The first book to document an American cult of the ruin, Untimely Ruins traces its deviations as well as derivations from European conventions. Unlike classical and Gothic ruins, which decayed gracefully over centuries and inspired philosophical meditations about the fate of civilizations, America’s ruins were often “untimely,” appearing unpredictably and disappearing before they could accrue an aura of age. As modern ruins of steel and iron, they stimulated critical reflections about contemporary cities, and the unfamiliar kinds of experience they enabled. Unearthing evocative sources everywhere from the archives of amateur photographers to the contents of time-capsules, Untimely Ruins exposes crucial debates about the economic, technological, and cultural transformations known as urban modernity. The result is a fascinating cultural history that uncovers fresh perspectives on the American city.
Nick Yablon is associate professor of American studies at the University of Iowa.
As examples, consider that a rural cemetery built in Massachusetts in the early 19th century was the prime influence on public park design and led to the construction of New York's Central Park and many other public parks since. The millionaire industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built many of the first free public libraries in the country, which led to the development of municipal public library systems. The huge success of 19th-century world's fairs, like the 1876 Centennial Exhibition and the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition, had lasting effects on society through the many new products that they introduced to the public. Throughout the book, landmarks are analyzed to elucidate their influence on many aspects of 19th-century society, including the treatment of the mentally ill, impact of religious revivals, growth of leisure and vacation time, and housing for the poor and the western homesteader, among many others.
In the "How to Evaluate Buildings and Structures" section, readers are prompted to consider questions such as "What specific purposes did the building or structure have?" "When was it constructed, and what were the circumstances?" and "What was the need it addressed?" Students will learn about the period while also developing the skills of observation and assessment needed to analyze these landmarks and draw meaningful conclusions from them about their context and significance. The discussion of each landmark serves to help readers with these elements of critical thinking, assessment, and analysis.