Sitor Situmorang (Author), Harry Aveling
Oceans of Longing: Nine Stories
Silkworm Books, 2019
Born into a high-status family of the Batak ethnic group indigenous to North Sumatra, Sitor Situmorang (1924–2014) was a Dutch-educated Indonesian nationalist who experienced firsthand the transition from the Dutch East Indies of his youth to the modern Indonesia of his adulthood.
The stories in this collection are a window into the world of a writer dedicated to exploration and change but resolutely attached to the land, people, and stories of his homeland. Set variously in western Europe, post-independence Jakarta, and modernizing communities in his native North Sumatra, the stories live in―as the translators put it―the “perpetual tension between the urge to wander and a longing for origins.”
Review by John Bennion presented at Faculty Book Lunch:
For this collection of nine stories by Sitor Situmorang, Dr. Roberts collaborated with Harry Aveling, Monash University, Melbourne, and Keith Foulcher, University of Sidney. Each was the primary translator for three stories but edited each other’s work for stylistic unity. This project fits well with Dr. Roberts’s work on Richard Wright’s Indonesian travels and with his general work on archipelagic studies. Because islands of the sea have been colonized by Europeans, they have complex linguistic, cultural, and political identities, and translation creates relationships across boundaries inside and outside the islands.
In the introduction, the translators describe Sitor’s experience in many cultures: childhood in a village in North Sumatra, Dutch education, and work in government and journalism in the Netherlands and France. Sitor experienced the Japanese invasion during WWII and the Indonesian revolution against the Dutch, who imprisoned him. Living sometimes in Europe and sometimes in Indonesia, he wrote stories that explore “perpetual tension between the urge to wander and the longing for origins.”
As Sitor’s protagonist wanders, he carries Indonesia with him, and returning to the islands, he carries European culture back—a stranger in both places. This gives the stories an unsettling and ambiguous perspective, as the protagonist struggles to make sense of life. Often the task of making sense is impossible, such as when old man apparently kills the tiger that ate his foot when he was younger, when a son welcomes guests to a Christmas party in honor of his mother who became a corpse just before the party started, when a junior diplomat takes an anti-prostitution activist to all the places he knows in the red-light districts in Paris, and when revolutionary militias fight each other for control of villages instead of fighting the Dutch enemy. The stories are disorienting and Sitar eschews epiphanies as endings, possibly because there is nothing to trust about sudden insight. Like the author and the translators, these stories are complex, difficult to categorize—making for a stimulating read.
Co-Edited with Paul E. Kerry
New Approaches to Religion and the Enlightenment
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2018
The Enlightenment, an eighteenth-century philosophical and cultural movement that swept through Western Europe, has often been characterized as a mostly secular phenomenon that ultimately undermined religious authority and belief, and eventually gave way to the secularization of Western society and to modernity. To whatever extent the Enlightenment can be credited with giving birth to modern Western culture, historians in more recent years have aptly demonstrated that the Enlightenment hardly singled the death knell of religion. Not only did religion continue to occupy a central pace in political, social, and private life throughout the eighteenth century, but it shaped the Enlightenment project itself in significant and meaningful ways. The thinkers and philosophers normally associated with the Enlightenment, to be sure, challenged state-sponsored church authority and what they perceived as superstitious forms of belief and practice, but they did not mount a campaign to undermine religion generally. A more productive approach to understanding religion in the age of Enlightenment, then, is to examine the ways the Enlightenment informed religious belief and practice during the period as well as the ways religion influenced the Enlightenment and to do so from a range of disciplinary perspectives, which is the goal of this collection. The chapters document the intersections of religious and Enlightenment ideas in such areas as theology, the natural sciences, politics, the law, art, philosophy, and literature.
Review by Nick Mason presented at Faculty Book Lunch
After serving for six years as founding editor of the scholarly annual Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Brett McInelly was left in the awkward position of having solicited and accepted a year’s worth of essays but suddenly lacking a publisher. This unwelcome turn came when AMS Press – the long-established home of influential eighteenth-century studies journals like Professor McInelly’s – immediately closed shop after the unexpected passing of its owner-director. Rather than leaving his contributors in the lurch, Dr. McInelly scrambled to find a new home for their orphaned essays.
