When the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL; @UR_DSL) unveiled its ambitious Mapping Inequality project a few years ago, urban historians and others applauded. A collaboration of scholars at Virginia Tech, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Maryland and directed by Robert K. Nelson and Brent Cebul of the University of Richmond, Mapping Inequality starkly illustrated the highly structured nature of housing discrimination in 20th-century America. Forbes magazine designated it as one of a handful of GIS programs that had successfully reshaped the way Americans understand racism. “To the extent that you have a business publication engaging with the less-than-stellar history of business, it really is amazing how putting something on a map makes it so much more accessible for people to see,” Cebul told L.A’s KCET last year.
The folks at DSL have been burning the midnight oil while at work on a new project that focuses on urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s. With help from undergrads who tirelessly digitized hundreds of maps and entered reams of data into GIS programs, Robert Nelson, Brent Cebul, Justin Madron, Nate Ayers, and Leif Fredrickson have constructed Renewing Inequality, which digitally documents hundreds upon hundreds of urban renewal maps across the nation. Lauren Tilton, Nathan Connolly, Dave Hochfelder, Andrew Kahrl, and LaDale Winling also provided critical feedback and thereby helped DSL refine and improve the finished product.
Considering that urban populations bestowed renewal programs with the nickname “Negro Removal”, it should come as no surprise that families of color were disproportionately affected; at least 300,000 households were displaced by the process as homes were seized and communities leveled. With a focus on cost and family displacement, notably the difference between white and non-white families—the latter term an admittedly blunt demographic tool which Cebul describes as “an administrative term of art at the time”—Renewing Inequality provides insights not only into already well-known metropolises of the era, but also smaller cities of 50,000 or less.
“The intimacy of the violence of displacement in cities at that scale really hasn’t been considered (largely because urban historians tend to focus on big cities),” Cebul conveyed to The Metropole over social media. “In short, I think this points to whole new avenues for research that might expand our conception of what counts as ‘urban’ history in the 20th century – a century of urbanization.” The project also includes a social history of urban renewal, which can be found under “The People and the Program” tab.
As Cebul noted in our back and forth, the project is far from complete. Technical kinks still need to be worked out and they continue to add data from federal, state, and municipal reports as a means to deepen its resonance for researchers and the broader public. However, it is undoubtedly a solid beginning.
We are taking a brief hiatus from our regular Tuesday Member of the Week feature. With the end-of-semester crunch and end-of-year celebrations in full swing, UHA members have their hands full with work and socializing–no need to burden anyone with more of it! In the spirit of the holidays, we instead bring you two pieces from the personal vaults of The Metropole‘s co-editors.
We hope these offbeat historical takes on the holiday season provide respite from the harsh winter winds and endless stacks of grading. If there was such a thing as a secular blessing over history and historians, I think it would be this:
“I should like professional historians and, above all, the younger ones to reflect upon these hesitancies, these soul-searchings, of our craft. It will be the surest way they can prepare themselves, by a deliberate choice, to direct their efforts reasonably. I should desire above all to see ever-increasing numbers arrive at that broadened and deepened history which some of us–more every day–have begun to conceive.”
On April 4th, 1857, the San Francisco newspaper Daily Globe published a column concerning the existence of Chinese prostitutes in the city. Daily Globe was a short-lived newspaper, published only from 1856 to 1858. Although the newspaper did not last, the column published in the Daily Globe is indicative of the public sentiments that pushed for the development of organizations like the California Workingmen’s Party—which, in turn, pushed for laws targeting Chinese immigrants. Police forces alone could not prevent Chinese prostitution in San Francisco. However, the combined actions of the police, white citizens, and the federal government effectively targeted the Chinese and reduced the number of potential threats to white America. The column on April 4th read:
“The Voice of Many Citizens.
An indecent exhibition of harlots, has, for some weeks, disgraced the streets of San Francisco. An open insult to the family of every citizen is daily paraded through the principal promenades, in the shape of a gaudy equipage with liveried servants, filled with the most notorious of the abandoned women of the city. In a larger place than this, so audacious a violation of the proprieties of life, would perhaps pass unnoticed, but this community, the wrong to good morals, and to the fair name of our city, is too apparent not to require prompt action to stop so disgraceful a scene—one which tells to every child in the city a tale of infamy, and which is a mock and insult to every honest woman who is forced to meet it in her walks. This thing has been suffered long enough. It is now a crying evil, and while Chinese brothels are being deluged with water on every opportunity, infamy in a gilden [sic] coach is allowed the freedom of the city. A warning is now given that this scandal can not be permitted. It will be well for those interested to take heed.”
