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Posts in Arts & Culture
Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

By Jeffrey Patrick Colgan and Jeffrey Escoffier

New York City was for many years one of the world’s leading ports. In the early 1950s, the docks in New York City, by far the country’s busiest, directly and indirectly supplied, according to the City’s Department of Marine and Aviation, livelihood for almost 10% of the city’s population. Nevertheless, even then there were signs of the port’s impending doom. Plagued with racketeering, traffic congestion, and outmoded facilities, the invention of container shipping was the final straw. Without adequate rail and road access and the space to operate cranes and stack containers, most of the port’s Manhattan-based business moved to New Jersey where new container facilities were being built.

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Inclusive Archiving, Public Art, and Representation at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans

Inclusive Archiving, Public Art, and Representation at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans

By Cynthia Tobar

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, created in 1900, was the first monument of its kind that sought the active involvement of Americans in nominating their favorite "Great Americans.” The Hall was conceived of by Dr. Henry Mitchell MacCracken, Chancellor of New York University (NYU), who envisioned a democratic election process for selecting these greats modeled after presidential elections. Nominations came to the election center and after a person received a certain number of votes, an NYU Senate of 100 voters made the final choice. The Senate was composed of American leaders: past American presidents, presidents of colleges, senators, and men of renown in various fields. Problems soon arose, however, when this initial process yielded 29 nominees, all male. The lack of women created a scandal and in the next election eight women were elected (currently, there are 11 women in the Hall). However, the contentious nomination of Robert E. Lee remained.

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Pinstripe Nation: The New York Yankees and American Culture

Pinstripe Nation: The New York Yankees and American Culture

Reviewed by Tony Calandrillo

In Pinstripe Nation: The New York Yankees and American Culture, Baker University professor Will Bishop explores how the success, failure, and attendant drama of the New York Yankees fits into the larger narrative of American culture, and how both the Yankees and that culture constantly mirror each other in the 20th century. In the introduction, Bishop makes this point clearly when he states that “what plays out in our little cocoons of sport is so often a close parallel of what is going on outside of them, only dramatized in a way that frequently makes it clearer.” According to the author, “the narratives that play out in the world of sport often are somehow able to help us better see and understand who we are as a society, what we value, and how we are changing.” For the particular case of the New York Yankees, this mirror narrative sees that the Yankees’ story of success parallels and is interwoven with the narrative of American success in the twentieth century. For his book, Bishop uses the work of Roland Barthes in relation to unspoken communication through symbols to illustrate how the Yankees have been used as an American cultural icon from their rise to national prominence in the 1920s through the end of the twentieth century.

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The Rebel Cafe: Sex, Race and Politics in Cold War America's Nightclub Underground

The Rebel Cafe: Sex, Race and Politics in Cold War America's Nightclub Underground

Reviewed by Burton W. Peretti

Stephen R. Duncan’s new book admirably fills a void in the historiography of 20th century American culture. We long have recognized that between the storied nightclub era of Prohibition days and the age of rock ’n’ roll, there was a perceptible but elusive set of nightlife entertainment venues that kept radical left-wing political values percolating during the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Historians have explored chapters in New York City’s interregnum — David Stowe, for example, covers Cafe Society in the late 1930s, Patrick Burke describes the jazz clubs on 52nd Street, and James Gavin chronicles European-style cabaret — but a comprehensive history, with more of a national perspective, has been lacking. Duncan’s ambitious and wide-ranging work makes a terrific new contribution toward defining the paramount significance of radical and intimate performance venues of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s.

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History Museums and Capitalism: The Need for Critical Conversations

History Museums and Capitalism: The Need for Critical Conversations

By Andrew Urban

In November, 2018, the Public Historian published a review that I wrote of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s newest tour: Under One Roof. The tour interprets the lives of three families who lived in the tenement at 103 Orchard Street — which was acquired by the museum in 2007 — from the 1940s up until the recent past. Addressing post-World War II immigration and migration to the Lower East Side, the educators leading the tours that I took did an excellent job highlighting how Americans have frequently been reluctant to welcome the world’s “huddled masses,” national myths notwithstanding.

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How Do We Mourn Publicly? Memorialization and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

How Do We Mourn Publicly?: Memorialization and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

By Kim Dramer

Around the turn of the 20th century, the shirtwaist, a type of blouse, was the choice of fashionable New York women. Stylish women in shirtwaists embellished by intricate tucks and lace inserts cut an elegant figure on the streets of New York. But the ample cut of the shirtwaist also gave the freedom of movement required by women who toiled in the city’s sweatshops where the shirtwaists were cut, sewn and trimmed. Across lower Manhattan, garment factories sprang up in which row after row of young women sat behind sewing machines. In their pursuit of the American dream, they toiled long hours for low wages, enduring dangerous working conditions. At the turn of the 20th century, there were more than 500 blouse factories in New York City, employing upwards of 40,000 workers.[1]

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New York Sports: Glamour and Grit in the Empire City

New York Sports: Glamour and Grit in the Empire City

Reviewed by Tony Collins

2018 wasn’t a great year for sports fans in New York. It ended with the Jets and Giants finishing last in their conferences, while the Knicks and the Nets spent the 2017-18 season fighting over the keys to the Atlantic Division’s cellar. And, with the exception of the Yankees, baseball and hockey fared little better.

But everyone in the city knows that things will change. This, after all, is the city that pretty much invented modern American sports.


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Happenings: Art, Play, and Urban Revitalization in 1960s Central Park

Happenings: Art, Play, and Urban Revitalization in 1960s Central Park

By Marie Warsh

On November 16, 1966, an unprecedented event took place on the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Beginning at midnight, thousands of New Yorkers convened on the park’s largest lawn to watch the Leonid meteor showers, which were expected to be particularly brilliant. Although the crowd was let down — dense cloud cover prevented visibility — the gathering nonetheless offered a convivial atmosphere. Spectators brought chairs, blankets, and hot beverages, and the event became an after-dark picnic, with some marveling at the novel scene. One woman observed, “All these people in the park after midnight, and no one is getting mugged.”

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The Deuce Times Two

The Deuce Times Two

By Jeffrey Escoffier

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The famous opening line of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities certainly seems like an appropriate way sum up 1970s New York, but I cite it also because the novel itself comes up in The Deuce’s first season as a book that launches a young prostitute on the road to reading and going back to school. Objectively life in New York City during the 1970s and early 80s was pretty bad — high crime rates, rampant homelessness, loose trash everywhere, whole neighborhoods of abandoned buildings crumbling and burning — yet it was an incredibly creative time as well: in music, art, performance, theater and sexuality. This was brought home to me recently when a 70-year-old retired professor of history said to me: “I know everything was so terrible in that period, but it was also incredibly exciting.”

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One Hundred Years of Equity Strikes and Labor Solidarity

One Hundred Years of Equity Strikes and Labor Solidarity

By Caroline Propersi-Grossman

In August 1919, following months of stalled negotiations, the New York City section of Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) called a strike against The Producing Managers Association, a trade group composed of theater owners and producers including the Shubert, Ziegfield, and Belasco theater owners. Equity’s demands were modest. The strike called for a standardized eight-show work week with additional compensation for extra matinee performances and higher wages for chorus performers. The Producing Managers Association responded by refusing to recognize Equity, filing injunctions against individual actors, and occasionally attempting to open negotiations with the actors’ union on a theater-by-theater basis.

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