Stacy Kinlock Sewell
Professor of History and Assistant Dean, School of Arts and Sciences
St. Thomas Aquinas College
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
My current research focuses on urban renewal in New York State. There has been much written on urban renewal in large cities generally and New York City in particular. I was surprised to find that dozens of small cities and towns around the State—some with only a few thousand residents—also received funding for “revitalization.” My project is an effort to broaden our understanding of urban renewal and how it affected diverse populations. I started thinking about this question more intently after the last Urban History Association conference, when I was on a panel on Urban Renewal in Small Cities.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
I teach 20th century U.S. history courses like the History of the 1960s and a course called “City and Suburb in America.” My college’s particular geography, only 15 miles northwest of New York City, allows my courses to feature the many great and not-so-great local examples of architecture, infrastructure, redevelopment and public housing. I have taught at this college for 18 years, so my courses have come to reflect my interest in urban policy but also the histories of many of my student’s families, who left New York City’s five boroughs in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of my students will be the next generation of the City’s teachers and police officers. I’m also an assistant dean in the School of Arts and Sciences. My college recently began a Bachelor’s program in a maximum security prison in our vicinity, for which I have primary responsibility. I’d like to begin introducing my students to some of the research on the geography of incarceration, both local and national. I’m also pursuing some different options for connecting the students on the “inside” and my traditional students through programming and club fundraising activities that will buy additional books and supplies for students in the facility.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
I am working with a team of historians on a book that documents the destruction of downtown Albany, New York, in the 1960s and the creation of a major renewal project under the auspices of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The project, entitled 98 Acres in Albany, began as an effort to map, block by block, the destruction and renewal of the 40-block project in that city. We have photographs of every property taken by the State, some including the interiors and residents themselves. We have made an effort to track down the many stories of the people displaced and also those involved with the planning and construction of the modernist government office complex that now stands. We have created a website, 98 Acres in Albany, which features photos and stories from the project. We would like to finish the manuscript by the end of 2018.
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
As for my advice for you urban historians, I would say that your place matters. It has been thrilling to help my students develop a consciousness about the history of where they come from and their current landscape. Consider developing projects with your students that incorporate the places near and around your college or university. This is an excellent way to engage them and, though I never considered myself a “local” historian while I was in graduate school, it has, rewardingly, moved my scholarship in that direction as well.
Before you ever contemplated being a historian, you studied art. If you were given a giant wall in downtown Albany and charged with creating a mural, what would you do with it? Would you paint it yourself, or commission an artist? What images, people, or events would you consider representing?
I grew up in Albany, but as many others native “Albanians” of my generation, never knew about the destruction of the downtown core. In today’s downtown I would love to see a mural placed in the vicinity of the impressive and extensive abstract public art collection chosen by Nelson Rockefeller. It would depict the displacement of 7,000 residents who populated the downtown, their homes and businesses. It would be a great way for the community to envision what was lost, and how renewal changed Albany so dramatically.