Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Erika Kitzmiller

1501610745836Erika M. Kitzmiller

Teachers College

Columbia University

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

My scholarship examines the historical processes and current reform efforts that have contributed to and challenged inequalities in present-day urban spaces. My work leverages quantitative and qualitative data to understand the intersections of educational policy and the lives of teachers, students, and families.

My current book project, The Roots of Educational Inequality, traces the transformation of public secondary education in urban America over the course of the twentieth century. By arguing that the roots of educational inequality were embedded in the founding of American high schools in the 1910s and 1920s, this work directly challenges conventional declension narratives that hinge the challenges of urban schools on postwar white flight and failed desegregation policies.

I became interested in this work when I began teaching middle school at Wayland Middle School and became an activist in Philadelphia. I was fortunate to be able to meld my interests as an activist, scholar, and educator into this research agenda.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

 I am currently teaching an educational foundations course and an elective, Education in the Age of Trump, based on the Trump 2.0 syllabus. I feel very fortunate to be at a school of education that values historical context and teaching, and thus, I have been able to infuse my research interests into my teaching. My next project is about youth inequality, mobility, and opportunity in rural and urban America and stems from my Trump course.

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

I’m very excited about two forthcoming publications that are coming out in 2018. First, Rachel Devlin’s work on gender and school segregation, Girls on the Front Line: Gender and the Battle to Desegregate Public Schools in the United States1945-1968. Second, I’m eager to read Keisha Blain’s upcoming book, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and Global Struggles for Freedom, with Penn Press. I’m also eager to follow and continue reading Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, which is an open access book in-progress with collaborators, including MAGIC (the Map and Geographic Information Center at University of Connecticut Libraries), with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Remember what brought you to graduate school, stick to your passions, and find mentors to push and cultivate you. I left my middle school classroom reluctantly. I loved teaching, but also knew that I wanted to give myself time to really understand the history of education and the challenges that urban schools face today with experts who had studied this for decades. I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor and dissertation advisor, Michael Katz, and a terrific committee with Tom Sugrue, Kathleen Brown, and Stanton E.F. Wortham. I am the scholar I am today because of what my middle school students taught me, because I stuck to what I was passionate about, and because I had a great team of advisors who pushed me as a scholar and teacher.

Your website is beautiful and makes excellent use of photographs to illustrate your work in the classroom and as a researcher. Does photography play a significant role in your research methodology? And do you have any advice for UHA members who want to incorporate photography into their work?

 My commitment to visual work stems from conversations I had with individuals who did not always believe the challenges and inequities that I had witnessed in urban schools. I began taking photographs to show people what I had seen. To show them the inequities in our urban schools. Second, it was about access. I wanted people who do not enjoy reading or who have a hard time accessing academic prose to be able to learn from and contribute to my research agenda.

In Philadelphia, I took several photography classes and worked with a documentary film maker, Amit Das, as a graduate student at Penn. What Amit taught me is simple: pick up a camera and just try. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them. In the past, photography has not played a significant role in my work, but in my dissertation I filmed my oral history interviews because I wanted people to be able to experience what I was experiencing—to see and hear from individuals who either experienced or challenged racism in their schools and communities. And now, today, I am beginning to incorporate photography and film more in my work to expand access and open people to the humanity that history offers.

