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Gotham

Harlem's Missionaries to Africa: An Interview with Elisabeth Engel

Harlem's Missionaries to Africa: An Interview with Elisabeth Engel

Today on Gotham, editor Nick Juravich sits down with historian Elisabeth Engel, to speak about her experience writing her first book, Encountering Empire, on the lives of African American Missionaries in colonial Africa during the early twentieth century, and her thoughts on the subject since the monograph was published.

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​Coming Home to Harlem: The New Home of Missions in the Black American Community

​Coming Home to Harlem: The New Home of Missions in the Black American Community

By Elisabeth Engel

In Encountering Empire, historian Elisabeth Engel traces how black American missionaries — men and women grappling with their African heritage — established connections in Africa during the heyday of European colonialism. Reconstructing the black American “colonial encounter,” a neglected chapter of Atlantic history, Engel analyzes the images, transatlantic relationships, and possibilities of representation African American missionaries developed for themselves while negotiating colonial regimes. Between 1900 and 1939, these missionaries paved the way for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the oldest independent black American institution, to establish a presence in Britain's sub-Saharan colonies. African Americans thus used imperial structures for their own self-determination.

This post, drawn from the book's fourth chapter, discusses how concepts of home crystallized a counterculture of diasporic pan-Africanism within AME missionary circles. A key part of defining “home” for these missionaries was moving to a new headquarters in Harlem.

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Alex Palmer: How a New Yorker Invented Christmas

Alex Palmer: How a New Yorker Invented Christmas

Last week, in advance of Chanukah, we published a review of Jewish New York, the new digest from NYU Press based on their acclaimed multi-volume series, City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York.

Today, just a few days before Christmas, we hear from journalist and writer Alex Palmer about how an early twentieth century New Yorker (his great grand-uncle) invented the popular, contemporary American fixtures of the Christian holiday. Gotham 's interview with the bestselling author of The Santa Claus Man follows.

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The Epistolarians

The Epistolarians

By Margaret A. Brucia

The nearly 300 letters were a jumbled heap— out of their envelopes, out of order, out of my field of expertise. But the moment I bargained for them that spring morning in the confusion of a Roman flea market, the academic focus of my life underwent a seismic shift, from the ancient Mediterranean world to New York City in the Gilded Age. Julia Gardiner Gayley’s letters, it turned out, were more than just interesting primary source material from the first three decades of the twentieth century, they were a passageway into the intimate lives of two strong, confident, articulate, independent-minded women. And they told a story worthy of Henry James or Edith Wharton, from the beginning of Mary’s Grand Tour of Italy in 1902 to her mother’s death in New York in 1937.

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Jeremiah Moss's Vanishing New York

Jeremiah Moss's Vanishing New York

By Seth Kamil

I first arrived in Manhattan in the summer of 1989, but it was very much a homecoming. With deep family roots in New York, I felt more comfortable here than almost anywhere else in the world. My parents were born here. All four grandparents spent most of their lives in the City and its suburbs. My fondest memories involved driving across the 59th Street Bridge in my grandfather’s Lincoln Continental. We would hit the Horn & Hardart Automat on 42nd Street & 2nd Avenue (or, if “Poppy” was flush, Katz’s Deli) and then drive or walk around Manhattan. See Times Square. Visit his sister who lived in the Amalgamated Houses in Chelsea. The day often ended with egg cream sodas at Moishe’s on the corner of Bowery & Grand Street. Having struggled his whole life economically, my grandfather always had a kind word and some pocket change for the homeless who gathered there. But, only a child, I remembered the men who tried to wash our car windows, the grime, and graffiti, as somewhat scary. This was the mid-1970s.

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Myth #8: Static Manhattan, Part II

Myth #8: Static Manhattan, Part II

By Gerard Koeppel and Jason M. Barr

Today, the image of Manhattan is as a vertical city — a place that, as E. B. White saw it, “has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow.” With our eyes focused skyward, we think little of the city’s horizontal expansion, as the grid plan seemingly set Manhattan in stone, literally and figuratively.

This is the final installment of the authors' series The Manhattan Street Grid: Misconceptions and Corrections.

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New Editors

New Editors

We are delighted to announce five new members of the Gotham editorial board. Since the blog launched two years ago (nearly one decade after the Blotter, its semi-regular predecessor, began), we've seen very healthy growth, steadily ticking upwards each month. In our personal travels and conversation, we've also been continually delighted to learn about our readers — a fine, discriminating lot.

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Theoren HylandComment
Jewish New York

Jewish New York

By Geraldine Gudefin

Whether they are thinking of bagels or Woody Allen, to many Americans, Jews are intimately connected, if not synonymous with New York. Jewish New York, an edited volume from New York University Press out this month, explores the historical developments that have led to this association and asks: "when and in what sense did New York become a city of promises for Jews"? The book is a condensed version of the prize-winning City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York (2012), the first comprehensive history on the subject. Synthesizing three volumes into one single tome, it is also half the length, at 500 pages. The book, which contains essays by Jeffrey S. Gurock, Annie Polland, Howard B. Block, and Daniel Soyer, has greatly benefited from the careful editing of Deborah Dash Moore, a prominent historian of Jewish America. Organized into broad themes, the book is divided into four parts that follow a roughly linear chronological arc, from the colonial period to the present, with eleven chapters and a visual essay by art historian Diana L. Linden.

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Woodrow Wilson: “Our Pious President”

Woodrow Wilson: “Our Pious President”

By Margaret A. Brucia

On June 16, 1915, Julia Gardiner Gayley dined with her friend Elizabeth Lovett at Lucy Frelinghuysen’s summer house on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. Less than six weeks earlier, a German U-boat had torpedoed the Lusitania, a British luxury liner, off the southern coast of Ireland, killing nearly 1,200 people, including 128 Americans. President Woodrow Wilson, two years into his first term, clashed with his Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, over how America, clinging to neutrality, should deal with Germany in the aftermath of the disaster. Bryan, a pacifist, refused to back the strict demands Wilson imposed on the Germans. A week before Julie’s evening at Lucy’s, Bryan resigned from office in protest, weakening Wilson’s bargaining position during an international crisis. Bryan’s action not only fractured the Democratic Party, but sowed further doubts among pro-intervention Republicans, like Julie, about the Democrats’ ability to lead an America threatened by war.

This is the latest in a series of posts based on the letters of the New York socialite, Julia Gardiner Gayley (1864-1937), to her eldest daughter, Mary Gayley Senni (1884-1971), a countess who lived on the outskirts of Rome. In 2010, the author purchased a trove of the letters in a Roman flea market. This mother-daughter correspondence spanned the years 1902-1936 and provides an intimate and unfiltered view of life in New York during the early twentieth century.

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The Fight for Suffrage in New York State

The Fight for Suffrage in New York State

Reviewed by Marcela Micucci

November 6th marked 100 years of women’s suffrage in New York. While celebrations of the landmark event have echoed across the state this past year, perhaps the greatest commemoration to the centennial year has been historians’ reignited interest in New York suffragists and their struggle to win the vote. Leading the charge in this cadre of works are Johanna Neuman’s Gilded Suffragists and Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello’s Women Will Vote.

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