Composed by Philip Ethington (USC, History and Political Science), Ghost Metropolis is a global history of Los Angeles since earliest human habitation, written in narrative, non-academic prose, presented in print form as a hybrid of textual, cartographic, and photographic representation, in print, online (HyperCities), and public art formats. Ghost Metropolis is a 21st-century “Atlas,” inspired by the Renaissance atlases of the 16th and 17th century, which are rich mixtures of typography, graphic arts, and of course cartography.How does a global metropolis come into being? How can we see such an impossibly large and complex urban center—especially one that is so fragmented, so massive, socially diverse, economically variegated, and politically complex?
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Ghost Metropolis seeks to make the complex past of Los Angeles visibly knowable, using a combination of narrative historical explanation and the graphical tools of cartography and photography. The visual methods of the book enable a great compression of historical information in consumable forms; the narrative form draws on the vast and astonishing array of historical developments that have made Los Angeles a global city, from Franciscan missions to motion pictures to ICBMs.
The history of every metropolis is written in its streets. All human action takes and makes place. The actions of countless individuals and many generations literally took place in Los Angeles, and made the place of Los Angeles across the centuries. The “past” in my approach, is the set of all places made by human action. History, therefore, is literally a map of these places.
But of course, not all places are physical. We are embodied in sites but we are also sovereigns of infinite space—through our imaginations. A major aspect of this study is its attempt to reveal the intersection between the imagined and the lived, as in Hollywood’s massive production of cinematic landscapes. In Ghost Metropolis I try to demonstrate precisely how (and precisely where) lived and imagined places intersected. I trace the specific footprints of power, race-ethnicity, class, and gender, as the embodied choreography of social practices (on global and local scales), on one hand, and as the imaginary landscapes of social consciousness that order the concrete collective phenomena of mass culture, economies, ideologies, law, and the state, on the other. This book literally maps the history of Los Angeles as a readable network of (located) stories that begin in the late Pleistocene (circa 13,000 BP).
Ghost Metropolis makes the history of Los Angeles visible, through words, maps, and images. The past is all around us, shaping our lives. But it is invisible to most of us. I have taken on the task of painting the ghost of our past, so that we can all confront it. Much of this past has been good and positive, but too much has been terrible, unjust, and destructive. My Ghost metaphor alludes to the overall goal of exorcising those ghosts, by creating a blueprint by which the deeply entangled roots of injustice can be identified and overcome.