative expressions of a culture, will almost certainly find much of value in this work. Susan McMahon University of Alberta Mary Ryan. Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City During the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Pp. xii + 340 and bibliography and illustrations. Mary Ryan has written an engaging study of the cultural topography of three American cities-New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco-during the nineteenth century. Beyond offering engrossing vignettes of public life in Book Reviews 159 these cities, Ryan reveals how Americans in the past fashioned a civic culture that enabled them to live together in "a world of obstinate differences" (194). She begins by depicting the civic mingling that was inevitable in teeming antebellum cities. She dismisses the depiction of the residents of the era's ballooning cities as atomized, innately suspicious populations. Quite to the contrary. In New Orleans, for instance, a kaleidoscopic array of Choctaws, African Americans, and French, German, Irish, and Anglo-Americans jostled each other in the city's public spaces. Not only did the cities' complex populations mix in urban spaces, but they also acquired a civic education there. Whether in the form of funeral processions, festivities commemorating important events, or electoral politics, a wide array of civic rituals allowed antebellum city dwellers to claim and exercise their "civic citizenship." Such pageantry proclaimed a surprising tolerance for diverse social identities. Even though African Americans and women were excluded from full and equal participation in this urban public culture, Ryan still insists that "a kind of ramshackle civility," whether unconscious or begrudging, emerged. She observes that, "in cultural performances that privileged the organized display of a multiplicity of differences, antebellum city people had created their own distinctive language of public life" (93). This era of comparatively benign tumult gave way after roughly 1850 to a period of destructive "civic wars." The earlier, informal system of urban regulation gave way to more intrusive methods of control. The vigilante committees in San Francisco during the 1850s demonstrated this new and conspicuous intolerance for difference. Secretive politics replaced the previous public rituals of "meeting-place democracy." The "public," for instance , that participated in the "People's Committee" and the subsequent "People's Party" was (contrary to their proclaimed inclusiveness) defined by specific ethnic, religious, and class allegiances. Here, according to Ryan, was a precursor of the erosion of "corporate publicness" that subsequently occurred elsewhere in urban America. Bythe end of the 1860s, hierarchical and abstract distinctions in status and power, culminating in "a private homogeneous style of politics," were evident throughout urban America (151). These profound...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 158-161
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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