Ultimately, with the help of Paul Kerry of BYU’s History Dept., (who signed on as a co-editor), he landed a contract with Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, which last fall published the essays McInelly had gathered in a book collection titled New Approaches to Religion and the Enlightenment. As he explains in his introduction, “this volume is not oriented toward a relatively narrow topic; rather, it demonstrates a breadth of disciplinary perspectives on and approaches to the study of religion during the age of Enlightenment.” As such, this welcome collection captures the remarkable range of religious discourse – whether philosophical, literary, evangelical, of political – characteristic of the eighteenth century. Largely, but not exclusively, rooted in European Christianity, the volume spans such genres as popular novels, missionary narratives, ecclesiastical histories, and lesser-known essays by Goethe and Schiller. All told, then, this collection is a testament both to McInelly’s prominence among scholars of eighteenth-century religion and his perseverance in shepherding a valuable new volume to press.
Margaret Cavendish released her Poems and Fancies during a brief reprieve from exile, and at a time when international conversations on questions regarding science, mathematics, and metaphysics significantly advanced the state of knowledge across Britain and Europe despite war and political turmoil. This volume offers the first complete modernized version of the third edition of Cavendish’s book, including prefaces and dedications, all 274 poems on nature’s various avatars, interludes and masques, and the final prose parable, The Animal Parliament. Cavendish offers views on physics, chemistry, algebraic geometry, medicine, political philosophy, ethics, psychology, and animal intelligence, as she develops her own theory of vital matter within the scope of nature’s ordering principles.
Margaret Cavendish was a Renaissance woman in every sense of the term: her body of published works includes poetry, essays, plays, prose romances, natural philosophy, science fiction, and science. During an era when many women published pseudonymously or anonymously, if at all, Cavendish published a massive output under her own name, exploring concepts of gender and power, fame and social satire, science and the imagination. She is a towering figure of 17th-century literature and culture—sufficiently so that scholarship on Cavendish is not so much a recovery effort as it is an effort to account for the force she was recognized to be even in her own time. She was, after all, the first woman to be invited to visit the Royal Society, an episode drolly recounted in the introduction to this masterful new edition: Poems and Fancies with The Animal Parliament.
Our own Renaissance woman Brandie Siegfried has shepherded this new edition into print as part of the venerable The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe series. Cavendish’s text—her first publication—originally appeared in 1653 and comprises nearly 300 poems in five parts as well as the prose parable The Animal Parliament.
It is Brandie’s editorial generosity that makes this volume so useful to so many different kinds of readers, from specialists to undergraduate initiates. Brandie’s introduction and notes exhibit an encyclopedic familiarity not only with Cavendish’s body of work but also with the healthy body of scholarly work on Cavendish and her milieu. Moreover, Brandie’s apparatus illuminates and contextualizes Cavendish’s broad engagement with an astonishingly wide range of contemporary and classical thought, including math, the various sciences under the heading “natural philosophy,” politics, folklore, moral philosophy. Under Brandie’s confident guidance, this complex and vast mass of supporting material for Cavendish’s early work is rendered accessible, and our appreciation of her mastery and her ambitious and hungry intellect ultimately redounds to the admiration of the poet. Brandie has done Margaret Cavendish proud, and done a great service to her readers.
Dennis Cutchins and Dennis Perry
Adapting Frankenstein: The Monster’s Eternal Lives in Popular Culture
Manchester University Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2018)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most popular novels in western literature. It has been adapted and re-assembled in countless forms, from Hammer Horror films to young-adult books and bandes dessinées. Beginning with the idea of the ‘Frankenstein Complex’, this edited collection provides a series of creative readings that explore the elaborate intertextual networks that make up the novel’s remarkable afterlife. It broadens the scope of research on Frankenstein while deepening our understanding of a text that, 200 years after its original publication, continues to intrigue and terrify us in new and unexpected ways.
