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Digital Summer School: On The Line in Metropolitan Hartford, Connecticut.

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in our annual Digital Summer School series which highlights digital humanities projects focusing on urban history. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Chris Cantwell conducted our first class regarding  the digital project Gathering Places, Religion and Community in MilwaukeeTrinity College historian Jack Dougherty leads our second course discussing his work on Metropolitan Hartford: On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs

Why did you establish this digital project, meaning why a digital book rather than your more traditional academic text? Who do you see as its audience and why?

Many historians have a bad habit of splitting our work into separate categories, such as “digital projects” versus “scholarly books.” Some institutional factors feed this division, such as revenue-driven publishers (who depend on book sales) and conventional tenure committees (who cannot imagine how to evaluate digital projects). But this false dichotomy between projects and books does not serve our broader interests as academic authors. In our field of history, as the average scholarly monograph sells only a few hundred copies, and the retail price tag approaches $50 per copy or higher, our audience is increasingly likely to search on the web for historical sources and interpretation, and to view these results in their browsers. In today’s digital context, dividing projects and books is not a viable path; we need options to merge them into one.

Kristen Nawrotzki and I made this general argument in our introduction to Writing History in the Digital Age (2013). Over twenty-five contributors and our publisher, the University of Michigan Press, agreed to share our peer-reviewed publication under an open-access license, where readers can discover and view the full-text book on the web (for free) or in print (for a reasonable price). Scholars holding full-time jobs in academic institutions operate primarily in a reputation-based economy. If readers can access our ideas with our names attachedand determine them to be of high-quality, then our value goes up. By contrast, if our ideas are locked inside hard-to-access books or behind paywalls, regardless of their quality, our reputations among readers will suffer. My thinking about these issues continued to evolve, and I experimented further with blending web technology and book production, as I co-edited a second open-access book, with Tennyson O’Donnell, Web Writing (2015), and launched an open-access textbook with Ilya Ilyankou, Data Visualization for All (in-progress).

These three works illustrate lessons I learned while working on my current book, On The Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs (in-progress, under contract with Amherst College Press). Set in Connecticut’s capital region, the book makes visible the hidden boundaries that have divided American cities and suburbs over the past century, as well as the civil rights struggles of families and activists who crossed over, redrew, or erased these powerful lines. As a work of history, On The Line blends textual narrative and digital sources into one book, with web and print editions. Perhaps it’s most appropriate to call it a digital-first book, because the richest edition is the one that appears on the open web. The narrative is wrapped around digital evidence — including interactive maps, oral history audio and video, and scanned documents — to make racial and class boundaries visible to broader audiences and to amplify the voices of people who challenged these lines.

Screenshot from 1985 video of Saundra Foster explaining why she and other Black parents were arrested by a predominantly White suburb in the “Jumping the School District Line” section of On The Line book-in-progress, 2019,

How did this project come to fruition? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Thanks to the wonderful Way Back Machine by the Internet Archive, I took another look at the first version of On The Line that I published on the public web in 2010. At that very early stage, I presented some dreams and demos to obtain grant funding and naively predicted to finish everything by 2012 (Ha!) This early version also reminded me that my previous publishing partner insisted I create two interconnected yet separate products — a digital repository (free) and a scholarly book (for sale) — each designed to stand alone, but to refer readers back and forth. Under this early model, readers would have to buy or borrow the book to read the text and go to the companion website to explore the interactive maps, videos, and other digital elements. Honestly, I’m glad that I didn’t finish on my initial deadline, under the restrictive terms of this proposed publishing arrangement, since the final product would have been disappointingly fragmented.

The truth is that the origins of On The Line can be traced back to my personal frustration with the status quo of scholarly communication. “Why separate the digital project and the book?” I recall asking. “Why not create a better book that unifies text and sources into one product?” I began exploring open-source digital tools that merged web and PDF publishing into one workflow. First the Anthologize WordPress beta plugin (by the One Week One Tool team at the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University), then the Pressbooks/Open Textbook/WordPress plugin platform (by PressBooks and BC Campus), and now I use the Bookdown package (by RStudio). Each step has brought me closer to an improved workflow: composing easy-to-edit text that cleanly produces a web edition,with embedded interactive maps and videos, and a PDF edition,with static screenshots and links to interactive web content. Fortunately, I work with a supportive group of current and former students, librarians, and IT staff, becausebuilding an ambitious digital-first book like this one involves many steps: designing and coding interactive historical maps; transcribing and hosting oral history audio and video; managing citations and external links; future-proofing; and embedding all of this content into web and print formats. I’m not a speedy writer, and managing all of these steps has slowed me down even further.

On a purely functional level, when considering the project’s internal structure, how did you think about incorporating aspects of On the Line such as its interactive maps, videos, and other features?

As a historian, my job is to tell meaningful true stories about the past. For this book in particular, the goal is to help readers see the “invisible” race and class boundary lines that have increasingly divided city and suburban residents over time, and to draw attention to the ways that families and activists sought to cross over or erase lines, such as movements for school integration and inclusionary zoning. Showing how these people tell their own civil rights stories in oral history video clips is more powerful than merely retelling their stories in the text. While working on each chapter, often with student co-authors, we continually ask these types of questions: How can we tell stories that connect with our present-day readers? How can we persuade readers to explore and accept our interpretation of the evidence? And how can we guide both local and distant readers through spatial and historical change in our place-based narrative of a central city and its diverging suburbs? Creating this type of book requires traditional research and writing, but also dreaming up digital sources — interactive maps, video clips, and digitized documents — to embed into the narrative and illustrate our analysis. Some of my best teachers in this genre have been digital journalists (such as Alvin Chang, formerly at, now at

For example, consider how historians have published over time about “redlining,” or discrimination in financial services based on people’s residence, typically linked to their race or ethnicity. Ken Jackson’s book, Crabgrass Frontier (1985), introduced many readers to the 1930s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and their color-coded neighborhood appraisal maps, which he quoted from and included an image of to demonstrate their segregative intent. Subsequent scholars such as Amy Hillier (2003) analyzed archival records with spatial computing methods and questioned whether actual HOLC lending practices matched this intent. A decade later, historians Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly and their colleagues released their Mapping Inequality digital history project (2016), with its impressive compilation of over 150 HOLC maps and appraisals, with commentary. In On The Line, former student Sean McGann and I co-authored a chapter that interprets this redlining history with a Hartford-area narrative. The chapter is illustrated with an interactive map of neighborhood appraisals created with the Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC) at University of Connecticut Libraries and the assistance of Trinity College graduate Ilya Ilyankou. The eye-catching redlining maps pull local readers further into the On The Line narrative, and allow them to explore archival documents for specific neighborhoods. But our book also argues that other federal programs,such as the Underwriting Manuals of the Federal Housing Administration, which are not as visually attractive as the HOLC maps, may have been more influential in segregating suburbs. Overall, this digital-first book delivers a hybrid combination of textual interpretation and interactive sources that, in my view, is vastly superior to the alternative: a separate book and web site.

Screenshot from “Federal Lending and Redlining” section of On The Line book-in-progress, 2019,

What role do digital projects like On the Line play in the field of history? Where do you see this project and others like it going in the future?

