Performing Place: The Rural/Urban Tension

  • Naomi J. Stubbs
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


The United States as a country attempting to define itself on the world stage through growth in the fields of technology and engineering has been repeatedly reasserted in recent years. From President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address when “maintaining our leadership in research and technology” was cited as being “crucial to America’s success,” to the various initiatives to recruit students to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs, science and technology have been presented as being crucial to America’s international strength.1 This focus on technology is central to America’s current identity as a world leader in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but is a far cry from the ideas upon which American political thought was founded, when self-sufficiency and working the land were paramount. The transition from untamed Eden to our “Sputnik moment” was aided by the concomitant development of pleasure gardens. Combining both the city and the country in one site, the pleasure gardens were unique among entertainment venues in that they confronted the rural and urban tension and the related issues of agrarianism and industrialization. Through their locations, the exhibits and entertainments they housed, and the language used in naming and advertising them, pleasure gardens allowed city-dwelling citizens to adapt to rapid industrial change through bridging the past and future, and the rural and urban, in a manner that allowed both nostalgia and progress to be experienced concurrently. Pleasure gardens thus provided a forum in which Americans were able to navigate the gradual slippage in the centrality of agrarianism in American identities.


National Identity Early Nineteenth Century Entertainment Venue Agrarian Ideal Rural Retreat 
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© Naomi J. Stubbs 2013

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  • Naomi J. Stubbs

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