Professional police departments were a relatively new development at the time this column was published. As such, the anonymous writings published in the Daily Globe speak to the perceived need for citizens to aid in dealing with crime in the city. Published prior to the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments as well as the building of the transcontinental railroad, there were few reasons for the federal government to intervene in immigration in San Francisco in the 1850s. However, within a few decades, the federal government had enacted multiple laws—including the Page Act (1872), the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), and the Geary Act (1892)—in order to control Chinese immigration and therefore the composition of individuals living within the United States. How did moral policing instigated by citizens, understood here as white, likely middle-class individuals and groups, transform into a federal immigration issue? The answer lies in the policing of racialized others within the United States.
Historians have attempted to trace the development of Chinese and Asian racialization in the United States. Racializing the Chinese as yellow, and therefore not white, made it easier to attach other issues to racial difference. Arguments about moral and religious differences stemmed from racialization, and these accusations of difference had real political consequences. Individuals like the proclaimed “Voice of Many Citizens,” pointed to Chinese prostitutes as symbols of immorality, and therefore the antithesis of respectability. The writer’s threat to take heed should not be viewed as a mild warning, as moral policing in the United States could result in forcibly intervening in the lives of those deemed immoral. Indeed, as reform movements surged during the Progressive Era, reformers used intrusive and violent strategies, as seen with groups like the Society for the Suppression of Vice and the Committee of Fourteen and Committee of Fifteen in NY.
The 1857 column cited here serves as an early sign of the sentiments behind the push to legally discriminate against the Chinese. The arguments for Chinese exclusion were not limited to gendered moral critiques. The Page Act stated that, “the importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution is hereby forbidden…it shall be unlawful for aliens of the following classes to immigrate into the United States, namely, persons who are undergoing sentence for conviction in their own country of felonious crimes other than political or growing out of or the result of such political offenses, and women “imported for the purposes of prostitution.”” The Page Act was created in order to prevent Chinese female prostitutes from immigrating to the United States, but in practice the law was used to stop almost all Chinese women from coming to the United States. The Page Law’s emphasis on the deviant moral character and sexual nature of Chinese women demonstrated the significance of maintaining and protecting an American form of culture and sexuality that was considered the moral norm. Scholar Eithne Luibhéid described the Page Law as the “harbinger not only of sexual, but also of racial, ethnic, gender, and class exclusions that were codified by subsequent immigration laws.” The Page Law serves as proof of the role public discourse and the state played in determining respectability. This relationship between the public and the state is further revealed in the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Geary Act. The power to police was not restricted to police forces, nor was it solely based on the impetus of state authorities. Within the general public, white American citizens played a crucial role in monitoring and policing racialized others.
Carolyn Levy is a PhD Candidate in the dual-title program with the departments of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research focuses on constructions of gender, sexuality, and respectability in the United States during the nineteenth century. You can find her information at http://history.psu.edu/directory/cal65 and follow her on Twitter @carolynannlevy.
 Najia Aarim-Heriot, Chinese Immigrants, African Americas, and Racial Anxiety in the United States 1848-1882 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003). Aarim-Heriot describes the process of racializing the Chinese as “Negroization”. See also Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011).
 See Jennifer Fronc, New York Undercover: Private Surveillance in the Progressive Era (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009). See also George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (Basic Books, 1994).
The Vernacular Architecture Forum invites urban historians — students, faculty of any rank, independent scholars, public historians — to apply for the third round of its Access Award. The award supports attendance at the group’s annual meeting — including two full days of tours and one day of paper sessions — no strings attached, for individuals who have had limited formal exposure to the disciplines of architectural history and vernacular studies, and have never attended a VAF meeting. The conference, working with the theme of A Shared Heritage: Urban and Rural Experience on the Banks of the Potomac, will take place in and around Alexandria, Virginia, May 2-5. For more on the award see vafweb.org/Access-Award and on the conference vafweb.org/Potomac-2018. The deadline for applications if February 1. Read about the experience of one last year’s winners, Emmanuel Falguières, a PhD candidate in history at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) – Paris, here: http://www.vafweb.org/VAN-Summer-2017/4936220.
