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Capital Speculations: Writing and Building Washington, D.C.

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Overview

In this lively study, Sarah Luria pursues the vital political connection between architecture and literature in the formation in 1791 of America’s grand new capital city. City planners believed that designing Washington, D.C. as a physical model of the Constitution and its balance of powers would help citizens bond with the newly created nation. Although wildly ambitious, this design was made feasible through financial speculation. Dazzled by the plans for an “American Rome,” citizens would buy up its empty lots and make the nation’s capital their home. Luria demonstrates how political and financial speculation combined to build Washington and, once established, how the capital became a stage for the visions of subsequent reformers.

Luria examines five political reformers and the Washington sites they used to promote their ideas: George Washington and the design of the “Federal City”; Abraham Lincoln and the enlargement of the Capitol dome during the Civil War; Walt Whitman and the capital’s Civil War hospitals; Frederick Douglass and his impressive estate overlooking the Capitol; and Henry Adams and the double house that he built with poet-statesman John Hay on Lafayette Square. Although each author’s work describes a different dynamic relationship between text and physical space, all five combine political speculation and marketplace psychology. They construct their visions and attract investment in them through their novelty, boldness, and extravagant scale.

Clarifying the dynamic relations among discourse, economics, politics, and the built environment, Luria’s book demonstrates how keenly architectural history is interwoven into American literary and political life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“One of the most lively and engaging books now available about Washington's urban design, architecture and interior spaces... Capital Speculations is the successful fruit of a cross-disciplinary approach to writing about place that draws on everything from literature to politics to paintings and maps... Capital Speculations has the potential to change several of the academic fields in which Luria is conversant.” —The Washington Post

"Luria deftly conceptualizes the politics of circulation as expressed in roads, canals, and railroads, extending that concept to the cast-iron Capitol dome constructed during the Civil War, Whitman's nationalistic poetry, and Lincoln's unifying political rhetoric."—Journal of American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781584655022
  • Publisher: University of New Hampshire Press
  • Publication date: 11/4/2005
  • Series: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,420,367
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

SARAH LURIA is Assistant Professor of English at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
The Politics of Circulation
George Washington’s Romance: Plotting the Federal City, 1791–1800
The Poetry of Internal Improvements: Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman in Civil War Washington
Models of National Domesticity
A House United: Frederick Douglass’s Interracial Domesticity during Reconstruction
Democracy’s Church: The Hay-Adams Houses during the Gilded Age
Epilogue
Notes
Works Cited
Index

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