Review by Leslee Thorne-Murphy presented at Faculty Book Lunch:
What better way to spend Halloween week than reading about Frankenstein adaptations? Nineteenth century stage plays, campy fifties flicks, Belge comic strips, and of course the classic Boris Karloff film—all these adaptations play a role in the “Frankenstein Network,” as Dennis Cutchins and Dennis Perry designate the ever-multiplying field of Frankenstein adaptations. This term, the Frankenstein Network, is central to their collection of essays. As they explain in their introduction to the volume, “the adaptation studies approaches found in this collection focus on the complex relationships between the various texts, disparate traditions, and dynamic media in which Frankenstein has been adapted.” In other words, grappling with the monster means grappling not only with Mary Shelley’s text, but with the myriad interpretations of the monster that each reader is bound to have accumulated. One’s own personal network of Frankenstein familiarity, Cutchins and Perry designate a Frankenstein Complex.
So, before you go take your turn at the Frankenreads event this week, take a look at Adapting Frankenstein and add to your own repertoire of Frankenstein adaptations. Because, of course, every scholarly article is its own adaptation. Of special note are the essays by our very own faculty. Jamie Horrocks deftly shows us what happens when Frankenstein goes steampunk, or at least neo-Victorian—hint, it involves bizarre aquatic life and a reanimated John Keats. Joe Darowsky picks up the baton with a canny glance at when Frankenstein meets the X-men, and other comic-book adventures. Also don’t miss Dennis Perry’s essay, where he geeks out over whether the classic sci fi film, Forbidden Planet, best reflects the aesthetics of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the biblical Adam and Eve story, Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, or, of course, the monster himself. And you really shouldn’t miss the creepy, albeit very astute, reading of Bakhtin’s Rabellais included in the book’s introduction. I personally think it’s the perfect segment to browse in between trick-or-treaters tomorrow evening.
The volume contains an impressive collection of essays, 18 of them, plus the introduction and afterword, from a wide variety of scholars both close to home and ranging throughout the globe, from leading voices in the field of adaptation studies to those just beginning to add their voices to the field. It’s a truly impressive and commendable achievement. So, kudos to everyone involved.
Jill Terry Rudy
With Pauline Greenhill, Naomi Hamer and Lauren Bosc
The Routledge Companion to Media and Fairy-Tale Cultures
(Routledge; 1 edition, 2018)
From Cinderella to comic con to colonialism and more, this companion provides readers with a comprehensive and current guide to the fantastic, uncanny, and wonderful worlds of the fairy tale across media and cultures. It offers a clear, detailed, and expansive overview of contemporary themes and issues throughout the intersections of the fields of fairy-tale studies, media studies, and cultural studies, addressing, among others, issues of reception, audience cultures, ideology, remediation, and adaptation. Examples and case studies are drawn from a wide range of pertinent disciplines and settings, providing thorough, accessible treatment of central topics and specific media from around the globe.
Review by Danette Paul presented at Faculty Book Lunch
Once upon a time, there lived a wise professor named Dr. Jill Rudy . . .
Dr. Rudy is one of the editors of the recently published Routledge Companion to Media and Fairy-tale Cultures. On the back cover, the authors promise that The Companion provides a wide range of approaches on a number of topics “from Cinderella to comic con to colonialism and more.” I must say, it delivers. The book has five sections: Basic Concepts, Analytical Approaches, Issues, Political and Identity issues, Communicative Media, Expressive genres and Venues. In these sections, The Companion has both the expected articles from a companion to fairy tales and media such as History of Fairytales, Performance, Feminism, Food, and Hybridity. But also the unexpected, such as Indigeneity, Disability, Animal Studies, and Fat Studies. The approaches to these intersections also vary, as do the authors, ranging from Emeritus professors and lead investigator in their field to Master’s students all in a variety of fields: Folklore, English, cultural and women studies.
In addition to her role as editor, Jill also contributes four articles to the Companion. In her first article, Jill leads off the book with “The Overview of Basic Concepts.” Instead of just defining basic concepts, Jill discusses several paradoxes and debated terms in the field. One of the most interesting paradox is the shift from individual storytellers or other small groups of face-to-face in counters to mass communication and digital media. To discuss this issue, Jill coins the term “Communitive Omnivores,” acknowledging the human habit of adopting new communicative media without discarding past media. In her articles as with the other articles, she manages to cover currents topic in an accessible way.
