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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 in this highly original, engaging, and elegant work, 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.

Devecka convincingly demonstrates that conflicts arising between social classes act as agents of change contributing to urban decay. Interpreting ruins as a process rather than an outcome, he shows how cities fall apart in different ways at different times and places. While literary representations have long served as the primary source for reimagining ruined sites in their original glory, there is much to learn about sociological change across time and civilizations by turning to the ruins themselves and the series of events that created them.

Drawing on literature, legal texts, epigraphic evidence, and, especially in the case of Tenochtitlan, the narratives embodied in monuments and painting, Broken Cities is an expansive and nuanced study that holds great significance for the field of historiography. All of these materials, the book reveals, are as relevant to the history of ruins as the crumbling buildings themselves. An interdisciplinary experiment that brings together history, archaeology, sociology, and the arts, this is the first in-depth treatment of ruination before the Renaissance.

About the Author

Martin Devecka (SANTA CRUZ, CA) is an assistant professor of classical studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Endorsementss

"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 as interpreted by scholars and savants from the Renaissance to the Romantic era. Broken Cities has some of those qualities but takes the study of ruins in a variety of more creative conceptual directions across a greater geographical range."

- Stephen L. Dyson, University at Buffalo, 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, Holy Cross, 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 like Patrick Leigh Fermor with a Tardis. 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, UCLA, author of Slave Theater in the Roman Republic: Plautus and Popular Comedy
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9781421438412 : broken-cities-devecka
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September 1, 2020
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September 1, 2020
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