Adam Mack discusses ‘Sensing Chicago’

Using all senses (not just sight) to study Chicago history

A Society of Midland Authors presentation: Adam Mack, author of Sensing Chicago
Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, at the Cliff Dwellers, 200 S. Michigan, 22nd floor, Chicago
A social hour, with complimentary snacks and a cash bar, begins at 6 p.m.
Adam Mack, cultural historian at the School of the Art Institute, speaks at 7 p.m.
Free and open to the public. No registration required.


A hundred years ago, a walk down a Chicago street invited an assault on the senses. Untiring hawkers shouted from every corner. The manure from thousands of horses lay on streets pooled with molasses and puddled with kitchen grease. Odors from a river gelatinous and lumpy with all manner of foulness mingled with the all-pervading stench of the stockyard slaughterhouses.

In his new book, Sensing Chicago: Noisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers, Adam Mack explores the role of the senses in the rise of Chicago from the Civil War through the end of World War I. He examines from a sensory rather than purely visual perspective five events: the Chicago River; the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; the 1894 Pullman Strike; publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle; and the rise and fall of the White City amusement park. His vivid recounting of the smells, sounds and tactile miseries of city life reveals how input from the five human senses influenced the history of class, race and ethnicity in Chicago. At the same time, he transports readers to an era before modern refrigeration and sanitation, when to step outside was to be overwhelmed by the odor and roar of a great city in progress.

adam-mackOne review says Sensing Chicago “changes our understanding of the history and particularly the experience of life in the industrial city.”

Traditional histories place an overemphasis on the visual dimension of an urban landscape and “mirror a set of modern cultural values that valorize the eye as the barometer of truth and reason, and tend to devalue the proximate, ‘lower’ senses as crude and less rational,” Mack says in his introduction. This presentation will help you “see” history differently.