Assistant Professor and John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Chair in the History of American Politics, Institutions, and Political Economy
University of Madison-Wisconsin Department of History
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
I look at the long history of housing policy in the United States by tracing how suburban developers used transnational capital to both experiment with racial discrimination and forge networks with policymakers and planners. Though it is a national and international history, I often tell it through looking at street-level developments. My interest in the project, and in urban history in general, comes from wanting to understand the built environment around me. When I moved to Baltimore, I became hyper-aware of how racial boundaries seemed like such a prevalent feature of the landscape. The construction of boundaries has become central to my research and will carry over into my next project.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
I am currently teaching an undergraduate class called Business and Politics in U.S. History. My other class is a graduate seminar called History Takes Place, which explores the different ways analyzing place can be useful to one’s research regardless of specialty. These two classes reflect the way I bridge subfields: I see my work as a combination of the history of capitalism and urban history.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s new book, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership as well as Marcia Chatelain’s Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America have quickly become two of my favorites. Both will make repeat appearances on my syllabi into the future. My own book will not be on my syllabi but I am very excited about it. It’s called How the Suburbs Were Segregated: Developers and the Business of Exclusionary Housing, 1890-1960. It will be published this spring.
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
The beauty of urban studies, like cities themselves, is that it contains many possibilities. Think broadly about what interests you and all the ways you can stretch and apply that into something that makes you happy. You might not know all those somethings yet, but that’s ok. Find people who can and will support you on your journey. Meet the folks who supported them. Learn what networks they are part of. I have been fortunate to be welcomed into urban studies by a lot of extremely supportive people who guided me along. They are out there.
This past summer, after the president tweeted about Baltimore, you shared your expertise in the city’s history with several media outlets. How did you approach this moment when past and present converged, and did anything surprise you in the process of responding publicly to the president’s words?
My first thought was I had something to contribute to the conversation, but I still had to build up the courage to drop everything I was doing that day and try to write something that might not get picked up anywhere. I kept going by telling myself that I was an expert in an important topic that I choose, in part, because of its continuing relevance. Two surprising things happened: the first was that media outlets with very different readerships reached out to me. The second was the overwhelmingly positive response. I had braced for a potential social media backlash because of the subject matter. Instead, total strangers reached out to say they shared my pieces with coworkers and relatives and everyone learned something.
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