Also don’t forget about the VAF’s Bishir Prize:
The Bishir Prize, named for longtime member and influential scholar Catherine W. Bishir, is awarded annually to the scholarly article from a juried North American publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes. In judging the nominated articles, the jurors look for an article that is based on primary research, that breaks new ground in interpretation or methodology, and that contributes generally to the intellectual vitality of vernacular studies. Entries may come from any discipline concerned with vernacular architecture studies. Articles published in the two years prior to the VAF annual conference are eligible for consideration. Please note that essays published as chapters in a book are also eligible if the volume is peer-reviewed, published within the time parameters specified, and the research presented in the essay is new. Anthologized collections are not eligible. The Bishir Prize was awarded for the first time in 2012.
Call for Nominations: 2018 Bishir Prize
The Bishir Prize is awarded annually to the scholarly article from a juried North American publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes. Work published as a chapter in a book is eligible along with journal articles. Nominations should be based on primary research, break significant new ground in interpretation or methodology, and contribute to the intellectual vitality of vernacular studies. Entries may come from any discipline concerned with investigating vernacular architecture/landscape. Nominated pieces must bear the publication imprint of 2016 or 2017.
Deadline for submission is 1 February 2018. Send an electronic copy of the work to the prize committee: Elizabeth Collins Cromley (email@example.com), Joseph Sciorra (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Richard Longstreth, chair (email@example.com). Please provide the author’s contact information along with your own. Note that the committee automatically considered all refereed articles appearing in the VAF’s journal, Buildings + Landscapes.
The prize winner and nominator will be notified in early March. The award will be presented at the Vernacular Architecture Forum annual meeting in early May.
To nominate an article please submit the following:
MS Word document providing contact information, publication data (name of book publishing company or title of journal, and date of publication), and a brief statement contextualizing the author(s) and article.
Earlier this month, longtime UHA member Jim Wunsch of Empire State College (SUNY) raised some great questions and points of debate regarding how we organize, conduct, and process conferences, including: accepting fewer papers for presentation; rethinking how historians present research (and the context in which they are presented); and posting papers earlier to encourage greater engagement and debate. Yesterday, UHA President Richard Harris responded, and today the Program Co-chairs for UHA 2018, LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek, weigh in.
We were pleased to see discussion about the shape and ambition of the 2018 Urban History Association biennial conference emerge on The Metropole blog earlier this month. The conference is the most important event of each two-year cycle for reinforcing key trends in the field, consolidating and creating new collaborations among different subfields, and introducing new voices in urban history. We want to discuss some current considerations and lay out a vision for the 2018 version of the UHA conference.
The 2018 conference, “Cities at the Crossroads,” sits at the intersection of several important trends within the field. The study of urban history may be at its most dynamic point in years because of the new voices bringing their stories of immigration and demographic change, capitalist investment and urban development, policy debates and political resistance, cultural change, environmental questions, and new scales of perspective – from the metropolitan to the transnational — to the urban realm.
The UHA continues to expand from its traditional emphasis on 20th century U.S. cities and draws participants and ideas from ever more subfields and periods. One of the developments of the Chicago conference we are trying to maintain is the involvement of the Africanists, Europeanists, geographers, and many others who should feel at home in an organization devoted to the study of cities. The UHA and the conference planners are also making efforts to be open and welcoming to younger members, graduate students, and allied professionals who are essential to remaining a vibrant organization and forum for ideas on the study of history.
The success of the last several conferences constitutes a challenging standard to live up to. One of the ways UHA 2018 can do this is by embracing the intellectual and collegial spirit of those events without trying to match the bigness, which will be hard to do outside of those major centers. Columbia, a small southern city with a thriving tradition of public history examining its own complex racial, regional, and urban history, offers the opportunity for tours, plenary sessions, and collegiality that has long been part of UHA.
