American urban ruins have become increasingly prominent, whether in debates about home foreclosures, images of 9/11, or postapocalyptic movies. Nick Yablon argues that this association between American cities and ruins dates back to a much earlier period in the nation's history. Recovering numerous scenes of urban desolation - from accounts of failed banks, abandoned towns, and dilapidated tenements to popular fiction and cartoons that envisioned disintegrating skyscrapers and bridges - Yablon challenges the myth that ruins were absent or at least insignificant objects in nineteenth-century America. Unlike classical and Gothic ruins, which decayed over centuries and inspired philosophical meditations about the past, American ruins often appeared unpredictably and disappeared before they could accrue an aura of age. In doing so, they generated critical reflections about contemporary cities, and the new kinds of experience they enabled.
Unearthing evocative depictions of these untimely ruins everywhere from the archives of photography clubs to the pages of pulp magazines, Yablon reconstructs crucial debates about America's economic, technological, and cultural transformation in an age of urban modernity.
Nick Yablon is assistant professor of American studies at the University of Iowa.