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One Neighborhood, Two Cultures, Three Narratives: Class, Gentrification, and Multivocalism in a Post-Industrial Mill Town

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Abstract:

Hampden is a formerly working class neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Once a thriving mill town, the community is now divided culturally, if not spatially. On one conceptual side rests the long-term residents, descendants of generations of millworkers, and unabashedly working people. On the other end of the divide is the newcomers—“yuppies” as they are referred to in Hampden—young, middle class professionals who followed the wave of gentrification into the neighborhood. Each group tells its own narrative about the history and heritage of Hampden. The former remembers a system of benevolent paternalism administered by the mill bosses. The latter celebrates a culture of kitsch working-class aesthetics, one where the actual worker is usually ignored all together. Both of these narratives infuriate the labor historian’s critical history of the neighborhood—a narrative ignored by both sides of the spectrum. In this paper I argue to truly understand gentrification, we must understand how the dominant classes appropriate, rework, and re-remember the subordinate classes heritage narratives.

Through close reading, oral history, and ethnography, I examine the concepts of identity, gentrification, and class difference in Hampden. In the 1970s, federal and city government sponsored the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project. The project’s collaborators conducted hundreds of oral history interviews in ethnic and working class neighborhoods across Baltimore. Today these interviews are the best source for understanding the narratives working class Hampdenites told about themselves. Since most of the literature on Hampden has a middle class bias, I use a different methodology in reconstructing the narrative of Hampden as told by the new middle class. Based in the theories of Baudrillard, Barthes, and Jameson, I use postmodern ethnography in an attempt to find the heritage narratives the new Hampdenites tells both visitors and themselves.

I begin with an overview of Hampden, its longtime residents, its new residents, and the crisis it’s facing today. In an attempt to understand how each group constructs the history of Hampden, I summarize the work done by labor historians on Hampden life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following this, I perform a close reading on nearly forty oral history interviews from Hampden in an attempt to identify the themes that dominate working class memory of the Hampden neighborhood. After tracing the development and gentrification of Hampden in the second half of the twentieth century, I contrast the working class narrative of Hampden with the gentrified, middle class one. In an attempt to capture the middle class narrative, I focus on texts such as restaurant menus, John Waters films, and most importantly, HonFest. Held in Hampden, HonFest is Baltimore’s largest annual street festival and pseudo-beauty pageant, where race, gender, and class are parodied in buffoonish caricatures of working class Hampdenites. By comparing them, I attempt to assess the gap between the two visions of Hampden’s history and make an assessment of ways the wounds could be healed. In conclusion, I attempt to prove this one small neighborhood has significance for class and race relations in post-industrial urban environments across the United States.
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MLA Citation:

Puglia, David. "One Neighborhood, Two Cultures, Three Narratives: Class, Gentrification, and Multivocalism in a Post-Industrial Mill Town" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC, Nov 21, 2013 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p656946_index.html>

APA Citation:

Puglia, D. , 2013-11-21 "One Neighborhood, Two Cultures, Three Narratives: Class, Gentrification, and Multivocalism in a Post-Industrial Mill Town" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p656946_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Hampden is a formerly working class neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Once a thriving mill town, the community is now divided culturally, if not spatially. On one conceptual side rests the long-term residents, descendants of generations of millworkers, and unabashedly working people. On the other end of the divide is the newcomers—“yuppies” as they are referred to in Hampden—young, middle class professionals who followed the wave of gentrification into the neighborhood. Each group tells its own narrative about the history and heritage of Hampden. The former remembers a system of benevolent paternalism administered by the mill bosses. The latter celebrates a culture of kitsch working-class aesthetics, one where the actual worker is usually ignored all together. Both of these narratives infuriate the labor historian’s critical history of the neighborhood—a narrative ignored by both sides of the spectrum. In this paper I argue to truly understand gentrification, we must understand how the dominant classes appropriate, rework, and re-remember the subordinate classes heritage narratives.

Through close reading, oral history, and ethnography, I examine the concepts of identity, gentrification, and class difference in Hampden. In the 1970s, federal and city government sponsored the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project. The project’s collaborators conducted hundreds of oral history interviews in ethnic and working class neighborhoods across Baltimore. Today these interviews are the best source for understanding the narratives working class Hampdenites told about themselves. Since most of the literature on Hampden has a middle class bias, I use a different methodology in reconstructing the narrative of Hampden as told by the new middle class. Based in the theories of Baudrillard, Barthes, and Jameson, I use postmodern ethnography in an attempt to find the heritage narratives the new Hampdenites tells both visitors and themselves.

I begin with an overview of Hampden, its longtime residents, its new residents, and the crisis it’s facing today. In an attempt to understand how each group constructs the history of Hampden, I summarize the work done by labor historians on Hampden life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following this, I perform a close reading on nearly forty oral history interviews from Hampden in an attempt to identify the themes that dominate working class memory of the Hampden neighborhood. After tracing the development and gentrification of Hampden in the second half of the twentieth century, I contrast the working class narrative of Hampden with the gentrified, middle class one. In an attempt to capture the middle class narrative, I focus on texts such as restaurant menus, John Waters films, and most importantly, HonFest. Held in Hampden, HonFest is Baltimore’s largest annual street festival and pseudo-beauty pageant, where race, gender, and class are parodied in buffoonish caricatures of working class Hampdenites. By comparing them, I attempt to assess the gap between the two visions of Hampden’s history and make an assessment of ways the wounds could be healed. In conclusion, I attempt to prove this one small neighborhood has significance for class and race relations in post-industrial urban environments across the United States.


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