U. S. Urban History
History 304/504

Professor Mark Tebeau
Rhodes Tower 1908
216 687 3937
Cleveland State University
Spring Semester 2008
LB243
T/TH 1-2:50

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Last Modified:
January 15, 2008

 

 

Introduction

The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antenna of the lightening rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.

... Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

In cities, we find our collective past existing side-by-side with the present; we may find ourselves and our history written into its form. But, we must take the time to look and develop a way of seeing the familiar and making it strange, of knowing space and place, of learning from the landscape.

Cities are constantly built and rebuilt; each successive layer leaves a trace. Cities have many constituent parts that reveal their past—industrial, commercial, and residential districts; downtowns, suburbs, and now “exurbs”; specialized arts districts, shopping malls, and recreational areas; parks and greenways, as well as infrastructure overhead and underground. Each evolves with particular economic, cultural, institutional, social, and demographic characteristics. The urban form reflects the values of those people who pass through it, even as the landscape in turn shapes the mentality and ideals of those same people. The result is a rich, complex text of artifacts: houses, museums, schools, churches, factories, and banks; playgrounds, parks, shopping districts, malls, plazas, and public art; sidewalks, alleys, boulevards, sewers, electric and phone lines (or towers), and freeways. Each provides clues to the environmental, economic, cultural, social, and political context in which they were built, to the people who built them, and to the broader values of American society.

Together we (the community that is History 304) will learn the broad outlines of American urban history, read urban theory, and consider how the landscape embodies American history. We will explore these issues through discussion and lecture, course readings, studying historical materials, and analyzing particular places. Cleveland, too, will become a laboratory that will help us to understand American urban history. Toward this end, the course project involves research assignments that will facilitate student understanding of urban history and the opportunity to use, develop, and refine skills in "reading" the city.

As we study cities, we will ask a variety of questions: Who and what shapes them? How do they evolve? When, where, and why did cities form in the United States? How does a city's history influence its future development? How do physical form, culture, economy, and institutions vary from city to city and in what ways might these differences be significant? How are cities changing and what is their future?

 

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Background: A Bird's Eye View of Philadelphia ®Mark Tebeau