By Daniel Adamson (@DEAdamson9)
The Pyrrhic Wars; the crossing of the Rubicon; the witch hunts; the sinking of the Titanic. Modern parlance is littered with examples of historical events that have accrued a metaphorical value superior to the weight of their historical realities. In public spheres, there is more interest in deploying historical events for what they symbolise, rather than what they actually were. The Dreyfus Affair is one such case in point. In 1894, the French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason, having been accused of passing classified documents to the German military. Protracted division and debate subsequently embroiled French society, as competing parties contested the validity of Dreyfus’ conviction. Eventually, in 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated upon retrial and the identification of the true culprit (Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy).
By Sam Collings-Wells (@Sam_cw_)
‘And they hide their faces / And they hide their eyes / Cause the city is dyin’/ And they don’t know why’.
These lyrics from Randy Newman’s 1977 ‘Baltimore’—later made famous by Nina Simone’s justly celebrated cover—perfectly captured the spirit urban life during the mid-1970s. Historians would later pinpoint the variety of forces that were killing America’s cities: the flight of industry to the suburbs; increased manufacturing competition from emerging economies in the Global South; a deeply racist housing market which served to entrap people of colour within these decaying urban cores.
Yet as Newman’s lyric suggests, for many Americans the causes of urban decay were far more nebulous.
In seeking out explanations, some might have turned to the intense contemporary debate amongst sociologists, urbanists, and politicians. For others, a rather more seductive interpretation of the urban crisis was emerging, one which they could absorb from the comfort of a suburban movie theatre. Read more