HISTORIES OF CLEVELAND

The HISTORIES OF CLEVELAND provide evidence of different intentions on the part of their authors. A general, if imperfect, trend can be described, leading from celebratory, even "boomerish," full-scale general histories to more limited analyses of specific historical segments. There have also been differences in authors' expectations of audiences, ranging from sophisticated history for an educated elite, to history intended for school use, to more popular accounts—with or without illustrations sufficient to merit ascription as "coffee-table" books. At the same time, attitudes and assumptions within the historical profession about the significance of local history have changed. In mid-19th-century America, when the first history of Cleveland was published, local and regional history was a respected field of endeavor. However, in the 20th century local history came to be considered fit only for amateurs and antiquarians: supposedly, serious historians needed at least the national canvas to frame significant questions about the past. Then, with the development of the "new" social history, local arenas again seemed particularly appropriate, as testing grounds for many historical hypotheses.

The economics of publishing have also determined the nature of the city's histories. With sales usually limited to interested residents, local histories traditionally depended on subsidies as well as sales. Some, if not most, pages of the older multivolumed histories of Cleveland are devoted to biographical sketches and/or photographs of significant subscribers. Corporate public-relations efforts are visible in recent popular histories in the inclusion of sketches of the commercial or industrial enterprises which provided funding. In all, there appear to have been 3 more or less distinct eras of writing and publishing histories of Cleveland: 1) the pioneer period (the second half of the 19th century), "between Whittlesey and Kennedy," in which talented men and women—though not professional historians—laid down the basic political and economic narrative about the city's past; 2) the first half of the 20th century, "from Orth to Rose," in which historians and others continued to produce general histories of the city, incrementally adding length to the narrative and increasing attention to cultural and social history; 3) since 1950—or "since Rose"—no full-scale documented general history of Cleveland has been published. Popular accounts continued to appear, as did monographs and studies of specific topics.

Before describing the histories and historians of these eras, a note should be added about other sources of Cleveland history. Sometimes very substantial information about Cleveland's past was incorporated into histories of the county, region, or state. Examples are histories of Cuyahoga County, such as Crisfield Johnson, comp., History of Cuyahoga County (Philadelphia: D. W. Ensign, 1879), and WILLIAM R. COATES, A History of Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland (3 vols., Chicago & New York: American Historical Society, 1924), described below. There are also histories of the WESTERN RESERVE, such as Harriet Taylor Upton's 3-volume History of the Western Reserve (Chicago & New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1910). Upton treats each of the Western Reserve's 12 counties separately, but she provides topical chapters, too, and emphasizes the experience of women. There is also a history of the "north coast," Randolph Downes, History of Lake Shore Ohio (3 vols., New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1952), and histories of the state, including the 6 volumes CARL WITTKE edited, The History of the State of Ohio (Columbus: Ohio State Archeological & Historical Society, 1941-44). All of these include information about Cleveland's past.

The undoubted "father" of Cleveland history was CHARLES WHITTLESEY, a professional geologist and first president of the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. He published Early History of Cleveland, Ohio, Including Original Papers and Other Matter Relating to the Adjacent Country. With Biographical Notices of the Pioneers and Surveyors (Cleveland: Fairbanks, Benedict & Co., 1867). This 400-plus page history blends archeology and geology, beginning with a description of "Pre-Adamite History"—or the geology of the Cleveland area—and ending with a section on "Fluctuations in the Level of Lake Erie." In between there is the substance if not the form of history, or, as another Cleveland historian described it: "disconnected facts collected from original and widely diverse sources." But that same critic asserted that "no history of Cleveland can be written, in all time to come, that is not primarily based upon...the intelligent labor of Col. Whittlesey." Whittlesey set down an embryonic chronological structure that his successors borrowed, in whole or in part.

