Press Releases

Lisa Keller’s Book “Triumph of Order” Examines Democracy and Public Space in New York and London

Date Released: 2/23/2009

"Lisa Keller suggests in her new book that in New York City the scales may be tipping toward less liberty and more order," says Sam Roberts of the New York Times.

"The provocative book forces us to reconsider our priorities as the British and American governments use the excuse of both terror and traffic to resist even the possibility of public expression in public places," says Kenneth Jackson of Columbia University.

In "Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London," Lisa Keller, professor of history at Purchase College State University of New York offers "stimulating and sobering insights into the challenges and constraints of big-city living in our own day," says Sir David Cannadine of the University of London.

The book examines how urban environments were created where residents work, live and prosper with minimal disruption.  New York and London established a network of laws, policing, and municipal government in the nineteenth century aimed at building the confidence of the citizenry and creating stability for economic growth.  At the same time these two world cities attempted to maintain an expansive level of free speech and assembly, concepts deeply ingrained in both national cultures.  As democracy expanded in tandem with the size of the cities themselves, the two goals clashed, resulting in tensions over their compatibility.

The results of this clash continue to resonate in our society today.  Treating nineteenth-century London and New York as case studies, Lisa Keller examines the critical development of sanctioned free speech, controlled public assembly, new urban regulations, and the quelling of riots, all in the name of a proper regard for order.

Drawing on rich archival sources that include the unpublished correspondence of government officials and ordinary citizens, Keller paints an intimate portrait of daily life in these two cities and the intricacies of their emerging bureaucracies. She finds that New York eventually settled on a policy of preempting disruption before it occurred, while London chose a path of greater tolerance toward street activities.

Dividing her history into five categories—cities, police and militia, the public, free speech and assembly, and the law—Keller concludes with an assessment of freedom in these cities today and asks whether the scales have been tipped too strongly on the side of order and control.  Public officials increasingly use permits, fees, and bureaucratic hassles to frustrate the ability of reformers and protesters to make their voices heard, and by doing so, she argues, they strike at the very foundations of democracy.

Lisa Keller is the founding director of the Journalism Program at Purchase College, a professor of history, and recipient of a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service.  She has a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a PhD from Cambridge University

The book is published by Columbia University Press, $45.

Lisa Keller will participate in a panel on April 2 at the Museum of the City of New York called "The Resilient City: New York Facing Adversity" in which she will discuss her observations.  Joining her will be moderator Kenneth Jackson of Columbia university, Nicholas Bloom of the New York Institute of Technology, and Fred Kameny of Duke University.  For tickets call 212-534-1672 ext. 3395.