Apart from the exchanges that happen in the paper sessions, one of the wonderful features of a manageably-sized conference like the Urban History Association is the serendipitous meetings and many opportunities to make new connections between newcomers and veterans alike in this collegial organization. At one of her first visits to UHA, one of us (Elaine) serendipitously met Richard Harris, whose discussion of the definition of suburbia in Unplanned Suburbs proved essential to her own book on suburban history. This accidental meeting and the gracious exchange that followed helped create a new relationship between two scholars with shared interests, two scholars that have come together a decade later as we work on the Columbia conference. Maintaining this esprit de corps is a priority and we hope all who attend, comment, and present help bring these values to Columbia.
As Richard Harris points out, the recent survey of UHA members reveals that conferences are an opportunity to learn about new research, not only in paper sessions but also at the book exhibit and in chance encounters. At the manageable scale of the UHA, we learn with friends old and new, while exploring a city and discovering our own roles within the field of urban history.
The Call for Papers for 2018 requests “proposals for innovative workshops or non-traditional sessions,” in addition to the familiar three-paper format. We hope that historians who have an interest in promoting new lines of research and new modes of presentation and discussion will propose those ideas when they submit their paper and session proposals–-whether oral presentations or interactive workshops in lieu of research findings.
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
My scholarship examines the historical processes and current reform efforts that have contributed to and challenged inequalities in present-day urban spaces. My work leverages quantitative and qualitative data to understand the intersections of educational policy and the lives of teachers, students, and families.
My current book project, The Roots of Educational Inequality, traces the transformation of public secondary education in urban America over the course of the twentieth century. By arguing that the roots of educational inequality were embedded in the founding of American high schools in the 1910s and 1920s, this work directly challenges conventional declension narratives that hinge the challenges of urban schools on postwar white flight and failed desegregation policies.
I became interested in this work when I began teaching middle school at Wayland Middle School and became an activist in Philadelphia. I was fortunate to be able to meld my interests as an activist, scholar, and educator into this research agenda.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
I am currently teaching an educational foundations course and an elective, Education in the Age of Trump, based on the Trump 2.0 syllabus. I feel very fortunate to be at a school of education that values historical context and teaching, and thus, I have been able to infuse my research interests into my teaching. My next project is about youth inequality, mobility, and opportunity in rural and urban America and stems from my Trump course.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
Remember what brought you to graduate school, stick to your passions, and find mentors to push and cultivate you. I left my middle school classroom reluctantly. I loved teaching, but also knew that I wanted to give myself time to really understand the history of education and the challenges that urban schools face today with experts who had studied this for decades. I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor and dissertation advisor, Michael Katz, and a terrific committee with Tom Sugrue, Kathleen Brown, and Stanton E.F. Wortham. I am the scholar I am today because of what my middle school students taught me, because I stuck to what I was passionate about, and because I had a great team of advisors who pushed me as a scholar and teacher.
Your website is beautiful and makes excellent use of photographs to illustrate your work in the classroom and as a researcher. Does photography play a significant role in your research methodology? And do you have any advice for UHA members who want to incorporate photography into their work?
My commitment to visual work stems from conversations I had with individuals who did not always believe the challenges and inequities that I had witnessed in urban schools. I began taking photographs to show people what I had seen. To show them the inequities in our urban schools. Second, it was about access. I wanted people who do not enjoy reading or who have a hard time accessing academic prose to be able to learn from and contribute to my research agenda.
In Philadelphia, I took several photography classes and worked with a documentary film maker, Amit Das, as a graduate student at Penn. What Amit taught me is simple: pick up a camera and just try. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them. In the past, photography has not played a significant role in my work, but in my dissertation I filmed my oral history interviews because I wanted people to be able to experience what I was experiencing—to see and hear from individuals who either experienced or challenged racism in their schools and communities. And now, today, I am beginning to incorporate photography and film more in my work to expand access and open people to the humanity that history offers.
Earlier this month, longtime UHA member Jim Wunsch of Empire State College (SUNY) raised some great questions and points of debate regarding how we organize, conduct, and process conferences, including: accepting fewer papers for presentation; rethinking how historians present research (and the context in which they are presented); and posting papers earlier to encourage greater engagement and debate. Today, UHA President Richard Harris responds, and on Wednesday the Program Co-chairs for UHA 2018, LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek, will weigh in.