Twenty years after Early History of Cleveland was published, W. Scott Robison produced a 500-page History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise, and Progress (Cleveland: Robison & Crockett-The Sunday World, 1887), including a biographical segment describing 44 persons. This volume has Robison listed as editor; some chapters or parts thereof were written by other, identified, authors. The publishers' preface states their endeavor to present "a book that could be sold at a price considerably less than that of the average local work of this kind," explaining that "voluminous and elaborate local histories, with their proportionately high cost, have not proved commercial successes." Robison's volume claims to avoid "prolix statements of facts, long comments, expanded theories and tedious discussions" as well as "the history of the Indian tribes which inhabited this region..." Robison's story extends from the organization of the CONNECTICUT LAND CO. to 1887; he shows concern for culture and PHILANTHROPY as well as politics and economic circumstances, complementing Whittlesey's earlier volume. In 1893 a very different and, for its time, a very unusual perspective on Cleveland's past appeared with the publication of MARY BIGELOW INGHAM's Women of Cleveland and Their Work (Cleveland: W. A. Ingham, 1893). The book, divided into 30 chapters, is basically a biographical account of women who were active in institutions such as churches, asylums, sewing, and temperance organizations. But there are some descriptions of those institutions and organizations, too.

In 1896 the centennial of Cleveland's founding was marked by the publication of 2 histories. Clara A. Urann published a brief (120-page) Centennial History of Cleveland (Cleveland: J. B. Savage, 1896), undocumented but containing considerable primary-source quotations emphasizing social and cultural developments in the city, with less attention to economics and very little political history. Considerably larger in scope and purpose was JAMES HENRY KENNEDY's A History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise, and Progress, 1796-1896 (Cleveland: Imperial Press, 1896). Seven years earlier, Kennedy, a Cleveland journalist, had collaborated with Wilson M. Day in producing The Bench and Bar of Cleveland (Cleveland: Cleveland Printing & Publishing Co., 1889), a compilation of biographies of lawyers. Day was then editor of Iron Trade Review; he later headed the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and served as director-general of the city's centennial celebration. Kennedy's illustrated and indexed history of Cleveland is documented but addressed to the general reader; it was intended to explain Cleveland's rise and progress.

During the first half of the 20th century, 5 "general" histories of Cleveland were published. The authors were, in order of their publications, SAMUEL P. ORTH, ELROY M. AVERY, William R. Coates, WILFRED H. ALBURN and Miriam Russell Alburn, and WILLIAM GANSON ROSE. As a group, these histories are more comprehensive, more "scientific," and more satisfying than their predecessors. Yet all of them now seem old-fashioned and inclined toward a rather naive faith in the march of Cleveland's progress. The first of these works was Samuel P. Orth's A History of Cleveland Ohio with Numerous Chapters by Special Contributors (3 vols., Chicago-Cleveland: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1910). This history followed a standard format: the first volume, history, and the 2 that followed, biography, although Orth distanced himself from the publication's commercial aspects by informing his readers that he "has had no connection with the biographical volumes, and has no interest of any kind in them." Orth asserted that his history was not to be "a mere narrative in chronological sequence of the city's achievements," that it would "dwell particularly upon the sociological and the political city, rather than upon the commercial and industrial city." Orth divided his massive (815-page) historical volume into 10 divisions, including "The Geographical and Physical Relations of the City," "Population," "Governmental and Political," and "Social Life," with each topic divided into chapters, in most cases chronological. His collaborators included faculty members from the Cleveland Normal School, Case School of Applied Science, and Western Reserve Univ. (see CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIV.), as well as local physicians, dentists, engineers, and cultural, religious, and philanthropic leaders. Orth's broad definition of history, though no less celebratory of Cleveland's progress than the centennial-year histories, is more inclusive. Almost a century later, it can still be consulted with profit.

Orth's successors faced the challenge of improving on his History of Cleveland. The first to try was Elroy McKendree Avery, a man who, like Orth, combined academic and civic activities. He published A History of Cleveland and Its Environs: The Heart of New Connecticut in 3 volumes in 1918 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.). Avery explains his general lack of documentation: "For the sake of the reader, I have made very sparing use of footnotes..." His first volume (the "history" part) divides into 2 parts: the first 21 chapters (340 pages) are arranged chronologically; the rest of the 727-page volume is divided topically into chapters. Other writers contributed some chapters, especially H. G. Cutler, the general historian of Lewis Publishing, who, Avery explains, "came from Chicago to Cleveland and, for several weeks, was my genial and able assistant." The chronological segment spans the 19th century; only 2 chapters describe Cleveland between 1896-1918. The chapters range across educational, professional, literary, and religious topics, ending with "Trade, Commerce and Industry." While the writing is generally direct and concise, much of the information is derivative. Avery seems to sense the circumstance, for he indicates that he found Kennedy's 1896 history especially helpful; that "as Mr. Kennedy and I were continually dipping our buckets into the same wells of information, identity of matter is not conclusive proof of plagiarism."

William R. Coates offered his 3 volumes of local history in 1924, A History of Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland (Chicago & New York: American Historical Society). Like Orth and Avery, Coates divides his work between 1 volume of history and 2 of biography. Romantic and nostalgic, he "anticipated it will be a pleasant task to review the past as well as to take stock of the present." The first 23 of Coates's 38 chapters cover the history of the townships other than Cleveland that constitute Cuyahoga County in specific, even trivial, detail. After nearly 300 pages, Cleveland's allotted space is reached. A brief excursion from township through village through city organization rapidly gives way to topical chapters on churches, schools, bench and bar, physicians, newspapers, colleges, etc. The volume ends with a chapter on Cleveland in the world war, one of the first attempts to record the impact of WORLD WAR I on the municipality.

In 1932 Wilfred H. and Miriam Russell Alburn, who operated a syndication service for newspapers, published This Cleveland of Ours (4 vols., Chicago-Cleveland-Indianapolis: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1933). This "last of the dinosaurs" was divided into 2 volumes (1,233 pages) of history and 2 volumes of biography. Almost as ambitious in structure as Orth's earlier work, this history represents well its place in time—years punctuated by the collapse of the American economy. It emphasizes Cleveland's industries, although the Alburns recognize the bleakness of such celebration as of 1932 (the year their narrative ends), pointing out in their foreword that "if the 'Technocrats,' with their pitiless charts and graphs, are right in their conclusions, a new generation may find curious reading in this portrayal of a virile American community in the heyday of private enterprise." The Alburns added an emphasis on the industrial and commercial aspects of Cleveland's development to earlier histories and extended the narrative of the city's development past 1896.

The final offering in this group, and the last attempt to construct a general history of the city, was William Ganson Rose's Cleveland: The Making of a City (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1950; reprint 1990, Kent State Univ. Press in cooperation with the Western Reserve Historical Society.). This effort differs substantially from all others. Inspired by the city's sesquicentennial celebration in 1946, it is a single-volume (1,272-page) chronological compendium, relentlessly arranged by decades, with a 153-page triple-columned index. At once frustrating and indispensable, this is, in the words of another Cleveland historian, "a volume that is more a collection of facts than a history," with no analysis or interpretation of the past. The quantity of data is enormous, and, of course, covers the 2 decades since the Alburns' history. Yet "history" of this sort gives the genre its reputation for inducing boredom. If Rose represents the culmination of almost a century of general histories of Cleveland, maybe rejoicing rather than regret should mark the demise of the species. Even so, in 1990, years after Rose's book went out of print, it appeared in a reprint (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press) with a useful new introduction by John J. Grabowski, placing the book in its historical context.

There were, of course, other efforts expended during the first half of the 20th century, including ELBERT J. BENTON's Cultural Story of an American City: Cleveland; "During the Log Cabin Phases, 1796-1823," "During the Canal Days, 1825-1850," and "Under the Shadow of a Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877" (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1943-46). A professional historian and director of the WRHS after his retirement from WRU, Benton retreads the familiar terrain of Whittlesey and successors, but emphasizes the city's cultural development. Benton found that "a cultural history like a social history is difficult to define; both are fields less clearly established by custom than that of political or military history. Let us say that whatever contributes to refinement in manners and taste, whatever improves the moral and intellectual nature of man, is a cultural force or agency." He describes churches and libraries, newspapers and the lyceum, schools and colleges—as well as steamboats and RAILROADS, banks and currency. Despite the definitional problems, Benton's study is carefully constructed, written with economy of words and considerable charm. The volumes provide a bridge of sorts between the older, comprehensive histories and the monographic literature that would characterize the writing of Cleveland's past in future decades.

