History 248 Reading Guide

The Rise of the City:  New Forms of Community

  • Stuart M. Blumin, “Explaining the New Metropolis,” Perception, Depiction, and Analysis in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York City,” Journal of Urban History 11.1 (1984), 9-38.  SAGE Premier or (e-reserve)

Further reading:

  • Eric H. Monkkonen, “A Disorderly People?  Urban Order in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” Journal of American History 68.3. (1981), 539-559.  JSTOR


  • Blumin begins by asking how nineteenth-century Americans, given their previous notions of community and their previous urban experiences, comprehended and explained the new metropolises as a new form of community that appeared throughout the U.S.  To answer the question, Blumin examines nonfictional accounts written at three “moments” during which New York City completed its growth from a walking city into a “continuous city” or metropolis (1843-5; 1850; 1868-1872).
  • For each point in time, how does Blumin characterize the authors and their particular ideals of community?  What ideals had changed, and what persisted?
  • How did the authors at each point in time characterize the social structure (the “human community”) and the physical structure (an “understandable environment”) of New York City?
  • What influences did the authors attribute to the metropolis? To each author, what did the metropolis portend about the future of American society?
  • According to Blumin, how did the actual evolution of the city, in conjunction with stereotypes of the city, shape the accounts in each moment?

Further reading:   

  • Monkkonen examines non-victim forms of criminal behavior in urban society to analyze “the relationship of social structure and cultural values to public disorder.”  What trends in the incidence of disorderly conduct does he find?
  • What causes does he propose for bursts of disorderly and drunken conduct?
  • What does his evidence and analysis suggest about the nature of urban society in the second half of the nineteenth century?