A photo of New York City, taken at night.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Whether ancient or modern, we continue to be fascinated by cities and their histories. How they were founded, what their transportation looks like, what art they produce—each city has its own personality and products to show the world. Artists, photographers, historians, and curators capture the elements unique to each location and produce exhibits that both celebrate and educate.

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire

Few historical cities have had the kind of lasting power of Teotihuacan. Thousands of years ago, it was one of Mesoamerica’s most powerful urban areas. These days it’s been reduced to archaeological sites, including pyramids and plazas. But that doesn’t mean its appeal has lessened any.

That’s why San Francisco’s de Young Museum has become the temporary home to an exhibit focusing on the history and culture of this dynamic city. Thanks to the dedicated support of local bigwigs like Silicon Valley businessman Thom Weisel and family, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Selz Foundation, and many more, this look into the history of an incredibly important city will be available through February 2018.

NY at Its Core: 400 Years of NYC History

The Museum of the City of New York is asking an important question about NYC: What made it the New York City we think of today? Was it the original Dutch village? The diversity, creativity, and innovation inherent in the city?

The “NY at Its Core” exhibit is providing visitors a chance to explore those questions using photographs, writings, video, and interactive digital presentations. The over 450 historical objects present not only the history of the city, but also some of its most famous denizens, including Alexander Hamilton, JP Morgan, Jane Jacobs, Emma Goldman, and even Jay Z.

Since the exhibit is ongoing, you can visit any time.

Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith

No one captured Seattle’s African American community quite like Al Smith, whose 65 years of photography are the subject of an exhibit at MOHAI (The Museum of History and Industry) in Seattle.

A self-described “real native son,” Smith documented his experiences in Seattle’s Central District. He took his hobby to the next level by forming his On the Spot photography side business after returning home from a series of steward jobs on merchant vessels sailing around the Pacific Rim.

The “Seattle on the Spot” exhibit isn’t just a celebration of Smith himself; it’s also a look into Seattle’s jazz scene and the history of the city at large. Visitors will have a chance to check it out through June 2018.

Museum of the City

More than just an exhibit, the Museum of the City is a website dedicated to “the city as seen through the eyes of its citizens.” It’s essentially an archive of user-generated photography and writing about their home cities—or the cities they choose to study. As a “virtual museum of cities,” the site aims to provide visitors with the opportunity to answer some of the same questions they might see in a more “official” exhibit: What makes a city? How do the past, present, and future affect an urban area? The content covers themes like ancient cities, cities of the future, food, health, immigration, and many more.

The website owes its existence to the partnership between Portland State University and the International Council of Museums Committee for the Collections and Activities of Museums of Cities (CAMOC).

And since the exhibit is entirely online, it’s accessible anytime.

Our fascination with cities isn’t likely to wane anytime soon, which makes it vital that exhibits like these exist. Understanding the roots of the urban scene will help cities flourish and continue to be seats of innovation and creativity in the future.