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"
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?