The Grid as Political Rhetoric: The Nineteenth-Century American Land Reform Movement

Join the PhD Programme of the Architectural Association for a seminar with Professor Irene Cheng (California College of the Arts).
On Wednesday, March 17, at 6 pm London time. See zoom link below.
In the 1840s, workingmen in New York City turned to land reform as a primary means to redress the growing inequality in a capitalist society. Rallying around the cry of “land for the landless,” white artisans and laborers called for the US government to grant free homesteads and to end land foreclosures and monopolies. The workingmen drew on radically egalitarian ideas about property even as they upheld an ideology of expansionist settler colonialism. The land reform movement’s printed materials consistently featured two abstract diagrams: the Jeffersonian land grid and an octagonal republican village plan. Drawn from a larger study of “geometric utopias” in nineteenth-century America, this talk will explore how the land reformers deployed geometric diagrams as visual rhetoric within an emergent mass democracy.
Irene Cheng is an architectural historian, critic, and an associate professor of architecture at the California College of the Arts. Her research explores the entanglements of architecture, culture, and politics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cheng is a co-editor of Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020) and The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century (The Monacelli Press, 2004). Her current book project, entitled “The Shape of Utopia: The Architecture of Radical Reform in Nineteenth-Century America” (forthcoming, University of Minnesota Press) explores the geometry of architectural projects affiliated with anarchist, socialist, abolitionist, free love, spiritualist, and other radical antebellum movements.


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