Member of the Week: Monica Perales

Monica Perales. Photos owned by PeralesMonica Perales

Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History

University of Houston

@mperaleshtx

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

My current research blends my interests in Mexican American, labor, and food history. I’m working on a book project that explores Mexican women’s food labor in Texas — this grew out of some of the stories I found of Mexican women’s food experiences and entrepreneurship in my first book, Smeltertown. Mexican women played a central role in cultivating, processing, and selling the food that fed Texans and tourists alike. I’m also interested in exploring the cultural dimensions of the work they performed within their families and communities as well as in broader ways to help define a regional cuisine — how Mexican women’s bodies and images, for example, were used to cultivate ideas about authenticity. Building on my oral history interests, I’m also working with my colleagues in the UH Center for Public History to launch an oral history project called “Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey,” which will be a multi-year project to collect the first-hand accounts of a range of Houstonians and how they experienced this historic storm.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Over the last few years, my teaching has gravitated towards food and public history, and even more so in my new role as the Director of our Center for Public History (CPH). This coming spring, I’ll be teaching Introduction to Public History — the first time this course has been offered at the undergraduate level in quite some time. In our work at CPH, we see the city of Houston as a vital laboratory, it is a place where the local is global. Through this class, I hope to get students to appreciate the ways in which history doesn’t just exist in classrooms and textbooks, but in our communities. One of or projects will be to work with archivists at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center to examine the changing landscape of Houston’s East End, a historic Mexican American neighborhood that has been undergoing rapid change in recent years.

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

Jerry Gonzalez’s In Search of the Mexican Beverly Hills: Latino Suburbanization in Postwar Los Angeles (Rutgers University Press, 2017) offers a new perspective on post-war Mexican American History and suburban history — this is an important addition to both fields. I am also very excited about Miroslava Chavez Garcia’s Migrant Longing: Letter Writing across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). This book, based on a collection of 300 personal letters exchanged by her parents and family members offers a fascinating look at how people created and sustained lives across the borderlands in the latter part of the 20th century. It is a truly beautiful book that humanizes immigration and immigrants, focusing on their hopes, desires, and sometimes failures.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

I believe that everyone has an important story to tell. In my research and teaching, I am guided by the conviction that by telling these stories – of everyday people and communities – the historical discipline enables us to move toward a more civil society and a place where we can understand our shared humanity. I think this is especially important when we think about cities and urban spaces, and what they mean to the people who inhabit them. My advice to scholars starting out in this field is to be open to listening to people tell their stories on their own terms, and to be willing to learn from them.

What cookbook (or book about food) should be on every urbanist-foodie’s shelf?

What a great question! I have been reading a lot of food books lately, and food studies is such a rich resource for understanding the history and culture of a city. I love teaching Jane Ziegelman’s 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement (Harper 2011), which does a really great job of showing how immigrant cuisine in New York adapted to the realities of urban life. For cookbooks, I’m currently loving Sandra A. Gutierrez’s Empanadas: The Hand Held Pies of Latin America and Lesley Tellez’s Eat Mexico: Recipes and Stories from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets, and Fondas.

Member of the Week: Dylan Gottlieb

Gottlieb headshotDylan Gottlieb

Doctoral Candidate

Princeton University

@dygottlieb

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

After living in New York, London, and Philadelphia, I became near-obsessed with the phenomenon of gentrification. I read all the classics: Zukin, Osman, Ley, Smith. But the   pace and severity of the changes they discuss seemed to pale in comparison to what I was witnessing. Something had clearly changed between the 1970s and the late 1990s. But when? And why? How did New York, specifically, transform from a city in fiscal crisis in the mid-1970s into a booming—yet deeply unequal—metropolis by the end of the twentieth century?

I knew we needed to know more about the transformation in white-collar work, about the financialization of the economy, about the urban upper-middle class. So I decided to write about yuppies—young, urban, professionals—in New York from the mid-1970s through the end of the 1980s. From the deregulation of Wall Street, to banks’ recruitment of elite college graduates, to real estate speculation and the subsequent arson fires that displaced low-income tenants, to the emergence of upper-middle-class fitness and consumption culture, to the formation of new political coalitions by urban professionals, I show how an influx of highly-educated workers accelerated the transformation of postindustrial cities.

Describe what you are currently teaching or what public history projects you’re currently working on. How does it relate to your scholarship?

I’m not teaching this semester—I’m lucky enough to get to spend my days writing, trying to hit my Grafton line. But one exciting public history project that I’m involved is the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, an online resource based at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities at Rutgers-Camden. Writing concise, readable articles on capacious topics—gentrification, streetcar suburbs—has been one of the toughest things I’ve done in graduate school. But it’s been so gratifying to see Philly-area reporters and twitterati reference those essays in their own work.

