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City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York

Overview

Cultural historian David Henkin explores the influential but little-noticed role played by reading in New York City's public life between 1825 and 1865. From the opening of the Erie Canal to the end of the Civil War, New York became a metropolis, and demographic, economic, and physical changes erased the old markers of continuity and order. As New York became a crowded city of strangers, everyday encounters with impersonal signs, papers, and bank notes altered people's perceptions of connectedness to the new ...

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Overview

Cultural historian David Henkin explores the influential but little-noticed role played by reading in New York City's public life between 1825 and 1865. From the opening of the Erie Canal to the end of the Civil War, New York became a metropolis, and demographic, economic, and physical changes erased the old markers of continuity and order. As New York became a crowded city of strangers, everyday encounters with impersonal signs, papers, and bank notes altered people's perceptions of connectedness to the new world they lived in. The 'ubiquitous urban texts'--from newspapers to paper money, from street signs to handbills--became both indispensable urban guides and apt symbols for a new kind of public life that emerged first in New York. City Reading focuses on four principal categories of public reading: street signs and store signs; handbills and trade cards; newspapers; and paper money. Drawing on a wealth of visual sources and written texts that document the changing cityscape--including novels, diaries, newspapers, municipal guides, and government records--Henkin shows that public acts of reading (to a much greater extent than private, solitary reading) determined how New Yorkers of all backgrounds came to define themselves and their urban community.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of the Early Republic - Konstantin Dierks

A strikingly original account of a new kind of literacy in mid-nineteenth century New York City.

Journal of the Early Republic
A strikingly original account of a new kind of literacy in mid-nineteenth century New York City.

— Konstantin Dierks

Jonathan Prude
Ingenious, imaginative, and thoroughly intelligent, City Reading is an admirable achievement. Focusing on sources ranging from advertising signs and posters to newspapers, banners, and paper currency, Henkin grapples not just with the content of these 'public´ texts but also with how such word-filled materials were experienced by city dwellers who found them passing daily before their eyes and through their hands.
Elizabeth Blackmar
City Reading is great fun to read, and it is full of fresh and insightful observations on how New Yorkers 'read´ their city through a remarkable variety of public texts -outdoor signs, billboards and handbills, newspapers, and currency -in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Thorin Tritter
David Henkin has written an excellent book that draws attention to several important aspects of antebellum New York that are all too easy to overlook.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231107457
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 12/16/1998
  • Series: Popular Cultures, Everyday Lives Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,139,629
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

David Henkin is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Public Reading, Public SpaceBrick, Paper, and the Spectacle of Urban Growth: The Rise of a New MetropolisCommerical Impudence and the Dictatorship of the Perpendicular: Signs of the CityWord on the Streets: Bills, Boards, and BannersPrint in Public, Public in Print: The Rise of the Daily PaperPromiscuous Circulation: The Case of Paper MoneyEpilogue: Words of War

Columbia University Press

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