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Broken Cities

A Historical Sociology of Ruins

We have been taught to think of ruins as historical artifacts, relegated to the past by a catastrophic event. Instead, Martin Devecka argues 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. Drawing on literature, legal texts, epigraphic evidence, and the narratives embodied in monuments and painting, Broken Cities is an expansive and nuanced study that holds great significance for the field of historiography.

About the Author

Martin Devecka is an assistant professor of classical studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Endorsements

"There is a large and diverse genre of works centered on ruins. Much of it is written in the Romantic tradition and focuses on classical and medieval ruins from the Renaissance to the Romantic era. Broken Cities takes the study of ruins in more creative conceptual directions across a greater geographical range."

- Stephen L. Dyson, author of Rome: A Living Portrait of an Ancient City

"Martin Devecka offers a rich, illuminating, and well-researched study of the complex sociological processes leading to the production of ruins."

- David E. Karmon, author of The Ruin of the Eternal City: Antiquity and Preservation in Renaissance Rome

"A serious political critique that is also highly readable; Martin Devecka travels ruined cities down the millennia. Provocative, erudite, moving; a reminder to look around us at the ruins of the future as they are formed in the long present."

- Amy Richlin, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Slave Theater in the Roman Republic: Plautus and Popular Comedy

"This engaging account of ruins and their uses amounts to a provocative and illuminating exposé of flawed assumptions at the heart of antiquarian studies. Broken Cities should prove to be as important for understanding present attitudes to the past as Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities has been for the history of nationalism."

- Andrew Laird, Brown University
Johns Hopkins University Press
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