Member of the Week: Jacob Bruggeman

Bruggeman-IMG_2302Jacob Bruggeman

University of Cambridge

Darwin College


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

My current research is on the construction of narratives about economic inequality in the long 20th century. For my M.Phil. dissertation, I am examining how Margaret Thatcher’s descriptions of economic inequality drew upon Victorian narratives about poverty. Beyond the M.Phil., I’m researching the narratives of economic inequality that pervaded urban newspapers and popular journals in the American Midwest in the Gilded Age and early Progressive Era.

Describe your current work as a writer, editor, and reviewer. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?

Aside from my research, I spend a good deal of time editing book reviews for the Cleveland Review of Books (where I’m the history editor) and The Metropole (where I have to pleasure to work with several other great book review editors). These editorial posts keep me in touch with developments in the discipline’s literature, historiographical debates, and my role at the Cleveland Review of Books has afforded me an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing revival and development of Midwestern history by curating a series of reviews on regional history. These editorial duties aside, I frequently write public-facing book reviews, a process I always enjoy and find to be an important mode of making scholarship more accessible for non-historians.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

There are three forthcoming writing projects that I’m quite excited about. First and foremost, I’m nearly done with a book chapter on the Minnesota environmentalist Sigurd “Sig” Olson for inclusion in The Northern Midwest and the US-Canadian Borderlands: Essays on a Lost Region (ed. Jon Lauck, Michigan State University Press 2020). My chapter, entitled “Things Seen and Heard: Regional Rootedness and Natural Mystery in Sigurd F. Olson’s Northwestern United States,” explores Sig’s understanding of Minnesota’s natural world as a distinct aspect of the state’s identity. For Sig, the natural world could serve the “soul” as a redoubt, a return to the natural mystery inherent in all things, and thereby bring individuals into contact with their ancient origins. With my  colleague at The Metropole, Eric Rhodes, I’m co-authoring a chapter for a forthcoming volume, Where East Meets West (ed. Jon Lauck, Kent State University Press, 2021), which we’ve tentatively titled “Classical Permanence through Urban Decline: The Cleveland Orchestra as a Symbol of High Culture through Cleveland’s Decline.” In this chapter, we explore the relationship between the “big five” orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York as a network of cultural capital; through its association with the other four, the Cleveland Orchestra endured as a source of pride for city residents even through the city’s urban decline. And finally, with a colleague from Miami University, I co-authored a contribution to the volume Alternate University (ed. Cass Adair), entitled “What Will You Do With Your Humanities Degree?” In this essay, we drew from our student perspectives to argue that the humanities offer as robust college majors as one can expect and that they a reliable path to personal fulfillment.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a project related to urban history or urban studies? 

When it comes to writing, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While writing my first undergraduate thesis, a mentor quipped that “there’s a reason why theses rhymes with feces.” Later, a different adviser relayed to me what his dissertation committee chair once shared with him: “There are only two kinds of dissertations, done and not done.” What these comments impart are two truths about writing: First, that there’s no trick to it except keeping at it. Write for an hour each morning. Write 500 words each day after dinner. Do what you must do to put your thoughts down on paper; otherwise, it’s all fleeting. Second, that what matters most about writing projects (with some exceptions) is simply that you complete them. Serviceable prose is better than intricate and ponderous elaboration, a cogent organization of your thoughts more crucial than dazzling analytics.

Tell us about your summer fellowship at USA TODAY! Did it contribute to your growth as a historian?

In the summer of 2019, I worked as a summer editorial fellow for USA TODAY‘s opinion page at the paper’s headquarters in McLean, Virginia. My wonderful bosses included Bill Sternberg (the editorial page editor), Dave Mastio (deputy editor), Jill Lawrence (an inspiring commentary editor), Thuan Elston (copy chief extraordinaire), and Kelsey Bloom (the “voices” column editor). This stint in the newsroom of a major daily taught me how to edit and write on tight deadlines, to excise confusing and unclear jargon from my writing, and reaffirmed my appreciation of America’s press. Time was of the essence with each task, as I was often assigned columns written to the day’s news cycle that needed to be fact-checked within the hour. Each day, I received three to four columns in need of a fact check. This workload was always manageable, and over the summer it added up to quite a few columns. In my own academic work, I see clear benefits from my engagement with professional journalism, the two most important of which are an ability to edit more efficiently and, crucially, to write more clearly and quickly than I could before.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.