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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 13: The City •

The City

Book cover: Re-presenting the Metropolis: Architecture, urban experience and social life in London, 1800-1840

Author's response


Re-presenting the Metropolis: Architecture, urban experience and social life in London, 1800-1840

by Dana Arnold
Ashgate, 2000
ISBN-13: 978-1-84014-232-7; 172 pages, price £60.00

John Marriot

University of East London

First of all I would like to thank Dr Marriott for his perceptive and thoughtful review. I do not take issue with his critique of my book as any work is bound to have some flaws and do not therefore feel obliged to defend my work or offer clarification of my aims and arguments.

What then should I say in response? Dr Marriott picks up on two points regarding the notion of urban consciousness with reference to the bourgeoisie, a term I use interchangeably with middle class (vide R Williams Keywords), and the role of empire. It is true that in the late eighteenth century the crowd was seen as something to be avoided by the urban élite. But by the early nineteenth century the city had become a site for crowds as seen in the increased number of public spaces and venues. The proliferation of guidebooks, maps aimed at the literate classes encouraged circulation around and viewing of the new spaces of modern London. The middle class did then become more influential not just as a viewing public who, not unlike the flâneur/euse, remained isolated from some of the social rituals and cultural practices of the metropolis, but also as enablers of the encroaching bureaucratic' arithmetic' which was part of the system of the modern city. The establishment of London as a nexus of national sensibilities pervades my book and with reference to the British Museum I stress that it is a national repository full of artefacts from the ancient world. This reinforces the theme of re-appropriation of the antique architecture and design to construct a modern national identity - London is finally established as the capital of the British Isles through its architecture, urban planning and the kind of 'experience' it could offer resident and visitor alike. Dr Marriott is right to point out the importance of imperial supremacy in the fight with the French but perhaps the strongest manifestation of this in terms of the metropolis come slightly later than the period I consider. But with as subject as rich as London 1800-1840 there are always more avenues to be explored.

My book is intended to set out my agenda for how we should read cities and more generally the rich archive of architectural history. And as Dr Marriott notes this is a preliminary statement making clear how I use the interface between social and cultural theory and archive material to create a new a paradigm for the understanding of metropolitan environments. Like any dinner party cook I must express some satisfaction when he states I leave my reader/guest desirous of more! Indeed, I continue my intellectual project in two forthcoming books and, if I am allowed to be a blatant self-publicist in this response, they are: Reading Architectural History: A discourse around the discipline, Routledge 2002, and Reading London: Chapters in the history of the Metropolis, MUP 2003. I hope they are treated as generously as this volume.

February 2002

Original review

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