Jim Wunsch has made some good points about conferences, and especially the paper sessions. These are perennial – or perhaps I should say bi-ennial – matters that UHA conference organizers have wrestled with over the years and to which there is no perfect answer. Significantly, in the online membership survey that we conducted earlier this year, members were perfectly divided on the question as to whether we should be more selective in accepting paper proposals. My response expresses personal views, not those of the UHA, although they are consistent with, and draw upon, the way members answered other survey questions.
Jim points out that some papers are less than ground-breaking, while presentations can be underwhelming. He suggests that greater selectivity might be desirable; that some or all papers might be posted in advance and that, afterwards, The Metropole blog could celebrate those papers or intellectual exchanges that were especially original or exciting.
The probable result of greater selectivity would be a conference in which panel sessions were of higher quality, more satisfying and, if only because there would be fewer of them, better-attended. But it would also produce a smaller conference, more top heavy in terms of seniority. It would be difficult for program committees to turn down proposals from established scholars who might include ex-supervisors, and even when such proposals were rejected the senior scholars might be able to attend anyway. In other words, fewer of those present would be graduate students and junior scholars.
Obviously, there are pros and cons, and the balance surely varies according to the conference and the organization. There are some large conferences that I have attended which seemed unwieldy; where there were dozens of poorly-attended concurrent sessions; where little intellectual exchange seemed to occur. I name no names. There, indeed, I had wondered whether the downside of taking all-comers outweighed the upside. But I have found that at smaller conferences, such as those organized by the UHA and SACRPH, the balance is different.
Perhaps my opinion here is shaped by two of the first conferences that I ever attended, the first as an undergraduate and the second as a junior grad student. Both were modest in scale. The first was organized by housing activists in Newcastle, England, and helped inspire my continuing interest in housing. The second, in Guelph, Ontario, organized by Gilbert Stelter and Alan Artibise, was the beginning of a short series of Canadian urban history conferences, and it fueled my commitment to the field. Maybe it augurs well that my term as president should coincide with the first time that the UHA has held a conference in another mid-sized city.
Now if I am honest and if – even more challenging – my memory serves me well, it wasn’t the panel sessions alone that affected me in either place. Indeed, at the housing conference what I remember most vividly was a field trip to the Byker wall, an award-winning and soon notorious public housing project. At the Guelph conference what has stayed with me was the overall buzz – the excitement, the conversations in corridors and bars that declared: here is a community of people with shared, kindred interests. No subsequent conference could hope to fully recapture that feeling. It was first love, after all. But I still feel something similar when I attend the UHA and SACRPH conferences, sometimes in paper sessions, but at least as often in corridors or out in the city. The point I’m trying to make is that, for me, papers sessions are only part of the picture.
In this, I seem to be fairly typical. One the questions that we asked in the online survey of members was “what are the most important functions of the conference?” Respondents were given four options, and most checked off two or more. Almost nine out of ten reckoned that the conference was “very important” or “essential” as “an opportunity to learn what research other urban historians are doing.” Paper sessions are obviously a good part of this, but so too are chance encounters and, as a number of people indicated in their open-ended comments, conversations around the book exhibit. Just as striking, almost two thirds of members reported that one of the very important/essential functions of the conference was “to network – advancing my career and/or research” while almost half saw it as “an opportunity to socialize with friends and colleagues.” Fewer, about a fifth, also reckoned that it is “an opportunity to visit and explore a city that I may not know.” So, not surprisingly, it turns out that members attend UHA conferences for a variety of reasons.
Bottom line: the presentation of a paper is as much a means to an end as it is an end in itself. If program committees were more selective, fewer people, and especially younger scholars, would be able to attend and enjoy the other benefits of conference attendance. That would be a high price to pay.
But it is true that we could all be more creative about how we present our research. Responding to another question, for example, one third of members reported that in paper sessions they usually read from a text (using no slides) but less than half that number reckon that this was the most effective type of presentation. It is here, perhaps, as Jim suggests, that we could all try to think outside the text, or the slide presentation. Along those lines, the program committee for the Columbia conference is encouraging people to propose less traditional formats, but I will leave it to the program co-chairs, LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek, to say more about that.
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