Welcome to Gotham
Gotham – The History of New York
Youthful by historic standards, New York is in many ways the “oldest” modern city in the world – a kind of laboratory where modern urban civilization was invented. And this experiment, creating the urban future, continues today.
The story of Gotham begins with a small Dutch trading post established in the early 17th century and we will take the story to New York’s emergence as the world’s most powerful and influential city after World War II. In between we examine New York City’s development and transformation through the Colonial, Revolutionary and Early National periods, followed by the first urban revolution (1825-1865), and then the post-Civil War “Gilded Age” (1865-1898), an era characterized by massive urbanization and industrialization, driven by unprecedented levels of immigration. From 1886 to 1924 New York expanded at a pace and magnitude probably never equaled anywhere, before or since, and became in a very real way the capital of the modern world. The twentieth century also brought with it a panoply of new social problems – a city of incredible contrasts, unprecedented concentrations of wealth and privilege existing side by side with equally unprecedented urban squalor and poverty. This is the world of modern urbanism described vividly in Kenneth Baker’s Dreamland.
It was left to following generations of New Yorkers to address these problems. We start with the progressives during period 1898-1916, who conceived of and struggled for an alternative model of urban life, a new kind of urban society, culture and model of governance. The progressives, including the founder of our school, Elisabeth Irwin, tried out new norms and tested new boundaries of urban existence. They created an urban culture that reflected, and influenced, the entire world, new variations on urban style, two of which we’ll look at closely: Greenwich Village and Harlem. Finally we will encounter the New York of the Great Depression and World War II and its aftermath. During this period, the 1950s and ‘60s, when, ironically, New York had reached the pinnacle of its world influence economically and politically, the pendulum swung, and what many began to call “the urban dilemma” produced new reactions and new solutions to the challenges of urban life.
The basic text the for the class is Ric Burns’s marvelous book and video series New York: An Illustrated History, which will be complemented by a variety of historical monographs and excerpts from both fiction and non-fiction books on New York City.
Dreamland: A Novel, by Kevin Baker
The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, by Russell Shorto
Slavery in New York by Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris, eds.
In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863, by Leslie M. Harris
The Colossus of New York, by Colson Whitehead
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, by David von Drehle
American Capital, by Thomas Kessler
How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis
Low Life, by Luc Sante
This class is a collaborative effort – inclusive, participatory and active. We will try as much as possible to make the City itself our classroom with frequent field trips and study of current events. Students will conduct regular research on the people, places and events we encounter in each stage of New York’s story write a research essay on an aspect of the history of New York that particularly interests them. There will be regular tests and quizzes and a final examination.
Week I -II Beginnings – The Dutch: Native Peoples and the European Legacy
Week III The Road to Revolution: English New York and the New Nation
Week IV – V Culture, Class and Commerce – New York in the antebellum period
Week VI-VII Sunshine and Shadow: New York in the Gilded Age
Week VIII-IX The Invention of the Modern World: New York in the Progressive Era
Week X-XI The Capital of the World: New York in the Jazz Age