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

My to-read list seems only to grow with each passing week. Here are a few recent or forthcoming books—many by fellow UHA members—that I’m particularly excited about: Paige Glotzer on the transnational roots of suburban development and segregation; Benjamin Holtzman on the market turn in post-fiscal crisis New York; Kwame Holmes’ upcoming book on diversity and displacement in Washington, D.C.; Chin Jou on fast food, obesity, and urban policy; Clayton Howard on sexuality and suburbanization; the new edited collection on transnational metropolitan history from Nancy Kwak and Andrew Sandoval-Strausz; Alison Isenberg’s rethinking of urban renewal in Designing San Francisco; Nick Juravich on working-class woman educators in New York; Andrew Deneer on the history of America’s urban food systems; Timothy Lombardo on Philadelphia and blue-collar urban conservatism; whatever comes out of Matthew Desmond’s new Eviction Lab; and finally—as someone who has written about the Walkman in 1980s New York—Andrew McKevitt’s Consuming Japan.

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

Cities contain multitudes. So as urbanists, we need to read widely if we are going to write compelling histories of cities and the people who live there. I don’t think I could have arrived at my dissertation topic without reading lots of labor history (thanks, Margot Canaday and Tera Hunter!). And if you’re an Americanist, don’t confine yourself to the United States’ urban canon. Schorske on Vienna; Wright on Morocco; Prakash on Mumbai; Mitchell on Egypt; Rama on Latin America; Harvey on Paris; Schivelbusch on anything: there’s a whole world of great writing on cities.

One last thing for those of us who work on the U.S.: drop what you’re doing and check out Social Explorer. I used it to map NYC metro-area census data, which helped me to uncover a remarkable story of gentrification and arson-for-profit that I discuss in an upcoming journal article.

What defines the yuppie of 2017? And–just asking for a friend–if someone is a yuppie, should they be embarrassed about, or resigned to, this fact?

“Yuppie” is still used as a pejorative for those upwardly-mobile city-dwellers who are less concerned with cultural capital and more with actual capital. Stereotypically, they live in newly-renovated condos; they work in professional, financial, or managerial jobs; they crowd into expensive new restaurants; they turn their leisure into its own kind of work (see: crossfit). And they’re vilified—you can still find “die yuppie scum” graffiti scrawled on walls across Brooklyn. “Yuppie,” I think, works in contradistinction to “hipster”: both throw around their earned or inherited wealth, but unlike hipsters, yuppies are not driven by a ceaseless quest to consume and project authenticity.

And if you’re suspect you might be a yuppie yourself…it’s already too late. Give in.

26 Weeks of Insightful Advice

We at The Metropole recently realized that we have featured 26 Members of the Week since launching in April–half a year’s worth of spotlights on a diverse slice of the UHA’s membership. We have learned so much about the state of the field through these profiles, particularly what’s cutting edge in urban research and what books everyone has at the top of their reading piles (Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City has been the most frequently cited). Our Members of the Week have also been fonts of wisdom, sharing excellent advice for scholars at all stages of their careers.

The most common advice was to write frequently, share work widely, and attend the UHA conference with regularity. Some Members of the Week acknowledged, however, that this can sometimes be easier said than done. Our very first Member of the Week, Koji Hirata, drew a parallel between the unpredictable nature of urban formation and the process of writing history:

“I think studying a city shows us the complexity and contingency of history. In my own research I am fascinated by the contrast between the high modernist visions of city planners and the rather chaotic process of urban formation on the ground. This helped me feel better about the gap between my dissertation writing plan and its real process.”

Echoing Hirata’s point about “complexity and contingency,” John Fairfield pointed out that indeed this is one of the satisfying advantages of studying cities:

“History and especially historians can never have the whole urban story and so you must branch out into philosophy, sociology, political science, literary theory, economics, ecology, and so much more.”

