The Birth of NYC as Metropolis — the Early 20th Century
Nearly two decades ago, CUNY historians Mike Wallace and Edwin G. Burrows won the Pulitzer Prize for Gotham, a sweeping history of New York City up until 1898. Now, Professor Wallace (John Jay College, The Graduate Center) has written a sequel, which focuses on the next 20 years through World War I.
“This was the most transformative moment in the city’s history,” Wallace said during a CUNY Book Beat podcast. “It’s the period of emergence of the things people know as modern New York” — the subways and skyscrapers, the power and cultural centers, the great wave of immigration that turned the city into a global metropolis.
The city experienced major economic swings from the 1898 skyscraper-driven boom to the Bankers’ Panic of 1907, the labor upheaval, and violent repression during and after the first world war.
In a New York Times review of Greater Gotham: A History of New York City From 1898 to 1919, Joseph Berger wrote that what makes the writing so entertaining is that Wallace doesn’t just talk politics and planning. It is “as much a social and cultural history as it is a political narrative,” he wrote. “We learn about changes in how people were housed, how they got to work, how they enjoyed their pleasures and vices.”
It was in this period that the country began what remains “a complicated love-hate relationship” with the city, says Wallace, who founded the Gotham Center for New York City History at The Graduate Center. “On one hand, New York was Wall Street creating great inequalities of wealth, but at the same time it was a glittering, fascinating modernity of changes in culture.”
It took Wallace and Burrows 20 years to collaborate on Gotham, and it took Wallace another 20 years to write Greater Gotham. The good news for fans of New York history: “There will be a third volume and a fair amount of it is in the can,” said Wallace.
Explore This Work
Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919
Oxford University Press, 2017
Mike Wallace (Professor, History) | Profile 1