These various choices make The Companion useful to not only Folklorists, but to any scholar interested in Fairytales. Thus, many scholars will live happily ever after.
Edited with Katja Krebs and Eckart Voigts
The Routledge Companion to Adaptation
(Routledge; 1 edition, 2018)
The Routledge Companion to Adaptation offers a broad range of scholarship from this growing, interdisciplinary field. With a basis in source-oriented studies, such as novel-to-stage and stage-to-film adaptations, this volume also seeks to highlight the new and innovative aspects of adaptation studies, ranging from theatre and dance to radio, television and new media. It is divided into five sections:
- Mapping, which presents a variety of perspectives on the scope and development of adaptation studies;
- Historiography, which investigates the ways in which adaptation engages with – and disrupts – history;
- Identity, which considers texts and practices in adaptation as sites of multiple and fluid identity formations;
- Reception, which examines the role played by an audience, considering the unpredictable relationships between adaptations and those who experience them;
- Technology, which focuses on the effects of ongoing technological advances and shifts on specific adaptations, and on the wider field of adaptation.
An emphasis on adaptation-as-practice establishes methods of investigation that move beyond a purely comparative case study model. The Routledge Companion to Adaptation celebrates the complexity and diversity of adaptation studies, mapping the field across genres and disciplines.
Review by Carl Sederholm presented at Faculty Book Lunch
Wayne Booth’s The Company We Keep develops a metaphor of friendship to consider the various ways we read and evaluate texts. I remembered Booth’s metaphor while reading through portions of The Routledge Companion to Adaptation because its title suggests that it wants to be a helpful partner in the process of understanding the current state of adaptation theory. It’s appropriate to have multiple companions on this journey because, as Dennis Cutchins explains, “Adaptation studies centers itself not on texts, but on the varied relationships that exist between texts” (2). Adaptations depend on relationships; they would not exist without them. Cutchins emphasizes this point first by drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s insight that “texts only have meaning in relationship to other texts” and second by citing a student’s point that adaptation studies “looks at texts through the lens of other texts” instead simply leaning on the assumptions of established schools of thought (3).
As companions go, The Routledge Companion to Adaptation is a welcome friend because it understands the complexities of the journey, including its detours into interdisciplinarity and its challenges to traditional approaches to history, text, and context. Further, the study of adaptation theory requires a broad approach to culture and consumption, not to mention a sensitivity to the human need for hearing stories again and again and again. Professor Cutchins has long been an essential guide to understanding adaptation theory. He has edited other volumes on the topic and he served as the chair for the Popular Culture Association’s Adaptation Area. In The Routledge Companion to Adaptation, he has once again gathered together a talented group of scholars to help readers understand the most important questions. The book is divided into five thematic parts, all of which offer several essays that explore new approaches to adaptation or that shed new light on old questions.
I was especially interested in essays that attempted to make sense of bad adaptations. One of those, “Notoriously bad: early film-to-video game adaptations (1982-1994)” by Riccardo Fassone, considers the strange world of video games based on major motion pictures such as E. T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and Halloween. I played some of those games as a child and enjoyed following the author’s account not only of his research but also his double history of the games, their “production, . . . reception and use,” and the films they were based on (108). I also enjoyed Kamilla Elliott’s “The Theory of Badaptation” because it gave me new ways of thinking about the notorious problem of approaching adaptations that do not seem to work—or that should never have been attempted.
My comments only capture the smallest portion of what readers may discover by reading this book. It is a welcome addition to adaptation theory and makes good on its promise to be a helpful friend.
