Pub. Date:
University of Chicago Press
Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of American Urban Modernity, 1819-1919

Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of American Urban Modernity, 1819-1919

by Nick Yablon
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American ruins have become increasingly prominent, whether in discussions of  “urban blight” and home foreclosures, in commemorations of 9/11, or in postapocalyptic movies. In this highly original book, Nick Yablon argues that the association between American cities and ruins dates back to a much earlier period in the nation’s history. Recovering numerous scenes of urban desolation—from failed banks, abandoned towns, and dilapidated tenements to the crumbling skyscrapers and bridges envisioned in science fiction and cartoons—Untimely Ruins challenges the myth that ruins were absent or insignificant objects in nineteenth-century America.

The first book to document an American cult of the ruin, Untimely Ruins traces its deviations as well as derivations from European conventions. Unlike classical and Gothic ruins, which decayed gracefully over centuries and inspired philosophical meditations about the fate of civilizations, America’s ruins were often “untimely,” appearing unpredictably and disappearing before they could accrue an aura of age. As modern ruins of steel and iron, they stimulated critical reflections about contemporary cities, and the unfamiliar kinds of experience they enabled. Unearthing evocative sources everywhere from the archives of amateur photographers to the contents of time-capsules, Untimely Ruins exposes crucial debates about the economic, technological, and cultural transformations known as urban modernity. The result is a fascinating cultural history that uncovers fresh perspectives on the American city.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226946634
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 02/01/2010
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Nick Yablon is associate professor of American studies at the University of Iowa.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations




Of Light Bulbs and Bathtubs: Excavating the Modern City

1 Crumbling Columns and Day-Old Ruins:

Specters of Antiquity on the American Grand Tour, 1819–1837

2 "Even Eden, you know, ain’t all built":

Paper Cities, British Investors, and the Ruins of Cairo, Illinois, 1837–1844

3 The Petrified City:

Antiquity and Modernity in Melville’s New York, 1835–1865

4 Relapsing into Barbarism:

Labor, Ethnicity, and Ruin in Prospective Histories of Urban America, 1865–1906

5 "Plagued By Their Own Inventions":

Reframing the Technological Ruins of San Francisco, 1906–1909

6 The Metropolitan Life in Ruins:

Architectural and Fictional Speculations in New York, 1893–1919


Toward the Posthuman Ruin



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