2002 Theses Doctoral
Past, present, and future: History and memory in New York City, 1800--1860
The first half of the nineteenth century saw New York City rise from a relatively small city to the largest metropolis in North America. The changes which affected the United States, from economic to demographic to cultural, appeared first in New York. New York City was a place of change and progress. At the same time, a new concern with the history of the City and concern with preservation arose. This study will examine how the need to balance preservation with change, the need to create an identity for New York, and the need to set New York's place in the nation, were explored in the early historical discourse surrounding New York, from formal chronicles to acts of preservation. I have examined the preservation and publication efforts of the New-York Historical Society, Washington Irving's Knickerbocker History and its effect on New York's culture, local histories of New York City and State, and the controversies surrounding the removal of New York City's burial grounds in order to explore these issues. The attempt of the New-York Historical Society to act as custodians of the City's history raises the question of just whose history was to be preserved. Washington Irving's works brought the Dutch history of New York to life for many of its citizens more vividly than any archive, and introduced the Knickerbocker character as a New York type. Local histories of New York City and State explored the relationship between regions and the nation as a whole. The efforts of New Yorkers to deal with the removal of burial grounds from New York City's boundaries show how important the past, particularly the personal past, was to New Yorkers of all classes and ethnicities. Themes of civic memory, the relationship between public and private, ideas of a usable past, and the relationship between myth and history run throughout this material. The historical discourse surrounding the New York of today was shaped by the historical discourse of the early nineteenth century.
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