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Sensing ChicagoNoisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers$
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Adam Mack

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039188

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039188.001.0001

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Sensory Overload

Sensory Overload

The Chicago Fire, 1871

(p.33) Chapter 2 Sensory Overload
Sensing Chicago

Adam Mack

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the Chicago Fire of 1871 as a multisensory spectacle—an object of curiosity and marvel. More specifically, it considers how the fire destabilized sensory perception and threw up an array of strange sensations that mocked the civic elite's attempts to control Chicago's sensory landscape. After providing a background on the fire and describing its immediate experiential aspects, the chapter discusses the disaster's impact on survivors and how they represented that impact in terms of social difference. It also looks at the relief and rebuilding efforts that followed and suggests that the firestorm of 1871 called into question Chicago's future as a site of modern industrial capitalism. It explains how the fire tested the senses of victims to expose the connections that elites drew between sensory refinement and social distinction. Finally, it shows how the fire lent credence to the notion that social class expressed itself through the senses, a notion used by elites to promote their vision of civic order even while the city burned.

Keywords:   senses, Chicago Fire, sensory perception, sensations, rebuilding, elites, social distinction, social class, civic order, industrial capitalism

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