Bethlehem: American Utopia, American Tragedy


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project explores the enduring contradiction between egalitarianism and domination in American life through a formally inventive representation of one iconic city: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. By tracing the long arc of the city’s development, from eighteenth-century founding to postindustrial present, this book uncovers the egalitarian aspirations of the people of Bethlehem over the city’s entire 270-year history, as well as the evolving structures of racial and gender hierarchy and economic exploitation that have constrained those aspirations. The book departs from familiar conventions of historical narrative by representing the development of the city in the form of a modernist historical mosaic. Composed of archivally researched and metaphorically resonant vignettes, the book charts the evolution of deep structures of power. A public humanities project written for a wide audience, it also makes available an archive of popular egalitarian feeling that may help to reinvigorate discussion about what equality has meant – and might yet mean – in the United States.