Lisa Krissoff Boehm, PhD
Dean, College of Graduate Studies, Professor of History and American Studies, Bridgewater State University
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
At this time I am working on three book projects. First, with co-author Steven H. Corey, I am working on a revised edition of our 2015 work, America’s Urban History. This is a narrative synthesis of American urban history from pre-colonial times to the present day. The changes to the first book will be intensive, with a new chapter on current urban themes. The topics include urban policing, mass incarceration, gentrification, and COVID-19’s effect on the urban environment.
The second book is called Ten Rubles and traces the lives of two Jewish women, one an immigrant and the second a first-generation American, living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the first half of the twentieth century. This is a work of historical fiction built from the archives. I am actively seeking an agent. Please send any leads my way.😄 One of the two main characters goes on to a life on Broadway and in Hollywood–this would make a good movie or musical, just saying!
The third book is another project with Steven H. Corey in which we explore the history of gender and migration in American cities. This work has been a pet project for some time. It is provisionally entitled, Respectable Cities: Gender and Urban Migration in the 20th Century. The book proposal is almost ready to go.
What are you are currently teaching? How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
As a full-time administrator now, I do not “have” to teach but 1) I love it and 2) it keeps my scholarship fresh and my deanship plugged into the day-to-day rhythm of the university. I am teaching the introductory, undergraduate American Studies course, which covers the multicultural history and culture of the United States. This spring I am teaching an undergraduate course on the history of the American city, from precolonial times to the present, and a course in our higher education leadership graduate program.
I believe that it is very important to have leadership in academic affairs who know the daily life of professors and concentrate on the support of faculty. If faculty are supported they, in turn, can support students. I do not think I should be mentoring faculty on their scholarship unless I also have had an active research agenda. I strive to be the dean I wish I had when I was a professor.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
With my work on America’s Urban History, Second Edition, I have been reading as much new work as I can. I read widely! I volunteer for the dissertation awards committee for UHA as often as possible, to keep current on what graduate students in the field are reading. I have been blown away lately by a few very exciting books that reframe our typical approaches. One is Lizabeth Cohen’s newest book, Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age (2019), which asks us to reconsider what we know to be true about urban renewal. I found Cohen’s style riveting; as a social historian writing biography, she refreshes the genre in ways that make perfect sense to this urban historian. I found Mark Peterson’s 2019 book, The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, a great read and an intriguing way of thinking of the largest American colonial cities. I have also been doing a deep dive into the flowering of new works on Latinx urbanism. Johana Londono’s 2020 Abstract Barrios: The Crises of Latinx Visibility in Cities offers case studies and important theoretical conversations. Londono’s work is written in a creative and readable voice. A.K. Sandoval-Strauz’s Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City allows us to see the vitality Latinx residents have brought to the city in recent decades. Right now I am reading Andrew Diamond and Tom Sugrue’s intriguing collection, Neoliberal Cities: The Remaking of Postwar Urban America, 2020.
What advice would you give to students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are interested in urban studies and just starting out their careers?
I would make sure that you teach urban history as often as you can, and argue against those who just see it as a special topics course you offer every other year. Urban history offers a solid way of understanding American history, writ large. Since students can bring in their lived experiences in urban, suburban, and rural spaces, the approach resonates with them and allows them an entrance point into historical understanding. I also suggest attending the Urban History Association conferences as often as possible. The UHA has its finger on the pulse of long-term and emerging trends throughout the field of history. Lastly, do not shy away from collaborative writing. I astonish others that I am working on my fourth and fifth books with my writing partner, Steven H. Corey. While we have written with others as well, and on our own, writing with someone else has several benefits. First, writing with another person moves the work along and holds the writers accountable. Second, the conversations on the history we have as we plan and work on a new book give us a sounding board and may allow us to be braver in our claims. Third, we double our capacity to read new work and as we have different sub-specialties–Steve specializes in urban environmental history while I specialize in race, class, gender, and labor in an urban context–we bring together different perspectives. As a graduate student, I tried to write a paper with another student to fulfill a classroom assignment. The idea was met with incredulity and a solid “no.” However, asking students to write together in graduate courses could lead our field in exciting new directions, as newly minted historians would be open to trying it outside the classroom as well.
Member of the Week series co-editor Alec Dawson continues the conversation with Lisa Krissoff Boehm in this audio interview, with a discussion of the writing process for both historical fiction and textbooks: