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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  July 2008  /  Cities in Modernity Book Launch

Cities in Modernity Book Launch

Richard Dennis's new book, Cities in Modernity: Representations and Productions of Metropolitan Space, 1840-1930, published by Cambridge University Press, was launched at a reception in UCL on 17 June, following on from the Environment Institute's 'Stinkfest' at which Richard gave the opening talk.

Cities in Modernity Book Launch

The launch attracted colleagues from Richard’s different spheres of interest – in Canadian Studies, literary and cultural studies, and London history – along with past staff and students (some of whose dissertations and course papers provided the catalyst for different themes and illustrations in the book!).

Also prominent at the launch in the North Cloisters was a series of posters produced by Miles Irving of the UCL Geography Drawing Office, featuring colour versions of some of the maps and illustrations included in the book, and dealing with some of the book’s major themes – on bridges, streets, housing, shopping and the connections between them.

For more photos of the launch, please click here.

Cities in Modernity explores what made cities 'modern' in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing his evidence principally from London, New York and Toronto - London often studied as much as an imperial as a modern city, New York a more obviously modern city in this period, and Toronto a comparative baby in population terms but striving for metropolitan status and intriguingly positioned politically and imaginatively 'between' Britain and America – Richard Dennis focuses on the relationship between, on the one hand, processes of modernization in government, technology and economy, but especially innovations in the built environment and changes in the spatial structure of cities and, on the other, modernity as a social and cultural experience. The first half of the book discusses new ways of seeing cities in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, looking at cities in contemporary political and religious discourse, at the growth of social survey and city mapping, and at the representation of cities in art and literature. Later chapters look at changes to and on city streets, at new forms of residential environment - middle-class and working-class suburbs, apartments and tenements in North American cities, flats and model dwellings in London - and at new kinds of retail and business spaces. Because one of Richard's aims is to 'build bridges' and 'make connections' - between humanities and social science ways of looking at cities, and between culture and economy - the book begins by discussing some real bridges - Brooklyn Bridge, Tower Bridge and the lesser known (but hopefully hereafter better known!) Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto - and ends by analysing new networks of connection in intra-urban communications and infrastructure, including sewers in LondonNew York and the elevated railway in New York.

Integral to the book are illustrations reproducing contemporary postcards and advertisements, highlighting the tension between modernity, tradition and the picturesque, or aligning a modern environment with style and cosmopolitanism; a variety of specialised maps, from the 'glove map' intended for ladies visiting the Great Exhibition, to fire insurance maps which cartographically embody the connections between modernity and risk, and an 1880s sewer map which plotted the time taken for sewage to flow across London, a new angle on the perennial theme of congestion underground! Richard also discusses and reproduces numerous works of art including paintings and drawings by Canadians Lawren Harris and Frederick Bell-Smith, New Yorkers John Sloan, George Bellows and Reginald Marsh, a British artist depicting New York (Christopher Nevinson) and an American artist in London (Joseph Pennell). He also draws on his extensive research into the representation of urban space in literature, especially in the works of George Gissing and William Dean Howells in late 19th-century London and New York, and Morley Callaghan in inter-war Toronto. Newly drawn maps and plans, prepared by Miles Irving and Cath D'Alton in the UCL Geography Drawing Office, chart the distribution and spread of offices and department stores, the impact of Tower Bridge and Victoria Street on their environs, and the functioning of space within new apartment buildings.

The book closes with a brief discussion of Harmsworth's Magazine's 1902 article, 'If London Were Like New York', speculating on the effects of an American invasion. There are elevated trains on Tower Bridge, Holborn-Oxford Street has become Broadway, and Mansion House is Tammany Hall. Sadly (or fortunately?) there is no new name for UCL.

Cities in Modernity: Representations and Productions of Metropolitan Space, 1840-1930 is published by Cambridge University Press in hardback and paperback.

For more information and an extract from the book, please click here.



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