Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Sensing Chicago: Noisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Sensing Chicago: Noisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers

Article excerpt

Sensing Chicago: Noisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers. By Adam Mack. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015. Pp. xi, 161, notes, bibliography, index, illustrations. Paper, $40.00.)

Adam Mack, assistant professor of history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), provides an innovative look at mostly familiar stories in Chicago history, including the reversal of the Chicago River, the 1871 Fire, 1894 Pullman Strike, and the Stockyards district. Over twenty years ago, the late George H. Roeder, Jr., Mack's predecessor at SAIC, called for work on American sensory history. Responding to this call and the work of cultural historians, such as Mark M. Smith and David Howes, Mack has written the first sensorial study of Chicago. Perhaps closest to it is the wonderfully idiosyncratic work of Perry Duis, especially in Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920 (1998). Mack draws from existing studies on infrastructure and technology, like Harold Platt's Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago (2005). As well, the book provides a complementary perspective on urban order than that presented in the literary analysis of Carl Smith in Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman (1995).

Mack's focus on what past Chicagoans heard, smelled, felt and tasted enhances our understanding of how they viewed their place in a social and economic order. He argues that a focus on the sensory landscape helps "us elucidate social class" (p. 4). In particular, Mack is most interested in the differential urban experience of workers and their more affluent neighbors. With its emphasis on labor, Sensing Chicago offers a wonderful complement to John B. Jentz and Richard Schneirov's Chicago in the Age of Capital: Class, Politics, and Democracy during the Civil War and Reconstruction (2012).

However, Mack's emphasis is not an inward focused study of interest only to labor or cultural historians. Instead, he has crafted a playful book that offers many new insights into well-known episodes in Chicago history, making it of interest to the general reader and useful in classrooms. …

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