Since 1950 histories of Cleveland have differed markedly from earlier works. The only attempts to treat the full narrative of the city's story have been "popular" in nature—undocumented, generally written by journalists rather than professional historians, intended to find a reading audience in the "lay public." The most successful of these, probably, have been those written by George E. Condon: Cleveland: The Best Kept Secret (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1967) and Cleveland: Prodigy of the Western Reserve (Tulsa: Continental Heritage Press, Inc., 1979). Although attractive, well-written, and reasonably reliable, these works indulge in questionable historical explanations. There also have been histories designed for classroom use in public schools. F. Leslie Speir's Cleveland: Our Community and Its Government (Cleveland: Cleveland Public Schools, 1941) is a relatively informative overview of Cleveland's history and polity. In 1955 Harlan Hatcher (author of a history of the Western Reserve) and Frank Durham published Giant from the Wilderness: The Story of a City and Its Industries (Cleveland: World Publishing Co.). These authors present a hymn to urbanization and industrialization—as the title implies—but also incorporate cultural and ethnic information about the city and its people.

Sophisticated monographs have also appeared, providing institutional histories and analyses of the city's ethnic communities. Institutional histories have focused on the city's cultural and educational institutions, especially during anniversary years. Carl Wittke, The First Fifty Years: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1916-1966 (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1966), commemorated that institutions's golden anniversary; Donald P. Gavin, John Carroll Univ.: A Century of Service (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press, 1985), celebrated the centennial of the founding of JOHN CARROLL UNIV.; and CLARENCE H. CRAMER, Case Western Reserve: A History of the Univ., 1826-1976 (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1976), marked that institution's sesquicentennial. All are admirable accounts by professional historians, as is Cramer's Open Shelves and Open Minds: A History of the Cleveland Public Library (Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve Univ., 1972). EDMUND H. CHAPMAN's Cleveland: Village to Metropolis: A Case Study of Problems of Urban Development in Nineteenth-Century America (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society and Press of Western Reserve Univ., 1964) describes the city's built environment up to the mid-1870s, and ERIC JOHANNESEN's Cleveland Architecture, 1876-1976 (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1979) carries the story into the 20th century. These might be augmented by another 1979 publication, Roderick Boyd Porter, ed., Sacred Landmarks: A Selected Exhibit of Existing Ecclesiastical Structures in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland: Board of Cuyahoga County Commissioners and the Cuyahoga County Archives, 1979).

The history of ethnic Cleveland has a history of its own. The first attempts to explain the varieties of Cleveland's population coincided with the assimilation efforts of the World War I era. Brief accounts, such as ELEANOR LEDBETTER's The Czechs of Cleveland and Charles Wellsley Coulter's The Italians of Cleveland, were produced in 1919 by the city's Americanization Committee. A second turning to ethnic Cleveland accompanied the New Deal Writers' Program of the WORKS PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION. A compendium describing ethnic groups, from Albanians to UKRAINIANS, formed the unpublished manuscript "The Peoples of Cleveland," 1942. This alphabetical survey offered a little Old World description, a little history, and an inventory of each ethnic group in Cleveland in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A more comprehensive and systematic survey of the ethnic communities of the city, the Cleveland Ethnic Heritage Studies Monograph Series, was directed from CLEVELAND STATE UNIV. by Karl Bonutti. It began in 1975 with some general volumes, followed by works devoted to particular ethnic groups. These books combine the history of the particular Cleveland ethnic community with native-land history, folk and art customs, and traditions (see IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION, also specific ethnic groups).

