Robert Darnton writes that one can read cities as one does texts. Few historians would disagree. After all, the doyen of British urban history, H.J. Dyos, had been ‘reading’ streetscapes since the 1950s. Moreover, his peers had long felt comfortable with the idea that cities were templates which could in a sense be read in order to extract the historical developments that were ‘reflected’ in them. A younger generation of urban historians had been enthralled by the release in 1973 of the remarkable two-volume The Victorian City, and by the unfolding patterns through which its contributors sought to read the nineteenth-century cityscape. But now, well into the second decade after The Victorian City's first publication, it is timely to ask how have historians sought to read? My conclusion is unflattering. It seems to me that historians are awkwardly equipped to interpret the urban past because of their primitive approach to texting the past. Some of the most successful readings of the urban past have drawn less from history than from archaeology, architecture, geography, literary criticism, and cultural anthropology. Such analysis is more directly geared to address the essence of the text: its immediacy to a particular audience. The texts which historians think of familiarly as their own are in fact anchored in the local horizons of people other than ourselves. Their context is not our own. Moreover, their quality is profoundly dynamic. They were tools by which people addressed and sustained common-sense meanings and rhythms amidst the indeterminacies of daily living in ever-changing urban settings.