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Introducing Naming Gotham

Thank you Dan and Bridget for inviting me to step into the Faculty Lounge.  I am going to be blogging about my new book Naming Gotham: The Villains, Rogues, and Heroes Behind New York Place Names. One writing truth that I learned (relearned?) writing is that book publishers are serious about word limits. Unlike a law review article where the word limit is more of a suggestion, my publisher gave me a hard upper limit for words in the book. I ran out of space long before I ran out of words. So, I have taken to blogging because there are more stories I want to tell.

First let me introduce the project.  Then in subsequent blog posts, I will share some of the stories and details that I had to cut from the book because of space constraints.

About Naming Gotham Naming gotham cover

Each day, millions of people “take” the Major Deegan, the Hutchinson Expressway, the Outerbridge Crossing, and the Holland Tunnel. Few travelers remember that, before these names became an urban shorthand for congestion, they were actual people. This quirky New York City history uses the naming of New York City’s roads, bridges, and civic institutions as a unique window into urban social structure and the City’s ever-changing inhabitants. The lives of Revolutionary War heroes, robber barons and Tammany Hall politicos introduce readers to the outsized roles that power politics, corruption, and the slave economy played and continue to play in New York City.

The names in this book tell only a small sliver of the City’s story. To date, New York City has chosen to commemorate mostly white men. In a city as diverse as New York, that fact is telling. It reflects the historical balance of power in the City—both in terms of who had the power to name things and who got to define what counts as history. As I was researching and writing this book, that began to change. Most significantly, the Shirley Chisholm State Park, named after the first Black woman elected to Congress, opened in 2019. This shift in who the City memorializes reflects the changing narrative that New Yorkers tell themselves about their city. It remains to be seen how this changing story will translate into the policies the City adopts for its schools, its roads, and its neighborhoods.

Here is the short (very funny) book trailer that artist and writer Jeff LaGreca made for Naming Gotham


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