Blog-based Resources for New York City Cultural History

With our spring courses starting up — the Writing New York lecture Cyrus and I have team-taught since 2003 and my honors seminar The Port of New York, which I’ve taught periodically since 2006 — perhaps it makes sense for us to call our students’ attention to our favorite blogs that intersect with the study of New York literature and cultural history.

The blogroll to the right includes all of these resources but also aspires to some degree of comprehensiveness, so forgive me for being a little more particular here. Also, I’m less interested for the purposes of this post in professionally produced resources than in blogs, which we see as producing an extraordinary amount of vital, open-ended writing that aims to interpret and preserve the city and its literary and cultural traditions. For a set of more traditional library-based resources, see Bobst’s suggestions for approaching research on New York. CUNY’s Gotham Center also has a terrific website also worth exploring. And, of course, our own Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York contains essays and reading suggestions that will guide those who have specific literary historical questions or concerns.

What follows is a set of blogs/Twitter feeds we find essential for students of New York history on the ground — material produced by ordinary New Yorkers who are attuned to noticing traces of the past still visible, or perhaps recently vanished. Some are written by academics or professional journalists, but many aren’t. We’d love to think this site aspires to be like some of these when it grows up. We’ve left historical societies and museums off this list, though we encourage you to look those up. You’ll find a longer list of our top 25 NYC Twitter feeds here. And I have a set of links on my personal website that more or less duplicates our blogroll but also includes resources for studying American culture more generally. Have fun exploring our blogroll too, which includes dozens of neighborhood- and news-oriented blogs. Please let us know if you’re aware of sites we’ve overlooked that obviously belong here. The only thing I won’t add are cupcake blogs. Sorry, SatC fans. Just the way it is.

The Bowery Boys — This is, simply, the best NYC history blog out there. They take their name from a nineteenth-century street gang and, later, the stars of film shorts, also known as the Dead End Kids, who typified for many Americans the insouciant attitude to be found on New York’s streets. Daily posts take up a range of topics, often but not always related to current events. Weekly podcasts go into greater depth, take you on the scene. Their archive is a treasure trove of NYC neighborhood/historical resources. Twitter: @boweryboys

Walking Off the Big Apple, a blog written by Villager Teri Tynes, updates the Baudelairean tradition of the flâneur, or city walker. Offering a series of self-guided tours, many with literary orientation, as well as gallery and museum guides, Tynes also takes you through the nooks and crannies of multiple neighborhoods and the ordinary workings of urban life. Travel sites pitch her as a resource, but locals should be checking her every day as well if they already aren’t. Twitter: @TeriTynes

Built Manhattan is a relatively recently launched blog by Michael Daddino, who formerly wrote one of our favorite NYC architecture sites, The Masterpiece Next Door. That project aimed to index Manhattan’s landmarked buildings. Built Manhattan is working its way through the city’s architectural history one year at a time, at least for years that are represented in the standing city. It’s a fun ride so far. Twitter: @epicharmus

Lost City is the Brooklyn-based granddaddy of NYC’s anti-gentrification blogs. Written by the pseudonymous Brooks of Sheffield, a freelance journalist and longtime city dweller with particular affection for old-time eating and drinking establishments. Last summer Brooks rocked the NYC blogosphere by announcing his site’s retirement. Luckily for us it seems to have been only temporary; for now, at least, we still have the opportunity to let Brooks look around and tell us what we may be missing soon, himself included. Twitter: we wish!

Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York works in the same vein, though he’s holed up closer by, in the East Village. Like most prophets, he’s got followers as well as people who reject his message, but that message is clear: recent decades have seen development on such an unprecedented and reckless scale that the very character of our city is in jeopardy. In the process of documenting closings and brushes with redevelopment, Jeremiah Moss (who started on the site as a fictional character created by the anonymous blogger) has done us all an enormous service by preserving an extraordinary amount of information and emotion about parts of the city that have disappeared or may soon be gone, from the Meatpacking District’s leather scene from decades past to Coney Island’s dive bars. We interviewed Jeremiah along with his compadre EV Grieve here. Twitter: @jeremoss

Inside the Apple is the companion blog to Michelle and James Nevius’ clever and handy historical guidebook to the city. The book contains 14 walking tours along with a wealth of key details and quirky anecdotes. The site specializes in the same, calling our attention to important anniversaries and to odds and ends that might otherwise end up in history’s dustbin, such as the fact that when the World Trade Center topped out it screwed up TV receptions in multiple boroughs. Print and web are both important companions. Twitter: @insidetheapple

Ephemeral New York operates on a simple principle: Its writer takes some scrap — a newspaper ad, an old postcard, a fading ad on the side of a building — and extracts a bit of information about the time and place that produced it, perhaps something about the people who were involved as well. The posts are short; the stories stick. She describes her own project as “chronicl[ing] a constantly reinvented city through … artifacts that have been edged into New York’s collective remainder bin.” A consistently delightful and informative blog. Twitter: we can only hope she’ll come around!

Forgotten New York is Kevin Walsh’s companion site to his stellar guide of the same name. His approach and concerns don’t overlap so much with the Nevius’, so don’t be deterred from checking out both books. Walsh does overlap with all of the above, however, in simple acts of noticing: seeing what’s still here that offers us little trails to follow into the city’s past lives. Walsh also leads walking tours of various hidden corners of the city–more information on his site. Twitter: @forgottenNY

Let us know what you think — and what resources, blog-based or otherwise, you find most useful.

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