N  E   Y  O  R   C  I  T   H  I  S  T  O  R  Y

Suggested Topics









Please scroll down for some of Warren Shaw's past lecture topics.



How Nieuw Amsterdam Became New York

The British conquest of Nieuw Netherland in 1664 kicked off a violent, generation-long struggle between the colony and its new owner.  By the end of this period, the city of Nieuw Amsterdam had been transformed into a cultural hybrid that would, in the centuries to come, exert a dominant influence on the British colonies, on the future United States, and the entire world.

The Forgotten Revolution: How New Yorkers Created Our Political Party System

A discussion of the New Yorkers--Aaron Burr, De Witt Clinton, Edward Livingston, and Martin Van Buren--who replaced the exclusive aristocratic vision of the Founding Fathers and developed the beginnings of our modern mass-scale, two party republic

Alexander Hamilton And The National Triumph Of New York City

New York City is THE source for the quintessentially American traits of capitalism, ethnic tolerance, free speech, and reliance on lawyers and lawsuits. Yet the New York legacy generally goes unrecognized. How did New York come to have such a formative influence on the United States? And how did it manage to do so without getting any of the credit? More than anyone else, Alexander Hamilton is the answer to both of these questions.

Bums, Slummers and Swells--Social Class And The Birth Of American Popular Culture On The Lower East Side, 1820-1845

This lecture describes the simultaneous development of the “underclass” in American life and the birth of what we now call Pop Culture, in the Lower East Side of the early 19th Century.

With Technology's Trumpet: How New Immigrants Nationalized The Lower East Side, 1890-1930

In some degree a sequel to "Bums, Slummers and Swells," this talk chronicles the pivotal role that the Lower East Side--and a new stock of immigrants from Eastern Europe--played in transforming the raw material of the 19th Century into the beginnings of modern American Pop Culture.

From The Triangle To The Tiger:  New York's Garment Center In American Popular Culture, 1920-1970

From the 1920s through the 1970s Seventh Avenue was the undisputed center of American garment-making.  This lecture takes a look at the Golden Age of the Garment Center and its Pop Culture artifacts—the novels, plays, songs, films, advertising and other popular imagery that tell the changing fortunes of the Garment District.  By turns informative, campy, bigoted, and just plain naïve, this imagery is deeply evocative of a once-vital City sector, now more a tourist lure than a force in the life of New York.

Eminent Domain –Indispensable Tool Or Government Abuse?

In the wake of a controversial seizure of private land by the Connecticut city of New London, for resale and development as a privately-owned shopping mall, the power of condemnation or eminent domain has come under considerable criticism. This lecture explores the use of eminent domain in New York City, and the present debate over its use in projects such as Atlantic Center in Brooklyn.

The New York City Origins of the Disability Rights Movement

The disability rights movement is an important branch of the civil rights revolution of the 1960's and 1970's, but the story of its New York beginnings has never before been discussed, anywhere.

Columbia University In The City Of New York

A look at the complex and often difficult relationship between the ancient Ivy League school and the city it resides in, from its colonial-era roots through to its present, controversial plan for a 17-acre new campus in Harlem.

First Houses: A Monument Of The Past, A Model For The Future

The first public housing ever built in the United States, and its linchpin      role--both the culmination of the 19th Century battle to reform the tenement, and the precedent-making exponent of the still-controversial issues of Urban Renewal and low-income housing.

The Mayors – From First Among Equals To Big Apple Honcho

The New York City Mayoralty was established in 1665. It is the oldest continuously operating municipal office in the New World. And although the Mayor has always been the City's symbolic head of state, it took almost 250 years before the office even vaguely resembled the powerhouse that it is today. This lecture traces the evolution of the office and tells the tales some of the variously odd, foolish, venal, and visionary characters who’ve held it.

New York City -- Modern or Moderne?

After World War Two, New York City emerged as the global headquarters of Modernism. In art, music, architecture, literature, dance—New York was where it was happening. This lecture traces the City’s rise as the center of Modernism and the gradual disintegration of that role since the 1980s, and ponders the City’s future as a birthplace for artistic culture.