Based on local feedback, I know that On The Line has already begun to achieve one of its primary goals for Hartford-area audiences: to educate residents on ways that housing and education barriers have shaped our city and suburbs, and about the strategies used by activists and families who fought back against them. Although it’s still a book-in-progress, my student co-authors and I are publishing chapters and sources, as we complete them, on the open web. Our analytics tell us that thousands of readers have discovered this history, and dozens of local organizations and schools have invited us to give public presentations. Not bad for a not-yet-finished book.

As for the broader historical profession, another goal is for On The Line to help change the way we envision scholarly communication, by offering a reproducible example of blending textual narrative and digital sources into a book with both web and print editions. But I don’t have much evidence of progress to share. Look again at the wording of the question above, which refers to On The Line as a “digital project” rather than a “book.” It’s surprising to me how slowly the historical profession is creeping into the digital age, while keeping its traditional publishing paradigms intact. Relatively few historians appear to be writing digital-first books that genuinely blend textual narrative and digitized sources. I fully realize that these types of books require more work by collaborative teams, not just individual scholars; a wider range of skills not typically taught in history graduate schools; and sources of both start-up and sustainable funding. When I began work on this nearly a decade ago, I sincerely believed that more historians would be moving in this direction. Yet it still feels lonely to me. (While typing these words, I secretly hope to hear back from readers who will prove me wrong and share links to other digital-first books that blend text and evidence.)

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from East Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, August 1897, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

It seems over the past few years two aspects of urban history have arisen 1) greater emphasis placed on education as key factor in suburban development notably in the case of your work here and others such as Ansley Erickson and 2) efforts by more academic and popular historians (I’m thinking of perhaps Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law which fundamentally synthesized a large body of work) to really grapple with how suburbs and their attendant segregation came to be. How do you explain these developments which in many ways are embodied by the project itself?

Yes, I’ve been very impressed by recent works on the historical relationship between housing and education, such as Ansley Erickson’s Making the Unequal Metropolis (2016), Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law (2017), and others. This may be a case where historians are just now catching up with our audiences. For several decades, privileged Americans and our politicians have understood the growing two-way equation between housing and schooling: where you live shapes your children’s education, and their level of education shapes their future income and where they can afford to live. So why has it taken historians so many decades to write about this?

The “Bridging the History Gap” section of On The Line argues that we have not fully understood how this dynamic relationship between housing and schooling played a central role in shaping metropolitan America because a prior generation of historians split these topics into separate bodies of literature and essentially drew boundaries around these disciplinary subfields. On one side of this scholarly divide, urban and suburban historians,such as Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto, and Ken Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, described how housing policies and racial discrimination fueled the post-World War II decline of cities and expansion of outlying suburbs, but schools did not play a meaningful role in their equation. On one side, educational historians who followed the lead of David Tyack (The One Best System) focused on the rise and fall of big-city school districts, yet paid little attention to their relationship with suburbs. Whereas most educational historians halted at the city line, urban and suburban historians generally stopped at the schoolhouse door. So it’s a refreshing development to see newer historical works by Ansley Erickson, Matthew Lassiter, and others blur these boundaries.

So far, what moment or event related to your digital project comes to mind when I say greatest achievement or unique insight?

Years ago, when teaching or presenting about the history of cities, suburbs, and schools, I used to “talk with my hands,” waving them around in the air in my feeble attempt to visually represent racial and economic change across neighborhoods over time. Now I teach and give talks with interactive historical maps. Seems to be a much better way to communicate about urban history, and less annoying for the audience.

jack-dougherty-photoJack Dougherty is Professor of Educational Studies and Director of the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College. Since learning how to create interactive urban history maps, he spends less time talking with his hands. (Photo by Andy Hart)

Featured image (at top): The city of Hartford, Connecticut,  O.H. Bailey & Co. cartographer, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress.

From Community Action to Community Policing: The Ford Foundation and the Urban Crisis, 1960-1975

By Sam Collings-Wells

On July 16, 1970, McGeorge Bundy circulated a letter to various US Senators informing them of the Ford Foundation’s “major new program to help strengthen and modernize the exercise of police function in urban areas.”[i] He was referring to the establishment of the Police Foundation, an independent organization which was allocated an enormous $30 million for action-orientated research into new policing strategies and technologies.[ii] Internal program documents repeatedly stressed that the principal purpose of this new entity was to stimulate “change in police function,” not by funding the purchase of additional hardware but instead by “bringing the police closer to the community” and fostering “mutual cooperation between police officers and community residents.”[iii]

The Ford Foundation’s leap into the realm of community policing during the early 1970s has largely been neglected by historians. This is surprising, particularly given that the organization’s role in pioneering the community-based antipoverty strategies of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty has been well documented. Scholars from Alice O’Connor to Joshua Zeitz have demonstrated how the urban community action experiments pioneered by Ford during the early 1960s formed the basis of the “maximum feasible participation” clause of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act.[iv] Yet in these works the Ford Foundation appears only briefly, surfacing as the progenitor of the controversial Community Action Agencies before largely disappearing from view.

This lack of attention to the Ford Foundation’s later efforts in the realm of law enforcement has obscured its role in fraught city politics of the 1960s. Keeping our focus on the organization throughout the decade allows us to track the evolution of its urban policies, which shifted from an antipoverty strategy of “community action” to a law-and-order based program of “community policing.” Despite their obvious differences, these two projects shared a core belief in the efficacy of operating at the level of the “community.” In fact, the Police Foundation’s attempts to better integrate law enforcement into the fabric of local neighborhoods drew on the antipoverty strategies Ford had pioneered earlier in the decade. And crucially, uncovering these connective tissues serves to buttress Elizabeth Hinton’s recent thesis that the transition from War on Poverty to the War on Crime was less a decisive rupture than an organic evolution.[v]

New Haven Government Center, New Haven, Connecticut. Model A. Façades facing New Haven Green. Street level view, Rudolph Paul, 1968, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Tackling the urban crisis at the level of the community was central to the Ford Foundation’s antipoverty efforts early in the decade. Beginning in 1960, the Foundation’s “Gray Areas” program initiated a series of grants to community corporations in five cities—Boston, Philadelphia, Oakland, New Haven and Washington D.C—which were tasked with formulating an integrated response to inner-city deprivation.[vi] What distinguished this approach from previous antipoverty efforts was its emphasis on engaging poor residents in the formulation of solutions. While in practice the program achieved differing levels of participation, leveraging community associations to democratize the planning and provision of social services remained its core innovation. Local schools often served as the locus of this activity, keeping open their doors after-hours and on weekends for adult education, remedial reading, and various “community building” exercises.[vii]

Other Ford Foundation grants also sought to mobilize the community in the service of urban renewal. The most notable of these was that made to Mobilization for Youth (MFY), an agency located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side which had begun as a traditional anti-delinquency program carried out by a local settlement house tackling gang violence. After receiving Foundation funding in 1960—and under the influence of sociologists such as Leonard Cottrell, Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin—MFY was gradually nudged in the direction of greater local participation; by 1963 it had stopped working with existing neighborhood organizations and begun recruiting unaffiliated poor individuals from the Lower East Side.[viii] It was this aspect of the program which would be imported into Lyndon Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Act the following year, Title II of which mandated the “maximum feasible participation” of the poor.

War on Poverty Baltimore Community Action Agency, Thomas J. O’Halloran, May 28, 1965, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Yet as both the MFY experiment and LBJ’s War on Poverty demonstrated, mobilising the poor in this way could hardly occur without generating controversy—particularly when the fraught issues of housing, jobs, and poverty interacted with the cresting civil rights movement in the North. By the middle of the decade MFY’s organizers were coordinating a series of rent strikes, boycotts, and protests, none of which endeared the organisation to established local power structures. Soon MFY found itself fighting off charges of communist infiltration and inciting riots.[ix] Similar tensions arose within the Gray Areas program, with communities of color utilizing the new structures it had put in place to press their complaints against city hall. This mirrored the arc of Johnson’s War on Poverty, where local Community Action Agencies (CAAs) clashed with mayors and local police departments. As maximum feasible participation soured into “maximum feasible misunderstanding,” many at the Ford Foundation became embarrassed by their trail-blazing role in the most contentious aspect of Johnson’s War on Poverty.[x]

This backlash to Johnson’s Community Action Agencies ensured that by the time McGeorge Bundy arrived at the Ford Foundation as president in 1966, the organization was already quietly abandoning the more radical aspects of the “community action” approach. As signaled by its pioneering use of Community Development Corporations (CDCs) in Robert Kennedy’s Bedford-Stuyvesant regeneration project, the Foundation began to focus less on the process of community participation and more on the end-goal of attracting business, capital and middle-class residents back to deprived neighborhoods—a precursor to the neoliberalization of urban governance during the late-1970s and 80s.[xi] Despite this shift, however, the Foundation did not banish the participatory impulse of the earlier community action approach altogether. Instead, by the late 1960s it had migrated into the Ford Foundation’s new emphasis on law enforcement—an emphasis which by this time was dovetailing with broader national political shifts.

Nixon’s the one!“, poster, 1968, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

With Richard Nixon elected in 1968 by capitalizing on widespread concerns over “law and order,” policing appeared to offer the Foundation a powerful, non-controversial avenue for involvement in the urban crisis.[xii] Instead of tackling the root of unrest through community-based antipoverty programs, the Foundation would now focus on controlling the symptom of urban malaise through improved policing strategies. Yet in making this transition the Ford Foundation hardly acted as the President’s cheerleader. Rather, it sought to inject what they saw as a much-needed grassroots emphasis into Nixon’s “top-down” war on crime. This was reflected in the stated ambition of the Police Foundation, which hoped to “[c]ontribute significantly to the movement away from the centralized and quasi-military models of patrol operations to more flexible neighbourhood based patrol operations which are more responsive to varying community needs and values.”[xiii]

The main function of the Police Foundation was to provide financial assistance for a number of (primarily urban) police departments to initiate local experiments and demonstration projects. These were aimed at redefining law enforcement functions, altering the way in which effective policing was assessed by focusing more closely on police-community relations.[xiv] In Cincinnati, for instance, a major impact grant funded an experiment that placed small police teams permanently in specific neighborhoods. Known as community sector team policing (or ComSec), this approach sought to encourage “mutual cooperation between police officers and residents,” with the ultimate aim of “controlling crime by increasing community cooperation.” Similar experiments were undertaken in New York City, Dallas, Kansas City and Sacramento.[xv]

Community action had thus evolved into a form of community policing, which sought to control urban unrest by stitching structures of surveillance into the social life of the neighborhood itself. The ComSec program not only encouraged private citizens to involve themselves in crime prevention by reporting it to trusted officers, but actually sought to blur the distinction between police and community by instructing officers to work in plain clothes and interact regularly with the neighborhood. And as a report on the Dallas Police Department’s program noted, this would help identify the “basic needs of the community” through “restructuring police services to respond to those needs.”[xvi] This reached its apotheosis in Dayton, Ohio, where the Foundation funded the establishment of a Joint Task Force which paired both citizens and police officers together to work towards to tackling civil disorders, prostitution, and drug abuse. Its explicit purpose was “to involve citizens in police policymaking.”[xvii]

Ford Foundation Headquarters atrium, New York, New York, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Ford Foundation was still seeking to develop communities, then, but the focus of this effort shifted. Rather than building a community around the school-house—as had occurred during the Gray Areas program—the Foundation now sought to construct one around the police station. The rhetoric and practices of “community self-help” and “grassroots empowerment” were co-opted to accommodate shifting political currents, inflecting these shifts in turn with its own peculiar emphasis on local participation. By the 1970s, one strand of this had led to the market-orientated emphasis of Community Development Corporations; the other to the law-enforcement community work of the Police Foundation.

Together, these two strands worked reciprocally to pave the way for the neoliberalization of urban governance during the 1980s. They did so by helping to replace a liberal strategy of federal spending linked to community mobilisation with one focused on attracting business investment–and more effectively policing disordered urban spaces that remained. A constant throughout these shifts was the analytical base-unit of the urban “community.” The difference was that these communities were not only starved of external assistance by the retrenchment of the welfare state, but also found themselves subject to efforts to direct their own internal resources towards surveillance and coercion rather than empowerment and mobilization.

ProfileSam Collings-Wells is a first year PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. His research examines the historical intersections between community development, modernization, and policing in cities around the world. Twitter: @Sam_cw_

Featured image (at top): Woolworth store on 14th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., an area affected by the 1968 riots, November 6, 1972, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

[i] Letter from McGeorge Bundy to Mike Mansfield, (July 16, 1970), Ford Foundation Archives (FF), Office Files of McGeorge Bundy [OFMB], Series II: Subject Files, FA617, Box 17, Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), Sleepy Hollow, New York, p. 1.

[ii] Ford Foundation, Annual Report 1970, (New York: Ford Foundation, 1970), pp. 8-9.

[iii] National Affairs, “Police Foundation: Progress Report,” (1973), Catalogued Reports, Reports 1-3254 (FA739A), Box 105, Report no. 002445, p. 6.

[iv] Robert Halpern, Rebuilding the Inner City: A History of Neighborhood Initiatives to Address Poverty in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995); Joshua Zeitz, Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson’s White House (New York: Viking, 2018). See also Alyosha Goldstein, Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012).

[v] Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016).

[vi] Ananya Roy, Emma Shaw Crane, and Stuart Schrader, “Gray Areas: The War on Poverty at Home and Abroad,” in Roy and Crane, eds., Territories of Poverty: Rethinking North and South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015).

[vii] Alice O’Connor, “Community Action, Urban Reform, and the Fight against Poverty: The Ford Foundation’s Gray Areas Program,” Journal of Urban History, Vol. 22, No. 5 (July 1996), pp. 586-625.

[viii] Goldstein, Poverty in Common, pp. 123-124.

[ix] Tamar W. Carroll, Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

[x] Daniel P. Moynihan, Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War on Poverty (New York: The Free Press, 1969).

[xi] Ferguson, Top-Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Tom Adam Davies, “Black Power in Action: The Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Robert F. Kennedy, and the Politics of the Urban Crisis,” Journal of American History, Vol. 100, No. 3, (December 2013), pp. 736-760.

[xii] Lawrence O’Donnell, Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics (New York: Penguin Press, 2017).

[xiii] “Police Foundation: Progress Report,” p.16.

[xiv] The Ford Foundation, A More Effective Arm: A Report on a Police Development Fund, Newly Established by the Ford Foundation (New York: The Ford Foundation, 1970).

[xv] “Police Foundation: Progress Report,” pp. 6-8.

[xvi] The Ford Foundation Information Paper, Appendix B: “Summary of Grants, Foundation-Administered Projects and Publications,” (1973), Catalogued Reports, Reports 1-3254 (FA739A), Box 105, Report no. 002445, p. 1.

[xvii] The Ford Foundation Information Paper, Appendix B, p. 3.


Cityscape: The Inauguration of a New Series


Number 1, July 15, 2019

Cityscape is The Metropole’s twice-monthly shortcut to recent, forthcoming, or overlooked writing, exhibits and film.

The City in Print

Image result for animal city andrew robichaudAnimal City: The Domestication of America by Andrew A. Robichaud.  Harvard University Press, forthcoming, December 2019.

When residents lived in proximity to pigs, cattle and other animals, cities resembled barnyards. No longer. What happened when only the dog (and cat) remained.

Newcomers: Gentrification And Its Discontents by Matthew L. Schuerman. University of Chicago Press, forthcoming, November 2019.

 When the well-to-do settle in working class neighborhoods what are the costs and benefits?

Vice, Crime, and Poverty: How the Western Imagination Invented the Underworld by Dominique Kalifa. Translated by Susan Emanuel. Columbia University Press, 2019.

A French social historian explains how the murderous and melodramatic view of the Victorian slum which stigmatized the poor continues to shape popular culture.

Down and Out in Saigon: Stories of the Poor in a Colonial City by Haydon Cherry. Yale University Press, 2019.Cover for  Neighborhood

Colonization from the perspective of Saigon’s marginalized and dispossessed.

Neighborhood by Emily Talen. Oxford University Press, 2018.

An exploration by a distinguished student of the new urbanism of the historical meaning of “neighborhood” and an inquiry into the possibility of nurturing vital neighborhoods today.

The City on the Web

How The New York Media Covered The Stonewall Riots

By Chad Painter, University of Dayton

How the alternative press, notably the Village Voice, bested The Times in reporting on Stonewall (6/28/69). 

Ancient Poop Reveals Role of Climate Change in Cahokia’s Downfall

Screen Shot 2019-07-15 at 9.08.48 AMBy Matthew Taub,

A mound 10 miles from St. Louis, once a flourishing city of tens of thousands, disappeared in the 15th century. What happened? 

The Woman Who Fought Transit Segregation in 19th-Century New York

By Nicole Javorksy

Tossed off a whites-only Manhattan streetcar on July 16, 1854, Elizabeth Jennnings not only won a handsome settlement but also the following judgement: Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the company, nor by force or violence” (Judge Rockwell, 1855).

Celluloid City:  Flicks and Documentaries

The Florida Project Directed by Sean Baker (2017)

Breaking free from the confinement of their welfare motel, preschoolers roam Orlando strip malls on their way to paradise: Disney World. Academy Award nominee.

Midnight Family Directed by Luke Lorentzen (2019)

Scratching out a living with their privately-owned ambulance, a family races through the nighttime Mexico City picking up the injured and ailing.  Brilliant cinematography from the passenger’s seat.

Museum City


New-York Historical Society, May 24 – September 22, 2019 

By The Force of Our Presence: Highlights From The Lesbian Herstory Archive

Letting Loose and Fighting Back: LGBTQ Nightlife Before and After Stonewall

Companion shows celebrating the 50th anniversary of the resistance which burst forth on Christopher Street. 

Cars: Accelerating The Modern World

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Opening November 23, 2019.

 How the auto changed the world.

Overlooked Studies 

Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir,  by D. J. Waldie. Norton [1996], 2005

Poignant, study of Lakewood, the LA equivalent of Levittown, by a life-long resident and former deputy city manager. At once analytical and a moving evocation of suburbia. In 316 paragraph-length sections, it’s a study like no other.

What’s your take on Cityscape?

What are you reading, viewing or looking forward to?

 Do you want to write a review?

Let us hear from you.

Jim Wunsch

Bob Carey

Eric Rhodes

Jacob Bruggeman







Digital Summer School 2019: Religion, Community, and Milwaukee

Editor’s note: With the July 4th holiday behind us and summer in full swing, The Metropole brings you our second annual Digital Summer School, our effort to highlight digital humanities projects focusing on urban history. First up, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Chris Cantwell and the digital project Gathering Places, Religion and Community in Milwaukee.

Why did you establish this digital project, after all, notable parts of the nation often bang away about “academia’s godlessness” yet you’ve constructed a digital project exploring the role of religion in Milwaukee’s urban development? Who do you envision as the audience?

The project really began with my commute. Every day I walk to campus and I pass by several houses of worship — none of which are occupied by the communities that built these places. There is an old Christian Science sanctuary that’s now the home of the Chinese Christian Church of Milwaukee; the former home of Milwaukee’s oldest synagogue that is now the university’s performing arts center; and the modernist A-frame Lutheran church that’s now occupied by the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. As a historian attuned to the ways religious devotions and urban environments shape each other, there seemed to be no better illustration of this dynamic than these church buildings. And that’s when it struck me: what else might we learn about the urban environment by studying the places where people gather to commune with each other as well as, in many instances, the divine? How might our understanding of Milwaukee change? How might our understanding of religion change?

So, the project really began as a way to satisfy my own curiosity about the place I live. As for the project’s audiences, they are twofold. First and foremost this project is for my students. The project is based in a graduate seminar I teach called Local History Research Methods, which is a required course for students in our public history program. It’s in this course that students work in pairs and then partner with a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple to write its history. The arrangement gives students a chance to make something that can support their careers while also creating something that could benefit the greater Milwaukee community, which is the second audience I envision for the project. Individual congregations have already used the research my students and I have conducted to craft mission statements or figure out who used to own the buildings they worship in. I’ve also been called upon by the media to talk about local religion. If this project can help raise the religious literacy of the community, I think it’d be a success.

Map Illustrating the Distribution of Unitarian Churches and their Congregations, 1962, Brennan Christianson and Roman Lulloff courtesy of First Unitarian Society Records, 1841-2017. UWM Manuscript Collection 175, box 8, folder 6. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department

Since you have a mix of analysis – textual, spatial, and visual – what kind of decisions did you have to make when building the project? What archives did you decide to utilize and why? What kinds of obstacles did you encounter in this regard?

As a project that is rooted in a seminar on research methods, it employs a variety of tools in studying Milwaukee’s gathering places. In fact, it kind of serves as a laboratory for students to try out the methods that we discuss in class. When we talk about how to read sacred architecture, for instance, students then go and look at Sanborn maps or pull building permits from the city’s archives to offer an interpretation of the gathering place’s built environment. When we talk about oral history, students then interview longstanding members of the community. But sometimes the most interesting materials students find are squirrelled away in a house of worship’s basement or attic. Bringing these sources to light and documenting their existence is one of the goals I had for the project.

A downside to this approach is that there is only so much one can expect students to accomplish in the course of the semester—and there’s only so much the general public will read online as well. It’s for this reason that I only require students to write a three-thousand-word history of their gathering place based around five to six images, documents, or artifacts. But to make sure the project provides pathways for more in-depth research in the future, students also write what we call “Gathering Place Reports,” which include summaries of their church’s history, a thorough timeline, and a complete list of archival repositories and published sources on these communities.

The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, August 28, 2016, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Have you heard from or interacted with any of the institutions or religious groups featured in the project? If so, what has that dialogue been like? If not, do you have an idea as to why you haven’t?

Well, in order for a community to partner with us they’re required to identify someone who can serve as a liaison between the students and the congregation. So, the project is premised on sharing authority with these communities in documenting their past. But what’s been interesting to me is why these communities are willing to open their doors to us. Some see their participation in the project as an extension of their religious mission; a chance to spread their gospel. Other smaller communities, meanwhile, see the project as a chance to get their stories placed alongside more recognizable histories. But for all the gathering places I have had a chance to work with, there are those who have turned down a chance to partner with us. Some are just too busy and can’t be burdened with two students poking around their sanctuaries. But there are other, more vulnerable communities who might not want the attention that participating in a project like ours entails. Making a space for these communities in the project and ensuring it reflects the diversity of the city’s religious landscape is actually how I intend to grow and evolve the project into the future.

What role do digital projects like Gathering Places play in the field of history? Where do you see this project and others like it going in the future?

I think projects such as this reveal how the lines between teaching, research, and service are continuing to blur for the discipline in the twenty-first century. Though based in the classroom, the project produces scholarship and does so in partnership with the community. This kind of collaborative, digitally-inflected inquiry is a future for the field, I think, and my hope is this kind of work can be as celebrated as other modes of scholarly production.

What has this project taught you about Milwaukee, and/or perhaps more broadly, religion in urban America?

Currently the site contains the history of only seventeen places of worship, so the sample size is small. But already I’ve noticed an arch in the history of urban religion that is perhaps worth pursuing in the future. Of those historic religious communities that have managed to survive through today, most have made an important transition. They’ve gone from having once been the center of a community—where the people who sat in the pews were also those who lived in the surrounding neighborhood—to becoming a community center whose membership is constituted by some kind of unique activity or mission.


The Sounds of St. Ben’s Community Meal Program, circa 1970s, created by Greg Lutz and Jarrod Showalter, Photo from Archives of St. Benedict the Moor parish. Community Meal program recorded on May 10, 2019 at St. Benedict the Moor. Interview with Mary Louise Stebbins was conducted by Jarrod Showalter, May 3, 2019.

This, for me, was crystalized in the project’s partnership with St. Benedict the Moor’s Roman Catholic Church this past semester. Founded as Milwaukee’s first African American parish, the church once helped anchor the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood. But after blockbusting, white flight, and a federal highway that literally split the parish in two drove much of the community’s black residents away, the congregation declined. Only after a local meal program took up residence in the parish did the church revive. But as the church enters its second century, the congregation is trying to figure out how its past should inform its present. Once a segregated parish, St. Ben’s is now overwhelmingly white and the church has been having a series of town halls on what the community owes to Milwaukee’s black community given its history. The students and I were invited to one of these town halls, and it was moving to see history become so relevant.


CantwellChristopher.jpgChristopher D. Cantwell is an assistant professor of public and digital history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he is also an affiliate faculty member of the religious studies program. His research focuses on the braided relationship between Christianity, capitalism, and collective memory in urban America, and has appeared in Religion, The Public Historian, Practical Matters, and elsewhere. A winner of the Midwestern History Association’s Alice B. Smith Prize in Public History, he has also curated a number of exhibits and digital projects on religion, journalism, and twitter bots.

Featured image (at top): Photograph of partially destroyed Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church, 1967, created by Cody Shreck & Ken Bartelt courtesy of Milwaukee County Historical Society Archives 



One week left to enter the 3rd Annual Metropole/Urban History Association Grad Student Blog Contest!

Just one week remains to submit your essay to the Third Annual The Metropole/Urban History Association Grad Student Blogging Contest! See our call for submissions below!!

The Metropole/Urban History Association Graduate Student Blogging Contest exists to encourage and train graduate students to blog about history—as a way to teach beyond the classroom, market their scholarship, and promote the enduring value of the humanities.

This summer’s blogging contest theme is “Life Cycles.” We invite graduate students to submit essays about the birth, death, or aging of institutions, neighborhoods, cities, or suburbs. You may also contribute personal reflections about the life cycle of a particular research project.

All submissions that meet the guidelines outlined below will be accepted. The Metropole’s editors will work with contest contributors to refine their submissions and prepare them for publication.

In addition to getting great practice writing for the web and experience working with editors, the winner will receive a certificate and a $100 prize!

Logo sign at The Varsity, often called the Varsity Grill, a local drive-in restaurant, Atlanta, GA, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, July 7, 2008, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The contest will open on June 10 and will close on July 15. Entries must be submitted to Posts will run on the blog in July and August, and we will announce the winners in September. Finalists will have their papers reviewed by three award-winning historians. The winning blog post will receive $100.

Contest Guidelines

  1. Contest entrants must be enrolled in a graduate program.
  2. Contest entrants must be members of the UHA. A one-year membership for graduate students costs only $25 and includes free online access to the Journal of Urban History.
  3. Contest submissions must be original posts not published elsewhere on the web.
  4. Contest submissions must be in the form of an essay related to the theme of “Life Cycles.” Essays can be about current research, historiography (but not book reviews), or methodology. Essays that stick to the following criteria will be most successful:
    1. Written for a non-academic audience and assume no prior knowledge.
    2. Focused on one argument, intervention, or event, and not trying to do too much.
    3. Spend more time showing than telling.
  5. Posts must be received by the editors ( by July 15, 2019 at 11:59 PM EST to be eligible for the contest.
  6. Posts should be at least 700 words, but not exceed 2000 words.
  7. Links or footnotes must be used to properly attribute others’ scholarship and reporting. The Metropole follows the Chicago Manual of Style for citation formatting.

Featured image (at top): Aerial photograph of Atlanta, Georgia, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, October 31, 2017, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Only Two More Weeks to Enter the Third Annual UHA Grad Student Blogging Contest

Just two weeks remain to submit your essay to the Third Annual The Metropole/Urban History Association Grad Student Blogging Contest! See our call for submissions below!!

The Metropole/Urban History Association Graduate Student Blogging Contest exists to encourage and train graduate students to blog about history—as a way to teach beyond the classroom, market their scholarship, and promote the enduring value of the humanities.

This summer’s blogging contest theme is “Life Cycles.” We invite graduate students to submit essays about the birth, death, or aging of institutions, neighborhoods, cities, or suburbs. You may also contribute personal reflections about the life cycle of a particular research project.

IMG_8793All submissions that meet the guidelines outlined below will be accepted. The Metropole’s editors will work with contest contributors to refine their submissions and prepare them for publication.

In addition to getting great practice writing for the web and experience working with editors, the winner will receive a certificate and a $100 prize!

The contest will open on June 10 and will close on July 15. Entries must be submitted to Posts will run on the blog in July and August, and we will announce the winners in September. Finalists will have their papers reviewed by three award-winning historians. The winning blog post will receive $100.

Contest Guidelines

  1. Contest entrants must be enrolled in a graduate program.
  2. Contest entrants must be members of the UHA. A one-year membership for graduate students costs only $25 and includes free online access to the Journal of Urban History.
  3. Contest submissions must be original posts not published elsewhere on the web.
  4. Contest submissions must be in the form of an essay related to the theme of “Life Cycles.” Essays can be about current research, historiography (but not book reviews), or methodology. Essays that stick to the following criteria will be most successful:
    1. Written for a non-academic audience and assume no prior knowledge.
    2. Focused on one argument, intervention, or event, and not trying to do too much.
    3. Spend more time showing than telling.
  5. Posts must be received by the editors ( by July 15, 2019 at 11:59 PM EST to be eligible for the contest.
  6. Posts should be at least 700 words, but not exceed 2000 words.
  7. Links or footnotes must be used to properly attribute others’ scholarship and reporting. The Metropole follows the Chicago Manual of Style for citation formatting.

Introducing PLATFORM, a new digital forum for urbanists

[Editor’s note: The Metropole would like to introduce a new digital forum for urbanists. Below, Hunter College Professor Matthew Lasner offers a brief introduction into the project, PLATFORM, followed by a more detailed explanation regarding exactly what the site and its editors hope to publish. Take a look!]

Dear friends,

I have some exciting news to share. Swati Chattopadhyay, Marta Gutman, Zeynep Kezer, and I are preparing to launch an open digital forum for conversation on buildings, spaces, landscapes, called PLATFORM. The goal is to publish short-form critical essays that engage with contemporary culture, politics, and space.

The idea was prompted by discussion at a conference organized in honor of Dell Upton at CCNY last year. Those of you who were there will remember talk of the possibility of continuing the vibrant dialog in some new form/venue. PLATFORM is meant to be that venue.

We are soliciting short timely essays on any aspect of the built environment from the scale of the global and planetary to that of the building interior and detail. The idea is to publish 6 different categories of essays–Finding; House Histories; Opinion; Reading/Listening/Watching; Specifying; Teaching & Working. Most essays are 500-1000 words. Please see the attached description of PLATFORM and submission guidelines.

We don’t expect tightly argued prose studded with endnotes; we want this to be a forum for engaging with ideas that are critical to the present. It’s not a journal, it’s not a book, there is no print version. It’s not peer reviewed. It is a lightly moderated forum for speaking to diverse audiences, for thinking critically, and for taking a stand.

Attached is a screenshot of the site. We hope you will write for PLATFORM, support it, encourage your colleagues and students to write for PLATFORM, and help us make it a success!

Help us build Platform, Read, write and comment at Share our news and our posts. Follow us on Twitter (@PLATFORM_space).

With thanks and warm regards,
Matthew Lasner

Matthew Gordon Lasner studies the history and theory of the U.S. built environment, with particular focus on housing, and the relationship between housing patterns and urban and suburban form. Lasner’s first book, High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century, published by Yale University Press in 2012, examines the emergence and growth of co-owned multifamily housing – the co-op and condominium apartment, as well as the townhouse complex — as an alternative to single-family suburbia in the twentieth century. Lasner is also co-editor of Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City, published by Princeton University Press in 2015. 





The content of PLATFORM falls into seven types of essays that highlight and address a range of issues about buildings, spaces, and landscapes:


Finding is where you share new thoughts on research and research findings. You know the feeling: you have made this amazing discovery in the field that might change the way we think about African diasporic architectural history; or looking through reams of dusty correspondence you have unexpectedly found a drawing enclosed with one of the letters. Now you want to share your thoughts on these finds with someone, hoping it will open up a new prospect in seeing a landscape, or it will open up a new research project for you or someone else. Or perhaps after years of thinking about how to tackle a set of disparate archival documents or find a sweet space between digital and analogue drawings you have figured out a method to address the problem.

This is the place to write about how we encounter evidence and how we weave evidence into narrative. Or how we foster conversations about the craft of writing about space, material culture and the built environment. A submission may focus on a specific document, image, film, recording, interview, or story, or it may be speculative.

 Length: 500-1,000 words

Home in Hampton Heights, the oldest neighborhood in Spartanburg, South Carolina, roughly midway between Atlanta, GA and Charlotte, NC, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, May 9, 2017, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress



House Histories explore where we live, how we live, and with whom we live. We want to learn what you know about apartment buildings, dorm rooms, homeless shelters, single-family houses, hotels, public housing, and the many other places where people lived historically and in the present day. We welcome essays that investigate what it means to dwell, considering emotions, memories, power, loss, and embodied experiences (sight, touch, smell, sound). What makes a house, an everyday building, into a place that someone calls home? We also invite essays that address the contemporary crisis in affordable housing and speculate on political, economic, and design solutions.

 Length: 500-1,000 words

Aerial view of CIA headquarters, Langley, Virginia, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress



Opinion is the place to take a stand on a range of urgent problems and ideas, from the surveillance state to the institutionalization of children and ethnic minorities, and tie these discussions to buildings, spaces, and landscapes.Is something making headlines that your research — new or old, on subjects contemporary or historical — can shed light on? Do you want to take a position on an issue in the news through the lens of a specific building or place, past or present? Submit a one-off, timely piece. Interested in publishing regular commentary reflecting on architecture, society, and politics? Become a featured columnist.

 Length: 1,000-3,000 words

New York, New York. Radio room of the New York Times newspaper. The Times listening post, between 10 and 12 PM, between first and second editions, Marjory Collins, September 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress



We want to learn about that exciting article, book, or edited volume that you are reading now. Maybe it’s a podcast you think more people should know about. Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe it’s a startling use of data visualization. Share short descriptions of the work with notes about why you find it useful or interesting and how it would help platform’s readers think through questions of space, architecture, and the built environment, even if it addresses none of them in particular. We would like to hear about recent works, but revisiting classics with a new interpretive lens is welcome as well.

These entries in Reading/Listening/Watching are not traditional reviews of books, media, or exhibitions; they offer more information than an annotated bibliography or an publisher’s description. Tell us why you find this material interesting or engaging. Your remarks or contribution may contain a discussion of the main argument or one particular aspect of the work, or how it helps you think through a course, your research or design in terms of methods and theory. Would it make a good seminar reading? Is it a good intro-level book? Could it be watched in class? Does it make ingenious or creative use of evidence? Does it introduce a new way of seeing a problem in research or design? Is it an underexplored subject?

 Length: 500-1,000 words

Aerial view of the construction of Penn Quarter building, Washington, D.C., photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress



Specifying is the place for you to write about what we build, how we build, and who builds the places that we inhabit every day. Are you an architect or a builder who wants to bridge the schism between research, design, and construction? Or are you a historian who is eager to share your knowledge about labor and technology, and learn more about digital fabrication in the present day? Do you want to take a hard look at the causes of structural failure and fires in buildings and the attendant loss of life? Do you love combing through the drawers in hardware stores, looking for the perfect fastener? Specifying is the place to discuss the multi-faceted practices that adhere to building and builders—specifying, constructing, regulating, spec-writing, construction managing—and to assess the relationship of these aspects of the material world to past practices, labor, technology and other social/political issues.

 Length: 500-1,000 words.


