Samuel Hays on Urban and Rural Society

Date:         Wed, 8 Sep 1993 20:16:14 -0600                                    
Reply-To:     H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
Sender:       H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion                   
From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Samuel Hays on Urbanized (and Rural) Society <fwd>                

Here is the abstract of a recent article by Samuel P. Hays in JUH. I originally posted it to H-URBAN and thought H-RURAL might be interested in it, as Hays makes some reference to rural history.

Loomis Mayfield - TI0LFM1@NIU.BITNET Social Science Research Institute Northern Illinois University DeKalb, IL 60115 USA Work: (815) 753-2301


ABSTRACT Samuel P. Hays, "From the History of the City to the History of the Urbanized Society," _Journal of Urban History_ 19:4 (Aug., 1993): 3-25.

(An early version of this article was his presidential address to the Urban History Association in December, 1992.)

In this piece, one of the preeminent historians of our time has given a short outline of the direction he thinks urban history should take. He suggests that urban historians should look beyond the events and processes that happen within the locale of the city and look at how the city has interacted with other sectors, to the point they we should discuss how urbanized society evolved out of a basically rural society. "It is only through that transition, from the history of the city to the history of urbanized society, that we can develop a more effective context for urban history and give it the place in the larger realm of American history that it deserves." (24)

In four decades as a professional historian, Hays has been influential in a number of sub-fields besides urban history -- political history, immigration history, the history of systems & technology, environmental history, social science history, etc. He indicates how urban historians with these various topical interests could use this concept in their work.

He briefly describes four anaytical contexts for using this concept: politics, society and economy, culture and values, and the environment. Some of his general points: Hays looks at several issues in electoral and policy analyses that could use the general theme. Conflict over reapportionment is a relatively untapped source of the development of the transition. Key voting realignment periods -- in the 1890's and the 1930's --were part of the rise of the urban electorate to dominate national elections. Issue dominance in state and federal government lagged behind the development of voting coalitions, but by the post-World War II period, the shape of the policy & programs reflected a new political agenda that came from the newer urban America more than the rural parts of the nation -- housing, education, transportation, health care, environmental issues, etc.

He laments that "as urban historians, we write almost as if the region outside the cities did not exist" (8). The new rural history affirms that a rural society exists, and he suggests that urban historians should put it back into our analyses. He points to William Cronon's _Nature's Metropolis_ as a recent example, as it describes the relationship between city and countryside by showing how city needs shaped the processes and development of rural areas.

Hays indicates how demographic and economic relationships between city and countryside should be explored. Conflict between different interests occurred as city people moved into rural areas for permanent vacation homes.

Cultural conflict occurred in rural communities as urban-based changes, particularly technological changes, had effects. He describes the influence of the automobile, as presented by Michael Berger, _The Devil Wagon in God's Country_; as well as communications, utilities, etc. He indicates the different roles and opportunities rural & urban people had for leisure and cultural activities.

He also refers to the "urbanization of nature" and issues of consumption in the development of post-WW II environmental policy, that he has explored elsewhere (Hays, _Beauty, Health, and Permanence_ (1987)). Conflict arose over the limited stock of natural resources and the increase in human use of them.

He concludes by pointing out the geographical and spatial dimensions of this concept, a perspective that historians have not utilized as fully as they might, while within geography there is a thriving sub-discipline of historical geography.

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Posted: 15 Jul 1994

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