Frank Christianson and Leslee Thorne-Murphy
Philanthropic Discourse in Anglo-American Literature from 1850-1920
(Indiana University Press, 2017)
From the mid-19th century until the rise of the modern welfare state in the early 20th century, Anglo-American philanthropic giving gained an unprecedented measure of cultural authority as it changed in kind and degree. Civil society took on the responsibility for confronting the adverse effects of industrialism, and transnational discussions of poverty, urbanization, women’s work, and sympathy provided a means of understanding and debating social reform. While philanthropic institutions left a transactional record of money and materials, philanthropic discourseyielded a rich corpus of writing that represented, rationalized, and shaped these rapidly industrializing societies, drawing on and informing other modernizing discourses including religion, economics, and social science. Showing the fundamentally transatlantic nature of this discourse from 1850 to 1920, the authors gather a wide variety of literary sources that crossed national and colonial borders within the Anglo-American range of influence. Through manifestos, fundraising tracts, novels, letters, and pamphlets, they piece together the intellectual world where philanthropists reasoned through their efforts and redefined the public sector.
Review by Jarica Watts presented at Faculty Book Lunch
Philanthropic Discourse in Anglo-American Literature from 1850-1920 is an ambitious project that maps the transnational threads of industry, urbanization, colonization, social reform, and gender politics onto the field of philanthropic studies. Professors Frank Christianson and Leslee Thorne-Murphy argue that philanthropy facilitates forms of affiliation across geographic, national, and social boundaries and can thus be used as a lens through which scholars approach Anglophone literature—particularly the social realism of American, British, and Indian texts.
As war and revolution, industrialization and urban growth, shook the world through the mid-1800s, new demands were placed on philanthropic endeavors as questions emerged probing how to improve the quality of human life. The articles in this collection draw on documentary records, manifestos, fundraising tracts, and novels to reveal the emergence of a dual system of philanthropy: valiant private efforts, on one hand, and increased public responsibility for those in need, on the other. By the turn of the 20th Century, a professional class of philanthropists and social welfare activists worked to enact change at the community level, creating a more integrated and inclusive type of philanthropy. While women like Angela Burdett-Coutts, Jane Addams, Henrietta Barnett, Margaret Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott were able to exert more influence, exploring the ways philanthropy could support the needs of all humankind, particularly the poor, other reformers, mistakenly sure that the Western model was superior, attempted to impose Western concepts of philanthropy on other cultures. As Suzanne Daly argues in Chapter 3, oftentimes that philanthropy took the form of imperial education and its associations with coercion, indoctrination, and epistemic or structural violence.
What becomes obvious in the nine essays in this collection is that philanthropic discourse not only crosses national and colonial borders, but it demonstrates the common discursive elements of poverty, patronage, sympathy, race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Taken together, the essays in this collection showcase a diverse written tradition at a formative moment in the development of philanthropy.
Reading this text in light of Trump-era politics had me thinking about the ways in which the global complexities and diversities of 19th Century philanthropy can shed very valuable light on today’s philanthropic climate—from the explosion of tech philanthropy (think here of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) to woman mega-givers (Laurene Powell Jobs is a fine example) to immigration funding to all of the Go Fund Me requests popping up on each of our Facebook feeds. To be sure, this is not a time for people with resources to be bystanders. As Professors Christensen and Thorne-Murphy show so beautifully, there is a disruptive force to philanthropy which holds the promise of helping to reduce inequality while empowering individuals to act and speak for themselves.
Captains of Charity: The Writing and Wages of Postrevolutionary Atlantic Benevolence
(University of New Hampshire Press, 2017)
In this thematically rich book, Mary Kathleen Eyring examines authors whose writings were connected with their charitable endeavors, which addressed the worst by-products of the brisk maritime commerce in Atlantic seaport cities in the first half of the nineteenth century. She argues that charitable institutions and societies emerged in this era because they captured and contained the discontent of imperiled and impoverished groups, thereby effectively thwarting the development of a revolutionary class in America.
According to Eyring, the men and women who most successfully wrote about and engaged in benevolent work strategically connected their work with the affluence generated by maritime commerce. The water trades supported the growth of the American publishing industry, but they also generated both vast inequities in wealth and physically and economically hazardous conditions that, in the absence of a welfare state, required the intervention of benevolent societies. Laborers in Atlantic port cities barred from lucrative professions by gender, race, physical ability, or social status found a way to make a living wage by conjoining the literary with the charitable—and attaching both to a profit structure. In so doing, they transformed the nature of American benevolence and gave rise to the nonprofit sector, which has since its inception provided discontented laborers with a forum in which to express their critique of for-profit American enterprise, by imitating it.
