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Jacob Riis's famed 1890 photo-text addressed the problems of tenement housing, immigration, and urban life and work at the beginning of the Progressive era. David Leviatin edited this complete edition of How the Other Half Lives to be as faithful to Riis's original text and photography as possible. Uncropped prints of Riis's original photographs replace the faded halftones and drawings from photographs that were included in the 1890 edition. Related documents added to the second edition include a stenographic report of one of Riis's lantern-slide lectures that demonstrates Riis's melodramatic techniques and the reaction of his audience, and five drawings that reveal the subtle but important ways Riis's photographs were edited when they were reinterpreted as illustrations in the 1890 edition. The book's provocative introduction now addresses Riis's ethnic and racial stereotyping and includes a map of New York's Lower East Side in the 1890s. A new list of illustrations and expanded chronology, questions for consideration, and selected bibliography provide additional support.
A Note about the Text and Images
List of Map and Illustrations
PART ONE. INTRODUCTION: Framing the Poor – The Irresistibility of How the Other Half Lives
The Flash: Jacob Riis Discovers Light
The American Scene: The Search for Order
How the Other Half Looks: Interpreting Riis’s View of Poverty
How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York
PART THREE. RELATED DOCUMENTS
1. Jacob A. Riis, The Other Half and How They Live: Story in Pictures, November 9, 1891
2. Six Illustrations from the 1890 Edition of How the Other Half Lives
A Jacob A. Riis Chronology (1849–1923)
Questions for Consideration
Posted October 2, 2006
Christian builder¿s cry: ¿How shall the love of God be understood by those who have been nurtured in sight only of the greed of man¿ (Riss, J., 1997. p. 198)? This book is written by Jacob A. Riis with introduction and notes by Luc Sante. The main theme of this book is the pervasive exploitation of thousands by a few greedy men. Riis blatantly describes the stark heinous ways and methods by which men prey upon those who are less educated, fortunate, and ignorant. He delves into the naked truth of the depth of depravity by which the lives of thousands are trapped in a hopelessly dark vicious cycle of suffering and struggles for meager wages, and living conditions within the walls of tenement buildings which stand between hell and death. In chapter 3, titled, The Mixed Crowd, Riis also describes the many ethnic groups who quickly learn that the evil they fled from in their native lands, stalks freely unrestrained in America. They are preyed upon for they are easily deceived and hooked by even their own fellow countrymen who slyly make their fortunes without the least acknowledgment of the evilness they perpetuate. Walter Isaacson in Benjamin Franklin An American Life motivates and inspires his readers to take actions to improve the life of the common men. Riis also motivates his readers to acknowledge the wickedness and greed by a few men of power. Riis exposes the plight of those who are uneducated, uninformed, and thus are easily exploited and preyed upon. Riis and Benjamin Franklin both clearly appear to acknowledge the importance of knowledge and the exposing of a few elite men who control the lives of ¿common men¿. The passion to arrest the treachery brought on by greed for money, fame, and control by exposing through print is shared by Riis and Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin was motivated to make life better, for the prevalence of freedom and exposition of corruption in government and the elite class. Riis, one could easily claim, had the same utopian mindset that we have studied and discussed thus far in this ¿Adult Education Movement¿ course. Utopian views and goals encompass the importance of equal opportunities and rights of every American to be able to be free to pursue steps to self preservation, self improvement, and success unfettered by all that is evil, unjust, and corrupt. In the introduction, the authors purpose for writing, How the Other Half Lives, is clearly stated: ¿The books immediate mission was to take on the willed ignorance of the middle and upper classes, who knew that there was human misery in their city but preferred to believe that it was deserved, perhaps even chosen, by its victims ¿(Riis, J. & Sante, L., 1997. x). Riis has blatantly described the plight of emigrants who flocked to the shores of New York in the early 18-19 century in hopes of a better life: ¿ the poorest immigrant comes here with the purpose and ambition to better himself and, given half a chance, might be reasonably expected to make the most of it¿ (Riis, `1997, p. 23). Riis has been very successful in his purpose for writing this vividly exposing book. Like Benjamin Franklin, he too understands the power of ¿printing¿ as an effective way to educate the general public. Riis does not leave the reader with the sense of total helplessness of the state of New York cities tenement residents: In chapter 25, titled, How the Case Stands, Riis presents: Three effective ways of dealing with the tenements in New York: 1. By law, 2. By remodeling and making the most out of the old houses, 3. By building new, model tenements (Riis, 1997, p. 210). These solutions were gradually incorporated in a movement for reform. My personal reaction to this book initially was of immense sadness. Reading about the evil dark actions of men against men did not surprise me. What grieved me the most was the very absence of compassion or kindness, the inhuman living conditions, and the coldhearted exploitation of the poor a
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