Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

America in Ruins: The Image of the Decline and Fall of Cities
by Perry, Weena Michele, Ph.D., State University of New York at Stony Brook, 2009, 186; 3448463
Abstract (Summary)

The image of contemporary ruin speaks with particular insistence, demanding an answer to the following question: how does a society represent or explicate its ruins? This dissertation uses two sharply differentiated historical moments, the end of the Civil War and the postindustrial era hardship confronting the city of Detroit since the late 1960s in order to examine how image and text work together to shape emerging narratives undergirded by the idea of decline and fall. When juxtaposed, the fall of the Confederacy and the fall and decline of Detroit have much to tell us about the self-justification of contemporary ruin, and the “othering” involved in the master narratives that attempt to account for who and what is responsible for the fall or decline under representation.

The trauma of slavery and its legacy informs the conflicts of both eras: how this trauma is engaged or elided plays a crucial part in the explicatory framework for the ruin. Moreover, both historical moments are etched with the pain of socio-economic transition: the cataclysmic shifts from agrarian to industrial, and then from industrial to postindustrial. I have chosen these two eras because of the paradigmatic historical shifts embodied by the imaging and explication of their ruins. Focusing on the emerging narrative, rather than the comfortably detached packaging of the historical past, is a particularly compelling way to engage the transitory nature of the contemporary ruin, and delve into the ambivalence at the heart of its representation. The ruin image as aesthetic object suggests the danger of being swept under the rug of history.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bogart, Michele, Monteyne, Joseph
School: State University of New York at Stony Brook
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 72/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Art history, Mass communications
Keywords: Civil War, Detroit, Michigan, Photography, Ruins
Publication Number: 3448463
ISBN: 978-1-124-54863-0
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