Several other monographs of high quality, significant because of their methodologies and/or analyses, were directed to other audiences. Josef J. Barton's Peasants and Strangers: Italians, Rumanians, and Slovaks in an American City, 1890-1950 (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975), uses European-language sources in a sophisticated manner and interprets Cleveland statistics of social mobility (occupation, property) and structures within the larger social-science literature. Lloyd P. Gartner, History of the Jews of Cleveland (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society and Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1978), fully documents the history of Cleveland JEWS AND JUDAISM from 1840-1945. Sidney Vincent and JUDAH RUBINSTEIN extended Gartner's work in Merging Traditions—Jewish Life in Cleveland: A Contemporary Narrative, 1945-1975, A Pictorial Record, 1839-1975 (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society and Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, 1978). Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1976), analyzes the growth of Cleveland's black ghetto in intelligent fashion. Four years earlier, RUSSELL H. DAVIS published Black Americans in Cleveland: From George Peake to Carl Stokes, 1796-1969 (Washington: Assn. for the Study of Negro Life & History in cooperation with the Western Reserve Historical Society), a more general compilation (see AFRICAN AMERICANS).

In the 1980s, a different approach to explaining Cleveland's past began to appear—collaborative efforts which combined the skills and understandings of different historians. These included David D. Van Tassel and John J. Grabowski, eds., Cleveland: A Tradition of Reform (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press, 1986), and Thomas F. Campbell and Edward M. Miggins, eds., The Birth of Modern Cleveland: 1865-1930 (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1988). But the major collaborative effort was the writing and publishing of The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press, 1987), edited by David D. Van Tassel and John J. Grabowski, a project that enlisted the talents of more than 200 persons. The Encyclopedia had a continuing life after publication. To conserve space for text entries, the illustrations in the volume had been limited to charts and maps. That deficiency was in part overcome with a series of illustrated volumes on selected topics, all under the general editorship of Van Tassel and Grabowski and published by Indiana Univ. Press. These included Carol Poh Miller and Robert Wheeler's Cleveland: A Concise History, 1796-1990 (1990); John J. Grabowski's Sports in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1992); Holly Rarick Witchey's Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1994), co-written with John Vacha; and Marian J. Morton's Women in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1995). Additional volumes are planned.

Meanwhile, additional monographs on various topics continued to appear, expanding our understanding of the city's history. Among these might be mentioned Gary Edward Polster's Inside Looking Out: The Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum 1868-1924 (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press, 1990); Mark Gottlieb's The Lives of Univ. Hospitals of Cleveland (Cleveland: Wilson St. Press, 1991); and Diana Tittle's Rebuilding Cleveland: The Cleveland Foundation and Its Evolving Urban Strategy (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1992); and Marian J. Morton's And Sin No More: Social Policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleveland, 1855-1990 (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1993).

History, of course, is everywhere. This survey has taken no notice of the ways in which biographers and autobiographers skillfully recreate and preserve the past; it has not included the history that exists in structures (landmarked or not) or in the extraordinary artifacts of the past faithfully preserved in institutions such as the Western Reserve Historical Society. Nor can the assessment end with a sure-fire prediction of what will come next. Nonetheless, it does seem apparent that the current emphasis on social history and demography will continue to motivate historians to attempt to understand the cosmopolitan nature of the Cleveland community. Analysis of similarities and differences among Midwest, Great Lakes, "Rustbelt," or "Snowbelt" cities should enhance our understandings of population shifts, economic changes, social policies, and similar phenomena of modern urban life. And in 1996, the bicentennial year of the city's birth, we will probably see more celebratory histories of the way Cleveland got to be the way it is.

Carl Ubbelohde (dec)

Case Western Reserve Univ.

Histories of Cleveland Post 1996

Carl Ubbelohde’s essay on Histories of Cleveland, last updated in 1996, ends at an important turning point in the bibliographical study of the histories of the city.  Two core factors, one predating that essay, and the other occurring shortly thereafter have created major shifts in local history generally and Cleveland specifically.

