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Postcards from the Modern City

Visual-archival project in progress

During the first few decades of the twentieth century, postcards comprised the most prevalent means for representing urban life.  They offered the latest in media and communication technology--the jpegs and twitter feeds of their day.  The circulation of billions of postcards contributed to the production of new urban imaginaries and, ultimately, to the construction of the very idea of the Modern city.  As a ubiquitous part of mass consumer culture, the postcard served simultaneously as a common object of everyday use, a locus for new forms of representation, and an artifact in the construction of personal and collective memory.  

This project showcases postcards that depict city life in the early twentieth century, along with supplemental photographs, maps, and documents from archives.  It presents views of a wide range of cities, from London, Paris, and New York to Shanghai, Johannesburg, and Buenos Aires.  Postcards routinized the flow of urban images around the world, carrying visual information about cities across great distances, and linking the public depictions on their faces with the private details of everyday life on the verso sides.  For everyone who sent, received, and collected them, postcards offered a democratic means by which to fathom the urban landscape--to miniaturize, contain, and possess the ever-changing city. 

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