Growing up in and around Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, one witnessed the city’s incomplete political transformation. Mayor Harold Washington’s 1983 victory propelled him to City Hall where during his brief but impactful tenure he began dismantling the Democratic machine built under Anton Cermak during the 1930s and consolidated by Richard J. Daley in the mid-1950s.
Observers like University of Illinois Chicago political scientist, former alderman, and Chicagoland sage Dick Simpson argue the machine bent but never broke. Rather, under Richard M. Daley–who succeeded Washington (via the hapless Eugene Sawyer)–the machine would be reconstituted; “Pinstripe Patronage,” according to Simpson, which represented a shift toward large banking and legal institutions and transnational manufacturers. “Businessmen who give contributions to the mayor expect to . . . deliver goods and services to City Hall at inflated prices,” Simpson told Chicago Magazine in 2008. Crain’s Chicago Business called the new machine, “legalized bribery.”
As for the current occupant, Rahm Emanuel? Well he certainly has not lived up to the lighthearted brilliant social media-inspired satire of Dan Sinker’s The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of Rahm Emanuel. In Sinker’s completely fictional telling of the 2011 mayoral race, the author secretly created a majestically profane faux twitter feed (@MayorEmanuel) purporting to be the voice of future Mayor Emanuel campaigning for office in 2010/2011.
You get the idea. In the end, Emanuel closed a lot of schools, pushed for charters, enabled police brutality scandals to fester and pulsate, and economically cozied up to corporate interests. All that being said, the upcoming mayoral election, in which Emanuel is not running, features 50 candidates!
Ok perhaps not 50, but as of late November, which marked the deadline for submitting petitions, 18 individuals sidled up for a mayoral run. Though speculation ran rampant, Chance the Rapper demurred and instead endorsed Amara Enyia.
The larger point here is that just as the city is embracing a new political day, marked by a certain nervous uncertainty, so too with the crossover appeal of this year’s #MLA19 and #AHA19 synergy are historians and literary scholars embracing a more interdisciplinary future! With this in mind, The Metropole has some suggestions for those attendees casting about for ideas regarding what to do in the Windy City while conferencing.
First, we’d be remiss not to remind everyone about the Urban History Association Meet Up, co-hosted by Becky Nicolaides and Carol McKibben on Saturday morning January 5 (you can also see here for more details).
Second, while hardly comprehensive, we have a couple of slightly off the beaten path recommendations.
Chicago Architecture Center
Granted it’s not a giant affair–really two floors and a gift shop. Nor does the Chicago Architecture Center offer a particularly critical examination of the city’s building history. While the exhibits do make mention of discriminatory housing policies and highway construction, regrettably, it does not spend a great deal of time on such matters. Still, for a thumbnail and visually attractive tour of Chicago’s architectural history it’s good for a 45-minute visit.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
Everyone knows the Art Institute and far be it from us to dissuade you from visiting the august cultural institution. The still newish modern wing is stunning and its collections remain some of the best in the world. However, its tragically ignored sibling the Museum of Contemporary Art offers a wealth of innovation and creativity, plus a truly great free sitting room known as the Commons (see featured image at top).
Notably for urbanists, the current exhibit West by Midwest explores the migration of artists, photographers, and other creative types to California, especially Los Angeles; think Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, Charles White, and Judithe Hernández, among many others. At several points West by Midwest functions like an advertisement for the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), due to the school’s overwhelming influence on many artists whose work appears in the exhibit. The exhibit traverses intersectional Chicano, Black Power, and Feminist threads that weave their way through the works on display. It alone is worth the price of admission, but check out other aspects of the MCA like Jessica Campbell’s oddly compelling yarn based artwork on display in the Chicago Works exhibit.
If you have an evening open and are unsure where one might venture out to, let us offer this suggestion. Start off at Moneygun, a dimly lit bar in the Fulton Market/Near West Side/West Loop neighborhood, with sharp cocktails and draft beer set to soul tunes from the 1970s. Once you’ve imbibed a libation or two, walk a couple blocks over to Duck Duck Goat, an eminently solid Chinese restaurant with obvious hipster pretensions or perhaps the also nearby Publican, a popular spot that, although sometimes overrated by locals, provides a very good “American Creative” option. Of course it is Chicago and your restaurant/bar options are endless, so consider this a drop in the hat of your numerous choices.
Finally, we conclude with this helpful twitter thread from @tenuredradical (aka Professor Claire Potter of the New School) in which the historian offers some helpful advice for first-time AHA attendees and experienced conference-goers alike.
Also, for those caftan enthusiasts out there, don’t worry:
Good luck everyone!