Testing Wirth: Exploring Population Size and Density in the 19th-Century American City

Gergely Baics, Barnard College
Leah Meisterlin, Columbia University

This paper makes use of the 1880 geocoded census microdata for the 39 largest American cities made publicly available by John Logan’s Urban Transition Historical GIS project based at Brown University. The starting point is Louis Wirth’s influential sociological definition of the modern city, which posits a positive relationship between population size and density. First, we present previously unavailable measures of block-level population densities for all major U.S. cities in 1880, and explore their relationship to city size. Second, we establish typologies of 19th-century American cities in terms of their population densities, considering a variety of factors such as regional location, age, and topography. Third, focusing on a few representative cities, we expand our analysis to a more experiential, lived meaning of population density, as well as disaggregate density measures by specific social groups. Finally, we step back from the 19th-century data to reflect critically and methodologically on the meanings and measures of urban population density.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 120. Urban Historical GIS