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Broken Cities: A Historical Sociology of Ruins

Martin Devecka

We have been taught to think of ruins as historical artifacts, relegated to the past by a catastrophic event. Instead, Martin Devecka argues in this highly original, engaging, and elegant work, that we should see them as processes taking place over a long present.

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Book Information

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publish Date: 09/01/2020
Pages: 184
ISBN-13: 9781421438429
ISBN-10: 1421438429
Language: English

Full Description

We have been taught to think of ruins as historical artifacts, relegated to the past by a catastrophic event. Instead, Martin Devecka argues in this highly original, engaging, and elegant work, that we should see them as processes taking place over a long present. In Broken Cities, Devecka offers a wide-ranging comparative study of ruination, the process by which monuments, architectural sites, and urban centers decay into ruin over time. Weaving together four case studies--of classical Athens, late antique Rome, medieval Baghdad, and sixteenth-century Mexico City--Devecka shows that ruination is a complex social process largely contingent on changing imperial control rather than the result of immediate or natural events.

Devecka convincingly demonstrates that conflicts arising between social classes act as agents of change contributing to urban decay. Interpreting ruins as a process rather than an outcome, he shows how cities fall apart in different ways at different times and places. While literary representations have long served as the primary source for reimagining ruined sites in their original glory, there is much to learn about sociological change across time and civilizations by turning to the ruins themselves and the series of events that created them.

Drawing on literature, legal texts, epigraphic evidence, and, especially in the case of Tenochtitlan, the narratives embodied in monuments and painting, Broken Cities is an expansive and nuanced study that holds great significance for the field of historiography. All of these materials, the book reveals, are as relevant to the history of ruins as the crumbling buildings themselves. An interdisciplinary experiment that brings together history, archaeology, sociology, and the arts, this is the first in-depth treatment of ruination before the Renaissance.

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