In Captains of Charity, Eyring looks at writers who overcame their marginalized status by bringing together the strands of maritime industry, publishing, and benevolence. These include Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two black clergymen who managed a massive relief effort when refugees fleeing revolution in Haiti transported the yellow fever virus to Philadelphia in 1793; Nancy Prince, a free woman of color who sought her livelihood in the Protestant missions of Jamaica in the years immediately following Britain’s emancipation of laborers in its Caribbean colonies; Sarah Josepha Hale, who parlayed the social influence she had gained as the founder of a seaman’s aid society in Boston into a role as editor of the hugely popular periodical Godey’s Lady’s Book; and Sarah Pogson Smith, who donated the proceeds of her writing to such prominent charitable causes as the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and then capitalized on the goodwill this charity work generated among her wealthy friends in New York City, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
The Popular Frontier
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2017)
When William F. Cody introduced his Wild West exhibition to European audiences in 1887, the show soared to new heights of popularity and success. With its colorful portrayal of cowboys, Indians, and the taming of the North American frontier, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West popularized a myth of American national identity and shaped European perceptions of the United States. The Popular Frontier is the first collection of essays to explore the transnational impact and mass-cultural appeal of Cody’s Wild West.
As editor Frank Christianson explains in his introduction, for the first four years after Cody conceived it, the Wild West exhibition toured the United States, honing the operation into a financially solvent enterprise. When the troupe ventured to England for its first overseas booking, its success exceeded all expectations. Between 1887 and 1906 the Wild West performed in fourteen countries, traveled more than 200,000 miles, and attracted a collective audience in the tens of millions.
How did Europeans respond to Cody’s vision of the American frontier? And how did European countries appropriate what they saw on display? Addressing these questions and others, the contributors to this volume consider how the Wild West functioned within social and cultural contexts far grander in scope than even the vast American West. Among the topics addressed are the pairing of William F. Cody and Theodore Roosevelt as embodiments of frontier masculinity, and the significance of the show’s most enduring persona, Annie Oakley.
An informative and thought-provoking examination of the Wild West’s foreign tours, The Popular Frontier offers new insight into late-nineteenth-century gender politics and ethnicity, the development of American nationalism, and the simultaneous rise of a global mass culture.
Review by Phillip A. Snyder presented at Faculty Book Lunch
In 2003 I was standing in the large dining hall of the castle on Cornwall’s St. Michael’s Mount when I caught a glimpse of something in a small adjoining room that was completely familiar yet totally foreign to that environment—a vintage 19th-century slick fork, half-seat, high-cantled buckaroo saddle. Above the saddle hung a framed newspaper article describing it as a gift to the Baron St. Levan from his friend William F. Cody. “Wow,” I thought, “Buffalo Bill sure got around.”
As this fine essay collection illustrates, in transporting their versions of the American frontier throughout the British Isles and Europe, Cody and his Wild West Show (especially with the addition of the Congress of Rough Riders of the World) did much more than get around: they transformed an initially national enterprise into a quintessentially international one, and, in Frank Christianson’s words, “ritualized multiple strains of nationalist discourse that were, in turn, part of a broader shift in transatlantic culture of the late nineteenth century” (21). Robert W. Rydell argues for Cody’s influence on European peace talks; Jamie Horrocks brilliantly parallels Cody with Oscar Wilde in their posed sartorial splendor as international celebrities; Jeremy M. Johnston links Cody with Teddy Roosevelt and notions of American exceptionalism; Monica Rico and Jennifer R. Henneman write on Annie Oakley, respectively, as an embodiment of the transnational “New Girl” and of English ideas regarding “natural” womanhood; Emily C. Burns explores the implications of Cody’s masculine “colonization” of Paris as an extension of the western frontier; Julia S. Stetler interrogates German fascination with the indigenous members of Cody’s troop; Chris Dixon connects the Wild West’s five-week run in Barcelona with historical Spanish-American relations; Renee M. Laegreid investigates Italian and fascist appropriations of the Buffalo Bill myth; and, finally, Christianson adds a fitting note of Anglo-American epilogue and then calls for further transnational studies of Cody’s influence abroad.
