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ARLH 208- Week 4: Urbanizing America

Aug 11, 2023

Week 4: Urbanizing America

Each week you will write a total of two to three pages. You must pick at least one article from the weekly Reading folders and one film from the lecture to write about. You may also use two readings. Please make sure you include the title of the article and the film. You are also able to do extra credit worth up to 5 or ten points or extra films or articles or the extra credit from the syllabus. Attach your extra credit of at least a 1-2 page to the weekly submission for it to count. Please use the following format in either doc or pdf format:

Barrows, R. G. (2007). Urbanizing America. The Gilded Age: Perspectives on the Origins of Modern America, 101-118.

Week 4: Urbanizing America

The article Urbanizing America by Robert G Barrows focussed on the phenomenon of urbanization that had grappled America in the 19th century. The America of the 19th century wasn’t the rural haven described in the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Booth Tarkington. Present America was rapidly changing due to the effects of Urbanisation, industrialization, and immigration. The article cites how, the 19th Century saw a major shift in the American landscape, at the beginning only 5% of the total population called the urban cities their home, a number which staggeringly went up to 75% (Barrows, 2007, p. 92). In order to enhance their prospects multiple young men made their way into the urban cities. In order to manage the bulk of people residing in the cities architecture of that time developed a methodology known as ‘suburbanisation’. A similar pattern was followed by builders for formulating residences in a particular area. There was no differentiation done on the basis of the descent of owners. A particular area followed similar designs. This similarity made suburban areas a perfect fit for families. The mid-urban area became the hub of an economic boom with sectors like banking and manufacturing hitting an all-time high. In order to accommodate the influx of workers, high buildings began appearing in these areas. Though the technology of that time was not advanced enough to build ‘skyscrapers’. The constituent elements used during that time were materials like bricks which were not strong enough to withstand a lot of weight. As architectural innovations came to light, several improvements were made in urban construction. The application of a load-bearing steel skeleton covered with stone skin was used by builders to make stronger structures and led to the creation of the first ‘skyscraper’ structure in the form of the Home Insurance Building containing ten storeys. The high-speed electrical elevators enabled the architects to elongate their buildings more, adding one floor after the other. Therefore multi-storied buildings became the dwelling of upper and middle-class people, while poor households were provided with tenement housing. The rapid progress and increasing population of working-class citizens in the urban area. The buildings that were supposed to contain sixteen to twenty-four families, multiplied to 150 people during industrialization. This high concentration of people led to diseases and unhygienic conditions among the residents.

The documentary Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home focuses on the importance of dwellings in the Victorian age and how due to its formulation it consisted of secret killers, that slowly but steadily, affected its residents. Victorian saw the rise of the middle class and with it a change in their lifestyle. Due to this change, a huge focus was provided on the manner in which they conducted themselves, especially the place they chose to call their home. Household magazines were published to suggest to people the manner in which they could decorate their homes, in order to maintain an apt appearance. In this attempt to beautify their homes, the Victorians welcomed changes like wallpaper in their houses. In Wallpapers Green Colour became extremely fashionable and in a matter of years, weird incidents began to get reported. People began to be found in a comatose state for absolutely no reason in their homes. Later on, it was discovered that the ailment was caused by arsenic which was one of the main ingredients of the green color used in wallpapers. People began to be diagnosed with cholera whose symptoms were extremely similar to Arsenic poisoning. The documentary provides proof that the poisonous fumes released from Arsenic were making the air toxic. Thus their grand dwelling was actually adorned with an element literally killing them. Therefore, there were practices of traveling for fresh air to far-off places to improve their health. The accumulated ‘materials’ in the house led to the production of almost 2.5 kilograms of arsenic in a normal Victorian Household.  Victorian Age was economically motivated and therefore people like William Morris who were fiercely against the ban on Arsenic were extremely influential in hiding the facts about doctor’s findings in relation to this element. The usage of Arsenic was finally regulated when the Queen’s proceedings got affected by it. A Diplomat visiting the Queen fell ill due to Arsenic poisoning. Thereafter the procedure of regulating Arsenic began from the side of the authorities. Surprisingly they were never really banned. The catastrophe finally came to an end when consumers informed about the danger began to limit their purchase of such wallpapers. Manufacturers began to advertise their materials as ‘Arsenic free’.  Hence, Victorians suffered immensely under the burden of these mandatory ‘appearances’, which the industrialists promoted through the media and the innocent public brought into.


Barrows, R. G. (2007). Urbanizing America. The Gilded Age, 101-118.

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