City of Second Sight:

Nineteenth-Century Boston and the Making of American Visual Culture

University of North Carolina Press, 2018

In the decades before the U.S. Civil War, the city of Boston evolved from a dilapidated, haphazardly planned, and architecturally stagnant provincial town into a booming and visually impressive metropolis.

Focusing his analysis between 1820 and 1860, Justin T. Clark traces how the effort to impose moral and social order on the city also inspired many—from Transcendentalists to clairvoyants and amateur artists—to seek out more ethereal visions of the infinite and ideal beyond the gilded paintings and glimmering storefronts.

"An exciting exploration of the symbiosis between human vision, the material visual, and the visionary in Boston in the three decades before the Civil War.... Clark has produced an exemplary work that, while engaging and extending several fields of historical inquiry, makes a strong case for considering the visual and visuality in our studies of the past."

        — Journal of American History

"Represents the best of what can result when visual studies methods are combined with rigorous historical research.... A rounded and absorbing account."

Journal of Social History

"City of Second Sight is deeply researched, tightly argued, expertly composed. Its premise that a wariness about visual culture resulted in visionary culture is significant not only for the study of visual culture but also for American religious and intellectual history."

Reviews in American History

"[City of Second Sight] concludes that Boston’s culture at the close of the antebellum period was distinctly urban and voraciously visual."

      — American Historical Review

"[F]ully immerses the reader in the growing urban concerns of antebellum Bostonians.... [It] offers future researchers an example of the way in which enquiries of this type should be conducted."

       — Early Popular Visual Culture

"Adds to our understanding of the rise of urban culture in New England’s premier city during the antebellum era....A capacious bird’s-eye view."

      — Journal of the Early Republic

"A well-researched and imaginatively conceived history that draws together an array of nineteenth-century sources....to demonstrate the shifting cultural significance of vision and acts of looking in antebellum Boston. "

The New England Quarterly

"City of Second Sight is significant for its treatment of the relationship between religion, visual culture, and the emergence of the middle class."

Reading Religion

"For Clark, everything from the Bunker Hill memorial to Faneuil Hall offered up a 'moralistic celebration of vision' to educate and elevate the city’s aspiring classes, setting a precedent and standard for other cities during this early Victorian period in American history.... Highly recommended."

Choice

"This book stands out for its conceptual virtuosity, imaginative and wide-ranging research, and subtle and sophisticated interpretation of antebellum Boston's class dynamics as they were catalyzed by the perceived moral danger and moral potential of the sense of sight."

— Tamara Plakins Thornton, University at Buffalo


"City of Second Sight brings life and texture to Boston's past. It is also a substantial contribution to the histories of visual culture and class formation in the nineteenth-century American city."     

— Michael Rawson, The Graduate Center, CUNY, Pulitzer finalist