The predating factor – one which is touched upon in the Ubbelohde essay is the rise of the new social history in academe.  That shift in an approach to the past had important ramifications in regard to the sources that would become available for historians in Cleveland.  A number of new archival programs which began in the late 1960s and early 1970s  would collect and/or make available a large body of research resources relating to the city.  Both Cuyahoga County in 1975, and CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL in 1985 created professionally staffed archival programs that open sources to scholars and the public.   During the late 1960s and early 1970s the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, once the sole, focused collector of private manuscripts and organizational archives in the city, expanded its scope into a variety of new topical areas ranging from African American to Business and Philanthropic History.   Its collecting programs in immigration history spawned specific archives in Jewish, Irish and Italian history.  In in 1991 it began an LGBTQ+ archival program.  These shifts, which widened the breadth of archival and manuscript collections provided new sources for writers, both academic and popular, and along with a growing collected body of non-textual materials (including images, sound recordings, and non-elite material culture) vastly widened research resources available for researchers.

The second factor was the growth of the internet and specifically Web 2.0.  Within two years of the publication (1996) of a second hard copy edition of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History/Dictionary of Cleveland Biography its content became available on line.   With the advent of Web 2.0 and the rise of collaborative authorship in sites such as Wikipedia, the on-line publication of local history burgeoned, sometimes for the better and sometimes the worse.   Authority and control of publication, so central to the creation of many of the works noted in the Ubbelohde essay persisted in the years after 1996, but were challenged not only by on-line resources, but also by new economies in hard copy publication.  In Cleveland, a growing interest in the city’s past has driven a growing market of popular publications up into the present.

This is not to say that scholarly work relating to the city and region’s history has waned.   Major titles published since 1996 in African American history include Kimberly Phillps’ Alabama North: African American Migrants, Community and Working-Class Activism in Cleveland 1915-1945  (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1999), Nishani Frazier’s Harambee City: The Congress of Racial Equality in Cleveland and the Rise of Black Power Populism (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2017),  and Todd Michney’s Surrogate Suburbs Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980 (Charlotte: University of North Carolina Press 2017).  James Robenalt’s Ballots and Bullets: Black Power Politics and Urban Guerilla Warfare in Cleveland, 1969, published in 2018 complements the analysis of more recent Black history although it lacks the imprimatur of an academic press.  Yet, it reflects on changes in historical writing that blur the line between the academy and the community.

Social, political and environmental issues in Cleveland also became topics of major academic books during the post-1996 period.  Jonathan Wlasiuk’s Refining Nature: Standard Oil and the Limits of Efficiency (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017) represents a major investigation of industry and environment in both Cleveland and Whiting, Indiana.  Daniel Kerr’s Derelict Paradise: Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011) deals with the intersection of urban redevelopment and homelessness.    Mark Souther’s Believing in Cleveland: Managing Decline in the Best Location in the Nation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017) traces, and analyzes in detail the various civic and corporate efforts made counter trends of deindustrialization and population shifts in the city during the post-World War II decades.

Three edited volumes published subsequent to 1996 evidence a continued interest in immigration and ethnicity in Cleveland.   Identity, Conflict and Cooperation: Central Europeans in Cleveland, 1850 – 1930, published in 2002 by the Western Reserve Historical Society presents essays by eight international and American scholars whose research was supported by a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation.   Remembering Cleveland’s Jewish Voices (Kent: Kent State University Press 2010) brings together transcriptions of a number of primary source documents.  Edited by Alan Bennett and Sally Wertheim, it represents a continuation of the research of Judah Rubinstein who had shepherded the creation of the Jewish Archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society.   The Historical Society also published Sean Martin’s A Stitch in Time: The Cleveland Garment Industry in 2015, an illustrated history that documents the largely Jewish garment trade in the city.  Edited by Sean Martin and John Grabowski, Cleveland Jews and the Making of a Midwestern Community (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2020) similarly relied on the Society’s Jewish Archives.  With essays by eleven local, national, and international scholars it focuses largely on the post-World War II history of the city’s Jewish community.

