The University of Wisconsin Press


American History






Pastoral Cities
Urban Ideals and the Symbolic Landscape of America
James L. Machor

What has the city meant to Americans? James L. Machor explores this question in a provocative analysis of American responses to urbanization in the context of the culture’s tendency to valorize nature and the rural world.

Although much attention has been paid to American rural-urban relations, Machor focuses on a dimension largely overlooked by those seeking to explain American conceptions of the city. While urban historians and literary critics have explicitly or implicitly emphasized the opposition between urban and rural sensibilities in America, an equally important feature of American thought and writing has been the widespread interest in collapsing that division. Convinced that the native landscape has offered special opportunities, Americans since the age of settlement have sought to build a harmonious urban-pastoral society combining the best of both worlds. Moreover, this goal has gone largely unchallenged in the culture except for the sophisticated responses in the writings of some of America’s most eminent literary artists.

Pastoral Cities explains the development of urban pastoralism from its origins in the prophetic vision of the New Jerusalem, applied to America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, through its secularization in the urban planning and reform of the 1800s. Machor critiques the sophisticated treatment of urban pastoralism by writers such as Emerson, Whitman, Hawthrone, Wharton, and James by skillfully by combining cultural analysis with a close reading of urban plans, travel narratives, sermons, and popular novels. The product of this multifaceted approach is an analysis that works to reveal both the strengths and weaknesses of the pastoral ideal as cultural mythology.

James L. Machor is professor of English at Kansas State University. He is author and editor of many books, including Reception Study: From Literary Theory to Cultural Studies and Readers in History: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Context of Response.

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Green image of cattle being

June 1994

LC: 87-002171 PS
240 pp. 5 7/8 x 9


The 1989 cloth edition of this book is out of print, but the paperback is still available.

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