Today our Member of the Week series returns, with a twist. This summer, we brought nine new assistant editors onto our team at The Metropole. Some of them you already know as past Members of the Week: Troy Hallsell, Dylan Gottlieb, and Kenneth Alyass. The rest will be introduced in the coming weeks, but we begin with 2018 Blogging Contest winner and now Assistant Editor Angela Stiefbold!
Angela Shope Stiefbold
PhD Candidate in History
University of Cincinnati
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
I am interested in the rural-urban fringe and the influence rural residents had on how American suburbs developed during the twentieth century. I began my PhD program intending to focus on suburban planning history. Then my work in a research seminar uncovered the important influence residents of Ohio’s rural areas had, at both at the local and state levels, in establishing the parameters for township and county zoning ordinances. I wanted to continue to investigate this relationship between rural residents and expanding suburbs, so I turned to a case study where there was a long history of their interaction.
My dissertation is a history of efforts to preserve rural character in the face of suburban development in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Through this research I have been uncovering the diversity of reactions farmers had to the prospect of suburban development in their community, the multiplicity of supporters (both farm and non-farm) and motivations for wanting to preserve farmland (which may not be the same as preserving farming) within a growing metropolitan area. In the current political climate where metropolitan and rural constituencies are characterized in opposition to one another on many major issues, I think it is important to understand the history of the relationship between residents of cities, suburbs, and the countryside.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
I am not currently teaching, but my favorite classroom experiences have been working with students aiming for careers in which they hope to affect future urban and environmental policy. I hope I have helped them understand that today’s cities and suburbs are the product of past choices, with consequences that resonate into today’s politics. I come to history with a background of having worked as a city planner; reading Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier as an undergrad really stuck with me and helped inform my planning career. In the future I hope to continue to blend scholarship with public history projects that connect people to their communities and help community leaders make better informed decisions.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
I was very excited to discover Andrew C. Baker’s recently published Bulldozer Revolutions: A Rural History of the Metropolitan South (2018). He is also interested in the way agricultural history and the rural perspective have influenced both development and environmental policy at the edge of the metropolis, using case studies in Montgomery County, Texas and Loudon County, Virginia.
I’m also proud of the Spring 2019 issue of Ohio Valley History, which commemorates the legacy of UHA founding member and past president Zane Miller, who had a long career teaching at the University of Cincinnati. It includes articles by recent and current UC PhD students Alyssa McClannahan, on community opposition to the Zimmer nuclear power plant proposed on the Ohio River near Cincinnati, Kristen M. Fleming on the history of the musseling industry on the Ohio River, and myself on conflicts over township zoning proposals in Hamilton County, Ohio. We, like many of Zane Miller’s students and their students in turn, were inspired by his teaching and scholarship to use local urban and environmental history to reveal larger themes of American history.
What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?
Be open to looking at urban history from unexpected perspectives. I never imagined my bookshelf would hold so many books about rural and agricultural history!
You used to live in a really old house in Cincinnati! What was the most interesting thing you learned in the course of researching its history?
I researched the lives of dozens of people who lived in the house over its 140+ year history and was amazed by the breadth of their life experiences: merchants, teamsters, engineers, mothers, salesmen, craftsmen, nurses, artists, clergy, and military service. The person whose life was most intriguing to me was Lilian Whitteker, who spent several years of her childhood in the house in the 1880s. She trained as an artist, spent time in Los Angeles and New York City, and then moved to France in the 1920s, where she continued her art career, and she and a friend restored and lived in a castle. She remained in France during WWII and was sent to an internment camp during the German occupation. Lilian was so well-regarded by the residents of her adopted French hometown that after her death in 1979 they named a street for her.