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History Resource Spotlight: Jazz Age Chicago

December 5, 2007

The Internet still strikes me, at times, as a strange and wonderful place. An instance of this occurred a few days ago upon discovering an history site, Jazz Age Chicago, authored by an old friend and colleague, Scott A. Newman, Ph.D. The site’s full name is “Jazz Age Chicago: Urban Leisure from 1893 to 1945.”

In the late 1990s, Scott and I attended Loyola University Chicago as graduate students. He began in the history department before me, and finished his doctorate in 2004. Aside from having a few classes together, we both also hailed from Kansas City, Missouri—or at least the K.C. area. At last contact, Scott worked as a visiting assistant professor at our graduate alma mater.

The cynic will argue that my spotlighting Professor Newman’s site today is a case of glad-handing among friends. I won’t deny wanting to do what I can for his well-being. But a closer look at Jazz Age Chicago (JAC) reveals that Scott’s site is unique among online Chicago history sources.

How? First, the site contains extensive transcriptions of primary resources. Take for instance Scott’s work on the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition. Not only does the section provide narrative text with a few pictures, it contains approximately 40 transcribed newspaper articles with first-hand reports on the fair. Scott furthermore subdivides those accounts into eight sections: Planning and Preparations, Opening Week (May 1933), The Spectacle of the Fair, National Celebrations and Special Events at the Fair, Experiences of Fairgoers, Local Economic Impact of the Fair, Fair Controversies, and Closing Events (October-November 1933). These resources give the reader a taste of the historian’s experience in researching the rich resources surrounding an event like the 1933 World’s Fair.

JAC is also exceptional for its coverage of the period’s culture. Here is the table of contents. Scott covers Leisure Venues, Bright-Light Districts, Notable Events, and Research Links. Broken down further, the “Leisure Venues” category explores department stores, movie theaters, dance halls and cabarets, hotels and leisure resorts, parks and pleasure grounds, and sports arenas and stadiums.

Scott constructed the “Bright-Light Districts” section on map platform. Clicking on each district, furthermore, takes you to a section containing local, street-level maps. Here’s the link for the Uptown area. For each district Scott’s map contains information compiled from Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, directories, and city building permit records.

In conclusion, no survey course on Chicago history—college-level or otherwise—should ignore Jazz Age Chicago as a potential resource. It is almost one-stop shopping for Chicago cultural history on the 1893-1945 period: it’s practically a book on the Internet.

Kudos to Professor Newman for putting together such a wonderful resource! – TL

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One Comment
  1. “Jazz Age Chicago” is indeed one of the best of the web and I applaud you for spotlighting the site. As an amateur Chicago historian I am in awe of his writing and research. Makes me wish I could figure out how to set up a website! But then I'd have to compete with JAC. Guess I'll stick to my little blog.


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