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NEW DIRECTIONS IN AMERICAN URBANHISTORY Howard Gillette Jr. and Zane L. Miller, eds. American Urbanism:A Historiographical Review. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. vi+ 328 pp. Patricia Mooney Melvin. TheOrganicCity:UrbanDefinitionand Community Organization,1880-1920.Lexington: University Press of Kentuck]', 1987. xii + 227 pp. Philip Abbott. SeekingMany Im•entions:TheIdeaof Communityin America. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987. x + 214 pp. R.A. Ruthcrdale As a distinct field of inquiry, American urban history is now reaching a point at which many contributors are pausing to reflect on what has been accomplished in the field and on what new directions need to be established. As Howard Gillette Jr. points out in his introduction to our first selection in this review, "Central to the timing of this book is the transitional nature of urban history as a distinctive field of study"(l). And yet, from the time of its dramatic growth in the 1960s, American urban historiography has always been in a state of transition. Innovative methodologies and theories are still being advanced by those on the forefront of pioneering efforts. But despite the multiplicity of hypotheses, directions and conclusions which were pursued in the 1970s, most urban historians felt increasingly secure about the legitimacy of their collective endeavour as the decade progressed. The birth in 1974 of the Journal of Urban History, the numerous serial publications in urban studies launched by academic presses, and the advent of a variety of university programs in the field all seemed to be more than hopeful signs. Urban historians were already consolidating their positions and gathering into rival schools of thought. Back in 1971,when Stephan Thernstrom boldly challenged the very legitimacy of urban studies, his voice stood out as one of lonely dissent. But now, it appears, the academic consolidation which urban history achieved in the 1970s is facing formidable criticism from several fronts. Notable practitioners such as Theodore Hershberg of the oncethriving Philadelphia History Project, or Sam Bass Warner Jr., who formerly was dedicated to the reformist potential of urban history, have reached hlcak 90 RA. Rutherdale conclusions concerning the survival of their respective approaches. Stephan Thernstrom's critique is no longer quite so isolated. But this new collection of fourteen essays has not been compiled to examine a sub-discipline entering a period of crisis or decline; instead, these articles serve to identify, through their retrospective examinations of past work, new methodological and ideological directions for American urban historiography. The authors' respective messages strike an optimistic chord. Their advocacy of new interpretative approaches seeks to build on past accomplishments rather than to abandon failed efforts. Overarching themes in the evolvingliterature of culture, ethnicity and class are pursued in many of these essays, though studies concerned with the interplay or urban core, suburban periphery and neighborhood community are examined, along with developmental approaches to urban geography and trends in architectural historiography. Alan I. Marcus opens this collection with a critique of what he sees as an unwarranted tendency among many contemporary urban historians, schooled in socio-historical concepts, to view cities as heuristic "systems of peoples and places" rather than "networks of social forces" peculiar to a given historical period and place. A new consensus in urban historiography has emerged, Marcus argues, based on models of environmental determinism developed in the social sciences rather than in terms of the prevailing culture and ideas found in the respective historical settings of individual cities. Marcus's caution against arbitrarily imposing on America's urban past interpretative frameworks developed since the mid-twentieth century is brought into sharper focus in Howard Gillette Jr.'s contribution. Gillette explores how historians have employed tools of literary criticism as well as those of cultural anthropology to explore the role of cities in American culture. While both approaches have assumed that cities provide the prime focus for cultural advance, these particular methodologies, he points out, have thus far failed to inform one another. But despite the distance Gillette perceives between historians who draw on literature and those who employ cultural anthropology, it is still possible to identify separate intellectual paradigms which have united most work on ethnic cultures in American cities dating back to the late nineteenth century. In her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 89-98
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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