“Every place is, if not infinite, then practically inexhaustible.” So wrote Rebecca Solnit in her introduction to Nonstop Metropolis, an atlas of New York co-edited with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. In this course, we will explore the history and present of urban life and attempt to understand New York’s overlapping worlds by exploring the city. As the biggest, fastest, richest city in America, New York holds more people than Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia – combined. The city’s nearly nine million people make New York’s 321 square miles the most densely populated place on the continent. And two-thirds of New Yorkers today are immigrants or their children. Every one of these people, whether a Salvadoran busboy or Nigerian financier or Pakistani maid, has a story—and every one of them could, as such, map the city in their own way.
With field-trips allied to visits from the experts whose work is featured in Nonstop Metropolis—linguists and demographers, activists and artists, scholars of race and of history—this course will open our eyes to the splendid feast of the city’s immigrant neighborhoods, the “gorgeous mosaic,” and explore the complex issues involved in immigration and city life. We will investigate the many ways that “a sense of place,” even in our globalizing age, remains crucial to residents of the city’s neighborhoods—and to all people everywhere.
In addition, drawing from classic accounts of New York by writers ranging from Joseph Mitchell to Alfred Kazin to Vivian Gornick and Adrian Leblanc, and other geographers, sociologists, and journalists, we will explore the ethics of “doing research”—and of describing communities not our own. Most of all, students will explore the rendering of New York’s communities in maps and in prose in ways that do justice to, and enrich our understanding of, the human beings behind the numbers.
Joshua Jelly-Schapiro is the author of Island People: The Caribbean and the World (Knopf, 2016) and the co-editor, with Rebecca Solnit, of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas (California, 2016). He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, and his work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Believer, The Nation, Artforum, American Quarterly, and Transition, among many other publications. As a geographer and writer, he has often focused on place, race, and how human difference is thought about and acted on in the world. The recipient of fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Social Science Research Council, he earned his PhD in geography at UC-Berkeley, and is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU.