Please describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
I do a lot of teaching and freelancing these days, but my personal research is about New York’s two World’s Fairs (in 1939-1940 and 1964-1965, respectively), and how they shaped and reflected expectations about urbanism in the mid-twentieth century. I look at what the fairs said outwardly about housing, highways, and urban planning through their exhibits and pavilions but also consider the fairs as catalysts for real projects occurring in and around New York City.
I originally got into this subject largely based on proximity—I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, and regularly encountered a lot of the infrastructure built for the world’s fairs. My family’s trajectory—from immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s to middle-class, largely white neighborhoods on Long Island in the 1960s, and then back to New York City in the 1970s—reflects a lot of midcentury urban trends I now study.
The further I’ve gotten into this history, the more I’ve also gotten into Queens specifically as a subject of study. It seems to defy some of the assertions about urban decline in the postwar period, and it’s also such an interesting hybrid place—urban and suburban, cosmopolitan and parochial, progressive and conservative—and that’s something I’ve been exploring more lately as an outgrowth of my world’s fair research.
What you are currently teaching? How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
I’ve taught at various CUNYs since 2011, and I’ve been really fortunate to get to teach a lot of electives. Specifically, I’ve taught New York City History several times at Lehman and Baruch. I teach it as a survey, stretching from pre-European contact up to the present, but students are always particularly interested in the 1970s through the present. I love to teach that class because there are so many opportunities for students to layer their own New York experiences and stories onto the material I’ve assigned, and I usually have students develop themed walking tours based on their own interests and have gotten some wonderful deep dives into local history that way—in particular, tours of Guyanese Richmond Hill, the history of boosterism in Gerritsen Beach, and Dominican sites in Washington Heights stand out to me.
I also taught City and Suburb in Twentieth Century America, which helped me contextualize the ideas that were on display at the world’s fairs and familiarize myself more with the historiography of suburbs, which in turn helped me think of New York City as being shaped by urban and suburban factors.
Someday I hope to teach a class on American World’s Fairs as well, and stretch back further into nineteenth-century fairs and cover more parts of the country.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
I recently finished Annemarie H. Sammartino’s Freedomland: Co-op City and the Story of New York, which I thought was a great close study of Co-op City itself and also complemented Benjamin Holtzman’s The Long Crisis in studying the middle-class, outer borough experience in the 1970s. I’m finding myself increasingly interested in the history of co-ops in New York, so I’m looking forward to Robert M. Fogelson’s Working-Class Utopias: A History of Cooperative Housing in New York City. And for coverage of more recent New York City history, I’m looking forward to Dylan Gottlieb’s upcoming book Yuppies: Wall Street and the Remaking of New York, Pedro Regalado’s forthcoming book, Latinx Gotham: Work and the Modern City, and Diane Wong’s book-in-progress You Can’t Evict A Movement: Housing Justice and Intergenerational Activism in New York City.
I’m also planning to check out Interference Archive’s Our Streets! Our City! Self Determination and Public Space in NYC before the exhibition closes at the end of August.
What advice would you give to students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are interested in urban studies and just starting out their careers?
I have three specific pieces of advice based on experiences that have been invaluable to me in my career so far:
- Seek out opportunities to collaborate with people—put out joint panel presentations, co-write articles or blog posts, develop grant proposals together, etc.—sometimes history, in particular, can push you to be a lone wolf, but all my best professional experiences have involved teaming up with peers, mentoring, or being mentored. It can drive your work deeper and help you feel more confident in what you’re presenting.
- Engage with the non-academic public about your topic. For me, doing local history and work on world’s fairs means there’s a built-in audience who has personal experience with and ongoing interest in my topic. I also worked for several years giving tours at the Museum of the City of New York, and I think that experience gave me a more well-rounded sense of how public memory and my research sometimes align and sometimes conflict. It also reminds me that at least when it comes to modern New York City History, public memory/public perception is an indisputably important part of the story.
- If you can, physically experience the place you study. In my case, walking Flushing Meadows-Corona Park gave me a greater understanding of its scale as an urban development project, its relationship to the surrounding neighborhoods of Flushing, Corona, and Forest Hills, the interplay of public and private transit in the area, and also how its use has changed over time. I think for many urbanist topics, being physically present can help you understand what a place is like, why something was built there, what the conflicts over space have been, and how its use has been negotiated in official and unofficial ways.