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Sites Unseen

Sites Unseen: Architecture, Race, and American Literature

William A. Gleason
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Sites Unseen
    Book Description:

    Sites Unseen examines the complex intertwining of race and architecture in nineteenth and early-twentieth century American culture, the period not only in which American architecture came of age professionally in the U.S. but also in which ideas about architecture became a prominent part of broader conversations about American culture, history, politics, and although we have not yet understood this clearly race relations. This rich and copiously illustrated interdisciplinary study explores the ways that American writing between roughly 1850 and 1930 concerned itself, often intensely, with the racial implications of architectural space primarily, but not exclusively, through domestic architecture.In addition to identifying an archive of provocative primary materials, Sites Unseen draws significantly on important recent scholarship in multiple fields ranging from literature, history, and material culture to architecture, cultural geography, and urban planning. Together the chapters interrogate a variety of expressive American vernacular forms, including the dialect tale, the novel of empire, letters, and pulp stories, along with the plantation cabin, the West Indian cottage, the Latin American plaza, and the Oriental parlor. These are some of the overlooked plots and structures that can and should inform a more comprehensive consideration of the literary and cultural meanings of American architecture. Making sense of the relations between architecture, race, and American writing of the long nineteenth century in their regional, national, and hemispheric contexts Sites Unseen provides a clearer view not only of this catalytic era but also more broadly of what architectural historian Dell Upton has aptly termed the social experience of the built environment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3327-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Race, Writing, Architecture
    (pp. 1-32)
    American Patterns

    The idea for this book emerged from a deceptively simple question: Why are there so many porches in the conjure tales of Charles Chesnutt? Although Chesnutt’s conjure stories center on often-fantastic transformations within a reimagined slave South, the contemporary frame settings of his late nineteenth-century tales can seem repetitious at best, almost always placing the same characters on the same porch of the same post-Reconstruction North Carolina mansion. Was this repetition a sign of a lack of narrative imagination? Or was Chesnutt’s insistent return to the plantation porch instead a canny exploration of a powerfully resonant physical site and social...

  6. 1 Cottage Desire: The Bondwoman’s Narrative and the Politics of Antebellum Space
    (pp. 33-66)

    Near the end of Hannah Crafts’s novelThe Bondwoman’s Narrative, on the run from the North Carolina plantation of her final owners, the escaped slave narrator Hannah seeks a night’s rest in the deep woods. For two weeks she has moved slowly north, seeking shelter and sustenance where she can find it, always anxious she will be discovered and reenslaved: “In every shadow I beheld, as in every voice I heard a pursuer.” Although she has spent some of her fugitive nights in the houses of “kind and hospitable” people touched by her cover story—dressed as a young man,...

  7. 2 Piazza Tales: Architecture, Race, and Memory in Charles Chesnutt’s Conjure Stories
    (pp. 67-104)

    When Charles W. Chesnutt surveyed his literary prospects in the fall of 1889, he had every reason to be optimistic. In the previous two years Chesnutt had placed three of his conjure (or “Uncle Julius”) tales in theAtlantic Monthly, becoming the first African American fiction writer to be published by such an influential arbiter of national taste. During the same period, he had struck up fruitful correspondences with Albion Tourgée and George Washington Cable, prominent white authors and social reformers who read and commented favorably on Chesnutt’s work. New stories, including the beginning of a first novel, were flowing...

  8. 3 Imperial Bungalow: Structures of Empire in Richard Harding Davis and Olga Beatriz Torres
    (pp. 105-148)

    At 4:30 in the morning on 28 June 1914, thirteen-year-old Olga Beatriz Torres boarded the first of four trains that would take her from her home outside Mexico City to the militarized Gulf port of Veracruz, nearly 300 miles away. Amid patrolling U.S. Marines, who had seized the port on President Woodrow Wilson’s orders only two and a half months earlier, Torres and her family—refugees from the escalating chaos of the Mexican Revolution—waited for a ship to take them north to Texas, where they would seek a new home in exile. Several days later, a crude cargo vessel...

  9. 4 Keyless Rooms: Frank Lloyd Wright and Charlie Chan
    (pp. 149-188)

    Late in the first of Earl Derr Biggers’s six Charlie Chan novels,The House without a Key(1925), the narrative visits, for the first time, the Chinese Hawaiian detective’s home. Chan, we learn, lives in a modest bungalow “that clung precariously to the side of Punchbowl Hill.” From his front gate a visitor—in this instance John Quincy Winterslip, a proper young Bostonian who is helping Chan solve the murder of his cousin Dan Winterslip, and who has hastened after hours to present the detective with a fresh clue—can see the “great gorgeous garden” of downtown Honolulu illuminated below....

  10. Coda: Black Cabin, White House
    (pp. 189-206)

    In 1891, architect George F. Barber of Knoxville, Tennessee, published his third booklet of house designs,Cottage Souvenir No. 2,A Repository of Artistic Cottage Architecture and Miscellaneous Designs. His first two booklets, produced in 1887 and 1888 while he was still practicing in DeKalb, Illinois, had been modestly successful, butCottage Souvenir No. 2 made Barber, so to speak, a household name. Advertised nationally in high-circulation periodicals such asThe Cosmopolitan(Fig. 36), Barber’s booklet attracted customers interested in his “very attractive” and “artistic dwellings” from all parts of the country, and soon, from abroad. Over the next twenty...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 207-240)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-258)
  13. Index
    (pp. 259-270)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 271-271)