This is an adult world, its problems are up to you! Free : Enroll – Federal adult schools : Many courses – many places – informal teaching, Fred Rentschler, 1938, Prints and Photographs Division Library of Congress

Academic labor has changed fundamentally in the last two decades. Teaching/Working is dedicated to teaching and current realities of working in academia. We welcome articles about issues related to tenure, adjunct and graduate student union organizations, enrollment issues, changes in visa and travel regulations, research funding, and changing job opportunities. We are also interested in discussing innovative methods of pedagogy in architecture schools, departments of geography, art and architecture history, urban studies, and related fields. Teaching also reports on conditions in colleges and universities. This section exposes PLATFORM’s readers to new methods that they can use in their own teaching and lets readers know that they are not alone. Often working in isolation or in small cohorts, we all struggle to give our students the best education possible, despite the lack of funding, classroom technology, and appropriate classroom space. Posts on teaching methods used in studio and in traditional classroom settings are welcome.
Length: 500-1,000 words

The Rise and Fall of “New Towns”: A Review of Rosemary Wakeman’s Practicing Utopia

Rosemary Wakeman, Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016)

392 pp. $45 ISBN: 9780226346175

By Sam Wetherell

Rosemary Wakeman’s exquisitely written Practicing Utopia charts the rise and fall of new towns—the “deus ex machina” of developmental welfare states—in the mid-twentieth century. The new towns appear almost as stage sets dropped from the heavens into political settings ranging from Scandinavian social democracies to communist, colonial, and post-colonialism states. Commissars, potentates, technocrats, and intellectuals wished to make the world anew. New towns like Britain’s Milton Keynes, Finland’s Tapiola or Nigeria’s New Bussa offered what Wakeman terms “futurologies of the ordinary” in which new social and economic relations could be tested and perhaps realized.

Wakeman is less concerned with the nineteenth century and utopian projects from the 1920s to the 1980s, such as Joseph Rowantree’s New Earswick or Bronson Alcott’s Brook Farm than with that fertile and distinctive period from the Jazz Age to the nineteen eighties when new town planning was tied to projects of national and imperial economic development.

After the First World War, a mostly male and international group of planners such as America’s Clarence Stein, Britain’s Raymond Unwin, and Germany’s Walter Christaller were experimenting with ways to move populations out of large cities deemed to be congested, unsanitary and prone to aerial attack. In Britain and other advanced economies, they sought to retrofit cities built around railways and steam power for twentieth-century development based on the automobile and dispersed electrified factories and housing. The 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s saw an explosion of European and Soviet new towns guided by these goals. Ideas about mobility, community formation, architecture, and energy use promoted by organizations like the Congrès Internationaux Architecture Moderne found their way across borders, often being adopted by very different forms of government.

New towns planned for colonial and post-colonial development took the form of coercive “new villages” built by the British imperial state to isolate peasants from insurgents during the Malayan insurgency in the 1950s; Israeli communities were built to house European refugees while new developments in Iran and Algeria were planned and built to accommodate workers needed to meet the exploding demand for oil.

9780226346038Wakeman shows how the trend emphasizing the importance of localized planning to strengthen neighborhoods began to shift in the sixties toward planning in which cities were seen as organic totalities threaded together by new and rapid forms of transportation. Fascinatingly, Wakeman shows how planners then began drawing on cybernetics and systems theory as they became convinced that with correct inputs they could model urban conditions to produce happy citizens. Here new town planning became a depoliticized, “scientific” endeavor, with celebrity planners such as the enigmatic Greek architect Constantinos Doxiadis developing ever more elaborate and portable metrics for measuring and inducing urban happiness.

By the 1970s and 1980s, this intellectual movement was in retreat. New town planning was coming under fire from a new kind of humanism, a theory of the social that united new urbanists like Jane Jacobs with Marxists such as Henri Lefebvre in the belief that individuals and communities are too spontaneous and unknowable to be planned.

Practicing Utopia’s most compelling argument is that the mid-twentieth century was a moment when the built environment was called on to do new and radical kinds of work – whether it was resettling refugees, redistributing jobs, producing new communities, policing imperial subjects or codifying national identities. For those interested in the way that the built environment shapes the contours of politics and allows different futures to emerge, this book is essential reading. New towns were the limit case of a mid-twentieth century belief that the future was knowable, that new spaces could produce new kinds of people and that the practices of urban planning could move seamlessly between borders, a belief that now feels impossibly distant.

Sam Wetherell is a lecturer in the history of Britain and the World at the University of York. His book, Foundations: How the Built Environment Made Twentieth-Century Britain will be out next year. 


A Black Monument in a White Suburb: The T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center

By Walter Greason

African-American history remains a marginal field within the global institution of professional history. Despite the powerful transformation of world society as a result of the American Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) and the international struggle to end South African apartheid (1960-1994), most societies do not teach the stories about white supremacy, pan-Africanism, and the connections between racial slavery, industrialization, and colonialism. This void is especially pernicious in the ways urban history evolves. Carl Nightingale’s intervention in documenting and interpreting the transnational nature of racial segregation in the modern world raised an empirical standard to correct this willful neglect. The people, places, and events erased by a century of historical oversights are too numerous to name here, but a small group of local activists struck a blow against this pattern when they succeeded (against significant odds) in the rehabilitation of the T. Thomas Fortune House in Red Bank, New Jersey. Fortune and his family lived in the house known as Maple Hall from 1901 until 1911. The National Historic Landmark officially reopened to the public on May 30, 2019, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony the week before.

Fortune was arguably the most militant voice for racial equality in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In the wake of Reconstruction, he published a series of newspapers that fueled a sense of urgency in Black communities as they pursued the promise of freedom, despite the rising tide of violence in support of Jim Crow laws. Born in Marianna, Florida, in 1856, Fortune was a scion of a politically-active family in the state. Fortune’s father participated in the 1868 Florida Constitutional Convention and was elected to Florida House of Representatives later that year. Fortune’s family were leaders during the years following the Civil War until the Democratic Party forced them to flee the region. Fortune briefly attended Howard University to study law before deciding that journalism would help African Americans achieve their goals more rapidly. His words inspired leaders like Booker T. Washington, Mary Church Terrell, Lucy Parsons, and Frances E.W. Harper. His outlets published early works by W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. President Theodore Roosevelt named him an envoy to the Philippines at the peak of his power in 1903. Fortune endured years of personal and professional setbacks. He battled malaria, alcoholism, and depression, lost control of the New York Age, and became estranged from his family by 1908. Following this difficult period, Fortune joined Marcus Garvey in the production of the Negro World newspaper in 1923. Illness overcame him in 1928, and he died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

T.THOMAS_FORTUNE_websiteFortune’s strident criticism of white supremacy alienated him from the Tuskegee Machine, especially as he lost control over his newspaper network in 1907. The rise of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the subsequent emergence of the “New Negro” and the Harlem Renaissance combined with a studied campaign to erase Fortune’s impact on the struggle for racial justice between 1880 and 1910. The prominence of Booker T. Washington, in particular, served to obscure even black scholars’ academic engagement with Fortune’s work for more than six decades. When Emma Lou Thornbrough published T. Thomas Fortune: Militant Journalist in 1972, it opened an opportunity to explore his life and legacy that continued unmet into the early twenty-first century. The most notable impact of this invisibility was the steady deterioration of his beloved home in Red Bank, Maple Hall. After his family sold it in late 1910, it soon became a local bakery for almost seventy years. When the bakery closed, the family acknowledged the existence of the landmark status, but did nothing to protect and preserve the site for thirty years.

The only professional historical analysis of Red Bank, New Jersey, is my book Suburban Erasure. The archival work supporting that analysis showed that the community was rigidly segregated into a white community on the east side near the Navesink River and a Black and immigrant community on the west side along Shrewsbury Avenue. At the start of the twentieth century, Fortune’s acquisition of Maple Hall reflected the prominence of the west side as arguably the most affluent Black neighborhood in rural New Jersey. Census records show dozens of highly-skilled workers with several prosperous small businesses, including newspapers, smithies, and dance halls. Fortune’s impact manifested in institutions that supported the early career of William “Count” Basie and a dedicated group of civil rights organizations led across four generations by Dr. James Parker, Sr. and Dr. James Parker, Jr. At the heart of the analysis is the importance of connecting historical data to community activism, especially in the context of metropolitan planning and urban design. In 2009, local activist Gilda Rogers pulled together a small coalition of interested neighbors to save the T. Thomas Fortune House. Empowered by the work in Suburban Erasure, the coalition raised thousands of dollars and attracted national attention by 2015.