Bringing 17th Century New Amsterdam To Life

This lecture describes the political and social context that surrounded the birth of our City during its forty formative years as a Dutch trading post.

The Great Urban Paradigm Shift: Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, and West Village Houses

A discussion of the epochal battle between the Urban Renewal model and traditional urbanism. These competing visions reached a decisive moment in the struggle over the future of the West Village--and to put it simply, Jane Jacobs won. But the West Village Houses' project, by the time it opened in 1974, had fallen prey to other social and political currents, and was rejected by the woman who'd championed it at the outset. Now a privatized co-op, West Village Houses represents the confluence of a surprisingly deep range of historic currents which extend from the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution right up to today.

A History Of Harlem

The story of this world-famous section of New York City, from its colonial beginnings as a semi-autonomous township, the cultural explosion we call the Harlem Renaissance, its postwar struggles and into its recent gentrification.

The First Subway Line

A description of the elaborate Beaux-Arts design of the Interborough Rapid Transit subway line, which opened in 1904, and how the subway affected the growth and development of New York City.

In New York, Amputated Buildings

A discussion of Local Law 10 of 1980 and the law of unintended consequences. Local Law 10 mandates safety inspections of tall buildings, but has unintentionally led to the stripping of cornices and other decorations from the City's architectural stock. This lecture discusses the circumstances that gave rise to this statute, how it has been amended over the years, and how the resulting aesthetic damage might be rectified.

Zoning, New York Style

New York City was the first American city to adopt a comprehensive zoning resolution, in 1916, and it remains one of the most aggressive zoning regulators in the nation. This lecture describes the conditions that led to the 1916 zoning resolution, and charts the history of zoning law from that time to the present.

Landlord-Tenant Law And Rent Regulation In New York City

New York is the nation’s “City of Renters,” and has long been famous for its uniquely nasty landlord-tenant battles—especially when rent control or rent stabilization is involved. This lecture explores the origins of this remarkably adversarial relationship, and reviews the history of rent regulation from the 1920s to the present.

From Farm House To Opera House

A history of the Columbus Circle/Lincoln center area, from its colonial origins as a genteel Dutch farm to its glittering present.

The Rise, Fall And Rise Of The Upper West Side

The City’s first residential neighborhood to be even partially planned, the West Side has a complex and unique history, beginning as a primarily upper-middle-class but socially integrated neighborhood, and continuing into a gradually declining fashion ability. After World War the area imploded, only to be re-inflated by Urban Renewal and gentrification into its present status as one of the wealthiest communities in the United States.

Urban Renewal

A blanket term for a series of public programs enacted between 1930 and 1970, which were intended to rebuild and modernize the nation’s cities and eliminate the miseries of the slums. This lecture explores these programs and the great hopes that informed them, and tracks how the urban renewal era came to an end amid recrimination, anger, and a considerable degree of success that continues to go unnoticed today.

Tenement Reform And Social Class In Victorian New York

New York City was once famous for its huge industrial slums and the dark, airless, disease-ridden housing known as tenements. This lecture explores the social and economic conditions that gave rise to the tenements, the repeated cycles of regulatory reform that attempted to improve them, and the near-century of class conflict that hung over the entire process—including the infamous Draft Riots, the worst non-military insurrection in American history.

DeWitt Clinton And The Empire City

Mayor, Governor, Senator, scientist—De Witt Clinton is the single most important figure in New York’s history, almost individually responsible for the City’s rise to world-class status. This lecture explores Clinton’s self-centered yet noble ambitions, and his fundamental contributions to our City’s evolution.

Immigration – The Story Of The Gorgeous Mosaic

New York City has been the Goldene Medina—the Golden Land—for generations of immigrants. This lecture describes the history of City ethnicity.

The City Council – From The Forty Thieves To A Municipal Legislature

The origins of the City Council date back to the Dutch days. Yet not until the 1980s did the City Council really take on the role of a municipal legislature. This lecture reviews the lengthy history of the City Council, from its origins through its devious years as the self-seeking Board of Alderman (when it was nicknamed “The Forty Thieves”), through to its less colorful but more effective present incarnation.