The earlier history of the city has also not lacked scholarly attention.  Robert Wheeler’s Visions of the Western Reserve: Public and Private Documents of Northeastern Ohio 1750 -1860, published by Ohio State University Press in 2000, provides extraordinary insights into Northeastern Ohio’s early history.

While scholarly volumes relating to Cleveland continued to be published, they, however, represented a minor section of the new books that related to the city.   Indeed, the years since 1996 have seen dozens of titles of “trade” books relating to crime, disasters, sports, foodways, transportation, nostalgia and other topics.   Prominent publishers in this area include Kent State University Press, Gray and Company, and Cleveland Landmarks Press.  The Western Reserve Historical Society, which began its publications program in the 1870s continued to issue a combination of scholarly (as noted above) and popular works.

Subscription histories (often sponsored by advertisers) relating to organizations like the COUNTRY CLUB for the celebration of an anniversary, or more generally the city, such as Cleveland: A History in Motion (Continental Heritage Press) continued to appear on the local market.  Similarly, organizations celebrating anniversaries have either self-published or worked with contractual presses to issue histories such as University Hospital’s 150 Years: Advancing the Science of Health and the Art of Compassion (2019) authored by Laura Taxel, and the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences’ Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences: 100 Years of Inspiring Hope and Shaping the Future by Elise Hagesfeld and Elizabeth Salem.

Small, and often low in textual content, illustrated histories of Cleveland issued by Arcadia Press have become ubiquitous, covering topics ranging from amusement parks to suburbs and landmarks.   Some of the Arcadia titles, such as a series of volumes on CLEVELAND HEIGHTS authored by Dr. Marian Morton represent substantive accessible histories with scholarly narratives, while others focus simply on the nostalgia of times past.

It is impossible to fully quantify all the published books relating to Cleveland that have come onto the market since 1996, but one might safely say that the output has exceeded any previous similar time period.   If this is accurate, it also represents the vigorous survival of the book during the digital era.

Yet, the digital era has made an enormous impact on the manner in which the city’s history has been chronicled.  The move of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History to an online format in 1998, in a way, heralded this change.  Since that time it has been joined by hundreds of sites that reflect on the city’s history or a single aspect of that history, such as automobiles, sports, or crime.   Yet, within that mixture of sources several are particularly broad, strong, and noteworthy.

The Cleveland Memory Project (http://www.clevelandmemory.org/)of the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University began in 2002.  It has, over the years grown into an incredible repository of images, scanned texts, maps, and other resources relating to Cleveland.  While largely an archive, its construction and links allow it to explore single topics in substantial depth and its scans of copies of local histories are convenient and useful.

The Cleveland Historical app (https://clevelandhistorical.org/)  overseen by The Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University site links buildings events, and stories to specific localities in and around the city with a strong, highly readable academic textual and illustrative component.

Beyond these sites dedicated specifically to local history, other more widely focused online resources often provide professional focus on the city’s past.  These include Belt Magazine (https://beltmag.com) which focuses on the broader Midwest, but has its origins in northeast Ohio and a good deal of historical content on Cleveland.

Various personal blog postings, such as those produced by Christopher Busta-Peck also provide detailed histories of sites, images, and structures in the city.

What is striking about the post-1996 period is the fact that there has been no single, comprehensive published narratives of the city of Cleveland such as those written by Whittlesey, Kennedy, Orth, Rose, and others in the years between 1850 and 1950.  That, perhaps, echoes the origins of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.  When initially asked by HOMER WADSWORTH of the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION to write a new history of the city that would supersede William Ganson Rose’s Cleveland: The Making of a City, DAVID VAN TASSEL noted that the city’s history was too complex, too full of pieces and parts for a single authoritative narrative.  That decision led to the Encyclopedia.   It was a decision that seems to still hold true as evidenced by the multitude of topically and or chronologically focused scholarly and popular monographs, illustrated histories and, on-line work that have come to look at myriad aspects of northeastern Ohio in the last quarter century.

John J. Grabowski

 

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