Member of the Week: Ken Alyass

50211478_1237703249711565_3079804422419644416_o (1)Kenneth Alyass

Senior, Wayne State University

History Major

@kenalyass

 

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I’ve been admitted to Northwestern and Harvard’s history PhD programs, and the project I proposed to both of those schools focus on Modern American urban history post-1970. More specifically, I want to study the intersection of suburbanization, the carceral state, and deregulation of finance in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. My ultimate goal is to understand the suburbanization of poverty in the post “riot” period of urban America. This history draws my interest because I live in suburb that isn’t lily white, affluent, or lined with white picket fences. Poverty and structural issues are so evident all around me, and I couldn’t help but notice that only a few miles north of my hometown, there were a couple neighborhoods where the wealthiest families in Michigan lived. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, what I was seeing was what scholars call uneven development.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your work on your honors thesis?

Currently I am taking a seminar called “Modern American Cities,” with my professor and thesis advisor, Tracy Neumann. The class takes a look at postwar American urban history. We’re reading books like Sugrue’s The Origins of Urban Crisis, Andrew Needham’s book on the politics of energy production, Power Lines, and a few other interesting pieces. This class directly fits in with my thesis work. I’m writing a paper preliminary titled “Law and Order, with Justice” Redevelopment and the Rise of the Carceral State in Detroit, which is the second part of my honors thesis.

What books or articles have you read recently that made an impression?

Julio Capó Jr.’s book, Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940, was particularly impactful on me. The book is a really interesting examination of Miami’s queer community, with a focus on policing the community, before 1940. It is slightly unusual for me because I mostly study postwar urban history, so it is refreshing to see a book that goes a little further back to unpack the early origins of policing, urban renewal, redevelopment, and even gentrification. One of my favorite things about it is that it approaches urban history with a more American Studies perspective, so he looks at visual media and architecture, something not all historians do.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students preparing an honors thesis related to urban history or urban studies?

Make sure you understand that urban history is really a combination of different thematic fields. We’re all doing social, political, economic, cultural, and other histories when we write about urban places. Having a grasp of the basics of those fields comes to be really helpful when you’re trying to understand them in unison. Another piece of advise I wish I took early on is read some spatial theory. People like Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey have been super influential in how I understand “space” – even if theory is a little hard to read.

You are graduating soon and leaving Wayne State! What will you take with you from your experience there, and how do you think what you learned (and who you met) will shape the next few years of your life?

I’ll argue this until I’m blue in the face: there is no better place to study labor and urban history than at Wayne State University. We have the largest labor and urban affairs archive in the nation right on campus, and from my first course here to my last, I have utilized the collections there. Tracy Neumann, David Goldberg, and Paul Kershaw, have been great influences on me. As I continue down the road into academia, their advice on how to be a good scholar and person will stick with me for a long time.

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