Thomas T. Fortune proved himself one of the top journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries at the African American  newspaper, The New York Age, image courtesy of Thomas T. Fortune Foundation and Cultural Center

As a result, real estate developer Roger Mumford took an interest in the project in 2016. Approaching the members of the Fortune project, he proposed the purchase of the property, the rezoning of the lot, and the absorption of the total house rehabilitation costs. His proposal won the support of the project volunteers and local civil rights leaders, but the team had to persuade the local planning and zoning board. The idea required more than thirty variances and innovative, expensive tactics to remediate environmental issues on the site. Local critics emphasized that the town and state should assert greater responsibility in the oversight of the rehabilitation. In the end, it was a brief presentation about the history embodied by Fortune’s work and legacy that secured the final votes for approval. Mumford meticulously rehabilitated a site facing imminent collapse. He also built an apartment complex on the same lot to attract new residents to the long-segregated, west side neighborhood. Throughout the process of restoring the site and creating the new building, critics continued to find fault with claims of gentrification and concerns that market-rate leasing could never work in this community. Over the longer term, the questions about how the site will preserve African-American history in service to an agenda of racial justice remain at the core of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation’s mission. Its commitment to continuously attracting new capital investment to the efforts that will promote inclusive development has few parallels in urban history.

Since the publication of Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier, urban historians have opened new areas of inquiry into understanding suburbanization in works like Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic and Robert Fishman’s Bourgeois Utopias. Since 2000, David M.P. Freund, Becky Nicolaides, Willow Lung-Amam, Mary Corbin Sies, Thomas Sugrue, Kevin Kruse, Marcia Chatelain, Andrew Wiese, Nancy Kwak, and Nathan D.B. Connolly have offered mighty contributions to better understanding cities, suburbs, and rural areas as parts of global, metropolitan history. The success of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation and Cultural Center, based on a steady commitment to public, suburban history, shows that it is possible to redefine municipal, state, and federal priorities to value African-American history in ways that can transform both the academy and public policy. Instead of states and municipalities rewarding private developers for gentrifying neighborhoods and displacing working families, this project shows ways that partnerships with community activists can use public and private resources more effectively. Moreover, the power of this work to win the support of private capital offers a range of new possibilities to create a just and inclusive world economy in this century. Such an achievement would be an appropriate monument to the life and work of T. Thomas Fortune, a champion of life and liberty for all people.

The Cultural Center is now open Thursday through Sunday every week from noon until 5 p.m. It offers a monthly calendar of events in addition to a growing list of community education initiatives. The Fortune Center is located at 94 Drs. James Parker Boulevard, Red Bank, New Jersey, 07701. For more information (and to donate), please visit You can also follow The Fortune Center’s work on Twitter (@TThomasFortune9) and (@t.thomasfortunehouse).

Walter Greason taking a selfie with The Metropole co-editor Avigail Oren at #SACRPH17

Walter Greason is among the most prominent historians, educators, and urbanists in the United States. He has spent the past 30 years speaking to audiences in dozens of states, on over 100 college and high school campuses, at dozens of professional and academic conferences, and to community groups across the country. His work is available every day on Twitter, @worldprofessor.

Featured image (at top): View of main facade, T. Thomas Fortune House, 94 West Bergen Place, Red Bank, Monmouth County, NJ, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Leafy Blocks and Working Docks: Tracing Queer Community in pre-Stonewall Brooklyn

By Kate Uva 

On the (Queer) Waterfront, co-curated by Hugh Ryan and Avram Finkelstein, is a welcome accompaniment to Ryan’s new work When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History. The book is an engaging, wide-ranging, and scrupulously inclusive exploration of how Brooklyn supported queer communities and identity formation between the 1860s and the 1950s. The exhibition, on view at the Brooklyn Historical Society through August 4th, focuses more narrowly on Brooklyn’s waterfront. The wall text argues that the waterfront provided “plentiful jobs, urban anonymity, inexpensive housing, and cross-cultural intermingling,” all of which supported a distinctly urban queerness in the pre-Stonewall era.

In a regrettably small gallery, the exhibition bookends the period under examination with, first, the completion of the Erie Canal in the 1820s and, second, the decline of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the advent of urban renewal projects that destroyed specific queer gathering places along Sands Street in the 1950s. On the (Queer) Waterfront considers the appeal of Brooklyn’s waterfront to queer people grouped by vocation: there are respective sections for artists, performers, sex workers, sailors, and female factory workers.


Perhaps because of the small gallery space, or perhaps because of the narrower focus than When Brooklyn Was Queer, the exhibit does suffer from a lack of context. In trying to represent a community that was so multifaceted, amorphous, and sometimes consciously hidden by its own participants, more interpretive material would have been welcome. For example, a map plotting the locations of bars, docks, and residences mentioned in the exhibition might have been included.

Despite some interpretive limitations, likely owing to institutional constraints rather than the curators’ choices, there are some real gems in the show. The highlights are the many rare, informative, and often poignant artifacts. In a case in the center of the gallery, there is an 1861 notebook featuring a sketch of a brawny dock worker, a private and clearly sensual tribute that is mirrored on the opposite wall by Edward P. Casey’s 1936 painting of naked swimmers. Seventy-five years separate these images: one was casual and meant for private use while the other was trained and public-facing. Yet both share a fascination with and appreciation for the male form and the opportunities the waterfront provided for admiring it.

Elsewhere, the sheer ordinariness of some objects proves quite moving. Shipyard worker Anne Moses’ 1940s-era scrapbook contains page after page of homosocial groups of women in pants enjoying each other’s company. There is something undeniably empowering about seeing these pre-Stonewall affirmations of queer life without any indicators of shame or fear. Indeed, one of the strengths of the show is that it emphasizes an archive (disparate and limited, to be sure) of queer people, by queer people. In other words, this exhibit displays a conscious move away from the traditional reliance on police records and the often pejorative press coverage that provides such an important but problematic trove of information about queer people of the period.

Uva2An interesting but somewhat underexplored theme in this show is the interplay between transience and permanence in Brooklyn. While the steady stream of sailors and the distance from Manhattan provided welcome anonymity to many, there are also several accounts in the gallery of people deliberately making homes in Brooklyn and seeking to put down roots. As author Carson McCullers observed in a 1941 magazine article, her block in Brooklyn Heights “has a quietness and sense of permanence that seem to belong to the nineteenth century.” In classic New York fashion, that stability would prove illusory; just four years later, the house she had lived in while writing that article would be demolished and her block reshaped to accommodate the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Ultimately, On the (Queer) Waterfront is a compelling collage that hints at the diversity of queer life in Brooklyn and helps undo the still-prevalent myth that queer people were all isolated, miserable, or even nonexistent before the 1960s. While there are some interpretive gaps, the opportunity to see rare queer artifacts collected in one place should not be missed. As one visitor noted in the exhibition’s guestbook, “I want to surround myself in queer debris!”

Katie Uva is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the CUNY Graduate Center.