We can be reassured, then, that Buffalo Bill will continue to get around.
The Sociable City: An American Intellectual Tradition
(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017)
When celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted despaired in 1870 that the “restraining and confining conditions” of the city compelled its inhabitants to “look closely upon others without sympathy,” he was expressing what many in the United States had already been saying about the nascent urbanization that would continue to transform the nation’s landscape: that the modern city dramatically changes the way individuals interact with and feel toward one another. An antiurbanist discourse would pervade American culture for years to come, echoing Olmsted’s skeptical view of the emotional value of urban relationships. But as more and more people moved to the nation’s cities, urbanists began to confront this pessimism about the ability of city dwellers to connect with one another.
The Sociable City investigates the history of how American society has conceived of urban relationships and considers how these ideas have shaped the cities in which we live. As the city’s physical and social landscapes evolved over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, urban intellectuals developed new vocabularies, narratives, and representational forms to express the social and emotional value of a wide variety of interactions among city dwellers.
Turning to source materials often overlooked by scholars of urban life—including memoirs, plays, novels, literary journalism, and museum exhibits—Jamin Creed Rowan unearths an expansive body of work dedicated to exploring and advocating the social configurations made possible by the city. His study aims to better understand why we have built and governed cities in the ways we have, and to imagine an urban future that will effectively preserve and facilitate the interpersonal associations and social networks that city dwellers need to live manageable, equitable, and fulfilling lives.
Review by Mike Taylor presented at Faculty Book Lunch
Thanks to Jamin’s generosity, I had the chance to see this book in proposal form a few months ago as I work toward submitting my own. So, to engage with the final product has been particularly informative methodologically, as well as intellectually engaging and enjoyable.
As many of you know, I recently moved from the urban squalor of Vancouver, BC to the rural paradise of Mapleton, Utah. Yet, as I consider Jamin’s concept of urban sociability, The Sociable City leaves me longing for the day-to-day interactions with food vendors, street musicians, shop owners, and the like for whom I developed what Jamin describes as “a wry fondness . . . , an appreciation for those one may never see but who nevertheless provide the mutual support that makes it possible to lead a satisfying life in the city” (154).
In The Sociable City, Jamin turns to such oft-overlooked sources of early twentieth-century urban ideologies as memoirs, plays, and museum exhibits, in order to trace the evolution of urbanist discourse in the United States from dominant ideas of sympathy that emerges from “intimate social relations” and “nurturing communities” (2), to the concept of “interdependent sociability” (7-8). Through this intellectual mapping of shifting urban imaginaries, Jamin emphasizes how the ever-changing affective interactions of city dwellers result in the literal reshaping of the physical built environment of our cities.
Jamin threads this argument throughout each chapter by analyzing the contrasting constructions from the natural space of Central Park to the public housing structures of such urban centers as Chicago and Philadelphia. Within these public spaces, The Sociable City rebuilds a conversation between leading sociologists, settlement activist writers, African American intellectuals, New Yorker journalists, novelists, and others who began to understand human interactions in the city as a form of ecology, a natural system of interdependence and shared social satisfaction. By expanding the U.S. intellectual tradition of urban discourse to include voices of otherwise underrepresented classes, races, genders, and genres, Jamin’s The Sociable City concludes by emphasizing the significance of understanding the importance of urban sociality. He writes, “Taking urban sociality more seriously matters because . . . , a society’s decisions about what kinds of relationships and interpersonal emotions matter determine the types of cities it builds and the kinds of opportunities those cities afford to those who live in them” (160).
Overall, The Sociable City deepens the field’s understanding of early twentieth-century urban discourse while simultaneously emphasizing the vital role that literature and literacy play in shaping the social and physical ecologies of contemporary and future cities. With this broadening of sources for understanding the history and significance of urban discourse, The Sociable City urges students and scholars, city dwellers and city builders, to seek out and engage with diverse urban ideologies in order to build, rebuild, and maintain the types of sociable cities that society depends on.