James H. Broussard First Book Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, 2015
As Charles Dickens ambled through New York City’s streets in 1842, the porkers grunted loudly and jostled rudely for his attention. In his account of that promenade, though, Dickens marveled at the “republican pig, going wherever he pleases, and mingling with the best society, on an equal, if not superior footing.” The image of proud citizen-pigs strutting down the byways and back alleys of America’s largest city demands some historical context. And that’s what Catherine McNeur provides us—with a combination of clean, elegant prose and a willingness to dig deeply into the muck of daily urban life and its various archives—in Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City.
McNeur argues persuasively that New Yorkers often understood the struggle between private interests and the public good through intense, class-inflected debates about urbanization and environmental change. Political struggles about whether canine and porcine New Yorkers were beloved pets or bedraggled pests, whether public space should be parkland or pastureland, or whether street manure and night soil was trash or treasure, often descended into pitched battles in which assailants threw punches and brickbats, not to mention artichokes and cabbages, because of the high stakes and the city government’s ineffective and corrupt regulatory regimes. Poor New Yorkers sought to protect their access to the resources of the urban commons because the informal economy they had created was necessary for survival, while elite Knickerbockers tried to establish a more orderly, bucolic urban landscape fit for instructive appreciation, even as they appropriated it and reaped the rewards of escalating real estate values. McNeur explains that the “country” and the “city” were not only places but also concepts of ordering space that were intertwined with each other, contested, and in the process of being pulled apart. She shows that thinking about the rapidly changing environment was central to people’s lived experience.
For her beautifully written and compelling monograph that situates the environment at the center of our understanding of the Early American Republic, the committee presents the 2014 James H. Broussard First Book Prize to Catherine McNeur.
Victorian Society Metropolitan Chapter Book Award, 2015
Hornblower Award for a First Book, New York Society Library, 2015
This wonderful book… talks about the history of New York in a very different way than some of the books that we’re familiar with. … What makes this book, Taming Manhattan, uniquely interesting is its focus on the role of productive agriculture, animal husbandry, and the use and misuse of water resources in the early life of New York City. From today’s vantage point we look through the lens of sustainability and resilience to view the continuum of our natural history but Ms. McNeur looks back to the physical impact—the smells, the sounds, the look of agriculture and husbandry on the appearance of our city. We can hear the pigs grunting and defecating and running amuck in the eighteenth century streets of the city, even the nineteenth century streets. …While today we are fascinated by and enthusiastic about the environmental and health benefits of urban agriculture, the author explains how the authentic, smelly, messy agricultural uses that were still active in nineteenth-century Manhattan were gradually eliminated in the civic interest by creating this idealized concept of rus in urbe in artfully designed amenities like Central Park. And thus it was around the time of the Civil War that productive agriculture was completely phased out of Manhattan and replaced by this sort of artificial abstraction of landscape as we remembered it as an evocative memory of an idealized past. It’s a wonderful book.
George Perkins Marsh Prize, American Society of Environmental Historians, 2015
Catherine McNeur’s Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Harvard University Press, 2014) explores the contentious negotiations about what came to be known as ‘urban’ New York City between 1815 and 1865. Over these years, New Yorkers came to define their city as a place with pets and parks, not livestock and pastures, and they removed human and animal waste rather than make use of it. In lively prose grounded in deep research, McNeur recounts class-based and at times race-based conflicts that pitted the rich and working classes against each other. The wealthy passed ordinances and regulations, while commoners fought back by means of vigilante violence and riot. As governance became more effective and pervasive, the city came to be defined as a space strictly distinct from rural quarters. Selected as ASEH's best book in 2015.
Catherine C. McNeur’s “The ‘Swinish Multitude’ and Fashionable Promenades: Battles over Public Space in New York City, 1815-1865” is an expertly composed, thoroughly researched work that explores the class component of nineteenth-century struggles over both urban space and the city’s rapidly changing environment. The writing is strong and engaging, offering an accessible yet sophisticated narrative. In building her argument, McNeur effectively engages the relevant historiography and ably builds off the existing literature. As one member of the awards committee noted, she offers “good analyses of the paradoxes of progress and the city’s increasingly privatized landscape.” Overall, this polished work is a model dissertation.
Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation, American Society of Environmental Historians, 2012
Catherine McNeur’s dissertation, “The ‘Swinish Multitude’ and Fashionable Promenades: Battles over Public Space in New York City, 1815-1865,” is an environmental history of Manhattan that investigates the ways New Yorkers fought over natural resources and public space during the first half of the nineteenth century.
In her dissertation McNeur exposes the dirty biology of quotidian life in one of the most important cities in the world. Waste and filth were actually valuable resources contested across class and ethnic lines. The thesis directs our attention to local places and social ecologies, and adds to this historiography by exposing so well the social dynamics of these social-metabolic processes. The committee found it exciting to imagine how her analysis could be extended to study similar dynamics in other cities, tracing not just social-biological processes and products, but also social divisions that structured how these processes and products moved back through ecosystems. Her dissertation is especially well-written, and her use of images is stunning. The award committee looks forward to seeing this dissertation become a book and reach a larger audience.
John Addison Porter Prize, Yale University, 2012
The John Addison Porter Prize is given for a written work of scholarship in any field in which it is possible, through original effort, to gather and relate facts and/or principles and to make the product of general human interest. The award was established in 1872 by the Kingsley Trust Association (The Scroll and Key Society) in honor of the late Professor Porter, who received a bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1842.
Department Award for the Best Honors Thesis in the Urban Design and Architecture Studies Program, New York University, 2003
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellowship, New-York Historical Society and the New School, 2012-2013
Samuel Thorpe Jones and Charles Jones Fellowship, Yale University, 2011-2012
Louis E. Voorheis Fellowship, Yale University, 2010-2011
Yale University Dissertation Fellowship, 2011
John F. Enders Fellowship, Yale University, Summer 2009
Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borderlands Research Fellowship, Spring 2009
Beinecke Library Research Fellowship, September 2008 – February 2009
Beinecke Library Pre-Prospectus Summer Fellowship, July 2007
Program in Agrarian Studies Research Grant, Yale University, Summer 2007, 2009
University Fellowship, Yale University, 2005-2008, 2009-2010
Dean’s Undergraduate Research Award, New York University, Summer 2002
Institute for Sustainable Solutions Travel Grant, Portland State University, 2014