Posted: June 5th, 2008
Bums, Slummers and Swells—Social Class And The Birth Of American Popular Culture On The Lower East Side, 1820-1855

The development of the “underclass” in American life and the simultaneous beginnings of what we now call pop culture both date back to the Lower East Side of nearly two centuries ago. In the early 19th century, the Five Points, a tiny area near today’s Chinatown, became America’s first slum. The pastimes and diversions of Five Pointers — their “flash” talk, music, gang violence, and sensational theatre — became part of America’s social bedrock. Warren Shaw, historian, traces the roots of American pop culture — from slang and comic books to Hollywood action blockbusters, from rap to rock’n roll and tap dancing — back to Five Points, the very location from which he delivers this talk. This event was held by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

  • Edward Ma

    As a psychotherapist, I have been constantly concerned the image of Chinatown, the site of Five Points, full of negative historical events, slum, bums underclass, slavery and gang viiolence, etc.

    Now I am so glad to know that the site of Chinatown was also the birth place of American historically popular culture on the Lower East, became the first American slum. Immigrants and former slaves there united by poverty and the disdain directed at them by “respectable New Yorkers” – developed their own identity, language, entertainment, leading to Hollywood movies.

    As a community advocate,I am proud to say that Chinatown has been gradually restored after the Twin Tower collapsed, as I even made a presentation to CUNY on “The making of Asian Community Democracy after 9/11: Chinatown Restoration and Progress after 9/11” based on my 7 years of community participation as a volunteer.

  • Susan Pondish

    Very interesting, informative presentation. Enjoyed the local color.

  • Gilbert Tauber

    I’d wanted to attend this lecture but was away. Glad I was able to catch it on this site. Particularly impressive is Mr. Shaw’s tracing of the evolution of popular art forms and cultural archetypes.

  • Anonymous in NYC

    I saw this live. It was AMAZING!!!! Warren Shaw is energetic, entertaining, and tells a fascinating story. This is as good if not better than the other Warren Shaw lecture on this site, about Alexander Hamilton. I heard some of his other lectures on his website Neat!

  • Sheryl Woodruff

    Mr. Shaw, as always, offers the perfect mixture of informed scholarship and accessibility.

  • Victoria Butler

    Warren Shaw is the best historical lecturer around. His extensive knowledge, love of New York history and engaging lecture style always make for a great lecture.

  • Susan

    Warren beings history alive with insightful analyses presented in a lively and entertaining manner.

  • Kyle Burtt

    Very cool and interesting take on pop culture beginnings . . . so many yummy tidbits of historical info. Enjoy!!!

  • Rebecca Smith

    Mr. Shaw’s vivaciousness and zeal for history, and especially New York, is infectious. I absolutely recommend seeing him live and visiting his website

  • Moya

    This is another great lecture from Warren Shaw. I went that night and am so plleased it is up here now as I recommended it to many friends, students and colleagues. I’m looking forward to his next lecture.

  • Lisa Bova-Hiatt

    Warren is a dynamic lecturer and an insightful historian. I really enjoyed listening to his presentation and I am looking forward to his next one. :)

  • Michael Cramer

    Warren is great. His passion for New York is matched only by his knowledge of New York history. He is a great teacher.

  • Jenina Lepard

    Warren did an outstanding job, as usual. His enthusiasm, wit, and thoroughness made his presentation engrossing and informative!

  • jennifer Leigh Houston

    Warren makes history interesting and enjoyable. I love his lectures. Thank you so much for hosting him.

  • Lawson Shadburn

    I look forward to more talks by Mr. Shaw in the future. His topic, his depth of knowledge and his style are all excellent!

  • Paul Cotter

    Fascinating and compelling in remarkable ways. Mr.Shaw’s presentation is gripping both for its accessible information as well as a point of view and entertaining style that is very enjoyable to watch. He involves you in the material, entertains and amuses and leaves you feeling that you want to see more. Which I most certainly do!

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