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Exploring the Urban Past by David Cannadine download in ePub, pdf, iPad

As a collection of pieces they

As a collection of pieces, they have still much to teach about the rise of the modern city. It has clearly not done that.

This was the greater paradox. To that extent what happened in the nineteenth century plainly matters still. The city has set us the task of examining everything that has claimed to be permanent and essentially human in our heritage and systems of values. The faces in the crowd were as often as not seen to be marked by strong The Victorian city in historical perspective drink, violent passions, degraded character.

More fundamentally perhaps, the urban transformation of Britain in the nineteenth century matters to what came after as a prototypical experience. They were for the most part, as it seems now, both deaf and dumb, incapable of hearing the authentic tongue of the voiceless or of telling the prisoners how to escape. Even when neighbourhoods decay such covenants remain, for houses built for the servant-keeping classes decline inexorably into whole districts of oneroomed dwellings. On the lower and darker side of preVictorian respectability what we see is a vast ignorable pit of shadows from which few ever emerged to make any distinguishable mark of personal achievement. Perhaps the city at that time occupied a place in the English imagination similar to that of sex and was similarly repressed.

The urban historian had to demonstrate the dynamic influence of urbanism in and through the history of place and by giving the processes at work a name and a habitat. Such images were imaginative representations of more subtle truths. The sequence was neither settled in advance nor even known and it could never be considered complete.

What the Victorian city began to do by way of opening up the possibilities of the dual revolution was to permit this sustained awareness of differences in social conditions to take place. What they have to tell us about the impact of urbanism as an all-enveloping experience is perhaps less direct and sure-handed. We can even sense the shape of some of the things to come. Their old way of life slowly eroded but its associations were often deliberately reinforced to generate a new kind of village atmosphere. The perspective we get of the Victorian city from the ground is therefore a finite, tentative, historical one.

It was not something to celebrate with open joy but remained within the Puritan tradition a source of guilt and alarm. It was the city which enabled such things to be seen. Even Victoria Park is itself a congress of many pre-Victorian influences. Dyos had strong emotional as well as academic links with London.

Dickens was the necessary pioneer. If we want to be more than mere resurrectionists and breathe some life and meaning into the language of the city we must expect to study it with all the senses. For the urban mass no longer generates forces of attraction directly proportionate to its density. The general tendency was altogether less idiosyncratic and more organisational. Much of the urban historian's task is concerned with the art of reading the city.

It has clearly not done

The first attempts at comprehension had of necessity to be ad hoc, starting severally from the most pressing problems including health and housing. Natural laws, which under divine authority had acquired benevolent force in the eighteenth century, no longer served. But it was Leicester University that gave him the opportunity to do what he did.