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July 14, 2003

The On-line Journal Common-place tackles comparative urban history in creative new ways.

(Worcester, MA) When does a city become a city? What problems and opportunities face residents of new urban spaces? What choices do they make and what are the implications of their decisions? How do geography, empire, and economy shape the outcome?

In an exciting new approach to urban history, the on-line journal Common-place ( today publishes a special issue on the early cities of the Americas. Renowned UCLA historian Gary Nash joins the award-winning editorial team of Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky in bringing together some of the world's most eminent scholars of urban life to trace the early development of eighteen key North and South American cities. Each author writes about his or her city at a point in time near the end of its second generation of settlers. The result is an urban kaleidoscope, a fascinating comparative experiment that ranges widely across time and geography. From Yale historian John Demos' study of

Potosi, Bolivia, with its population of 100,000 in the 16th century, to Pulitzer Prize-winner Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Boston in 1660, still a village of 2,000 souls, from Christine Hunefeldt's Lima in the 1760s to Richard and Claudia Bushman's exploration of Salt Lake City in 1890, the essays prompt readers to think deeply about what makes a city. Is it population size? Density? Diversity? The ways people make and buy things? And what, in the end, was the role of cities in the early history of what became the United States, which remained a predominantly agricultural nation well into the twentieth century?

The articles depict cities at widely different moments in chronological time but at similar stages of urban development. Widening our vision by including cities outside of what became the continental United States, the articles invite readers to engage in creative thought, which the Web format allows them to do in new ways. Readers can navigate between the cities from East to West, North to South, by century or size or empire. They can visualize each city with the help of early maps and city views, compare the topography and trace how geography affects city planning.

The cities covered in this special issue include some that will surprise readers. The cities highlighted are: Baltimore in 1820; Boston in 1660; Charleston in 1730; Chicago in 1890; Havana, Cuba in 1690; Lima, Peru in 1760; Los Angeles in 1780; Mexico City in 1520; New Amsterdam (New York) in 1640; New Orleans in 1748; Paramaribo, Suriname in 1710; Philadelphia in 1720; Potosi, Bolivia in 1570; St. Louis in 1760; Salt Lake City in 1890; San Francisco in 1856; Santa Fe in 1608; Quebec, Canada in 1630; and Washington, D.C. in 1800.

About Common-place

The web journal aims to provide "a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture," said co-editor Jill Lepore. "A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks ñ and listens ñ to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900." The first issue of Common-place was published on the Internet in the fall of 2000.

About the American Antiquarian Society

AAS is a learned society and independent research library, specializing in all aspects of American history and culture through 1876. Founded in 1812 by the patriot printer and publisher Isaiah Thomas, AAS is the third oldest historical organization in the United States and the first to take the whole nation as its scope. The AAS library is the preeminent repository of pre-twentieth-century American printed materials and related manuscript and graphic arts materials in the world. The Society also sponsors an array of programs to encourage the use of its collections and to foster a greater understanding of American history. The main office for Common-place is at AAS, 185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609-1634; telephone (508) 755-5221.

About the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

GLI promotes the study of the American past by organizing seminars and enrichment programs for teachers; supporting and producing publications and national traveling exhibitions; creating innovative history high schools, history programs, and Saturday academies; establishing research centers at universities and cultural institutions; granting and administering a major fellowship program for work in leading archives; and seeking to build national and international networks of people and institutions involved in American history.

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