For this reason, Timothy Lombardo’s number one piece of advice was to go with the flow:

“Be flexible. Be flexible with your research, with your reading, with your writing, and with your career path. Urban history/studies is a growing field with a lot of possibilities, but young scholars shouldn’t let it also be a limitation. I think the flexibility to read across specialties and disciplines, to publish in different forums, and to research beyond what we usually consider urban history are important parts of scholarly development and maturation. I didn’t start out doing urban history; my research took me in that direction. It also helps to be flexible in where young scholars think they can do urban history. I’m pretty sure there was never a point when I was growing up in Philly, or at any point thereafter, that I told myself that I wanted to end up in Mobile, Alabama. But I remained open to different possibilities and followed them when they opened up. Now I’m lucky to be forging a career at a good university, with great students, and excellent colleagues.”

Yet Carmen Tsui warned:

“Urban historians and scholars often have broad interests. We are curious about everything that is happening, or has happened, in the city. Nevertheless, it is hard to do everything at once. Sometimes, we need to focus on the project at hand and be realistic about our working capacity.”

Alexia Yates offered some succinct advice for how to strike this balance:

“Be comparative, move across scales, but stay locally embedded and make sure there are people in your story. Every history takes (and makes) place.”

Expanding on Yates’s call to “move across scales,” Mauricio Castro urged colleagues to take a more global perspective on the city:

“As urbanists we tend to focus on the local histories and what they can tell us about national trends. I would tell young scholars to question whether these stories end at the city limits or even at the country’s border. While histories that deal with immigration and cities is most obvious, I would suggest that young scholars seek out other ways in which every city is a global city.”

Meanwhile, Scarlett Rebman recommended scholars pursue opportunities to work with local communities:

“Although it can be daunting when time is so precious, seize opportunities to share your work with community members outside of academia. Consider partnering with a community organization on a humanities project. The results will most likely be unexpected but exciting.”

On the topic of collegiality, Joe Merton and Betsey Schlabach both advised urbanists to consider and help more junior scholars. Merton wrote:

“… don’t forget where you have come from. You were once that irritating undergraduate determined to perfect their coursework or borrow that book. Likewise, you were once that sessional teaching assistant on a poorly-paid, fixed-term contract with little time for marking and teaching preparation, let alone research. Provide counsel and advice, lend support – especially to those new to the game or on short-term contracts – and be as giving of your time as others were to you.”

And Schlabach emphasized:

“if you find yourself in a place where you can take advantage of the benefits of tenure-track employment turn your focus to the tireless advocacy for contingent laborers in our field–the adjuncts, visiting assistant professors, and short-term contracts. There is no better place to focus our efforts.”

In conclusion, Michael Pante offered some wisdom that we imagine resonates with all UHA members:

“There’s no substitute to experiencing the city, seeing first-hand its unexplored corners, uncovering its faults, and especially interacting with the people who make its existence possible on an everyday basis. I don’t think scholars of urban studies who do so will ever run out of new stories and insights.”

Looking forward to gleaning more and more insight as we continue to spotlight our Members of the Week!

Member of the Week: Tammy Ingram

B&W_Web--2Tammy Ingram

Associate Professor of History

College of Charleston

@tammyingram

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

I’m working on a new book that’s tentatively titled The Wickedest City in America: Sex, Race, and Organized Crime in the Jim Crow South. It’s about Phenix City, Alabama, a small city in the southern part of the state that served as the headquarters for a large organized crime network during the first half of the twentieth century. Most people had never heard of Phenix City before the summer of 1954, when a crime-fighting local attorney named Albert Patterson was assassinated just days after winning the Democratic primary to become the state’s new attorney general. The murder inspired a Hollywood feature film and forced state officials to intervene and clean up the city after years of looking the other way. More than 700 people were indicted in the cleanup, including the three prominent public officials charged with Patterson’s murder. One was the attorney general of Alabama. He checked himself into a mental hospital in Texas to evade prosecution, but the highly publicized trials of his accomplices, the deputy sheriff and the circuit solicitor, exposed the sordid details of the city’s long history of crime and corruption and kept Phenix City in the news for nearly a year.

Like most people I have always associated organized crime with urban centers outside of the South, so the revelation that a small city of 20,000 people in Alabama was run by a homegrown mob surprised me. But I only decided to write a book about it when I realized that this sensational murder story was but the ending to larger and more important story about white crime in the Jim Crow South. Generations of ordinary white citizens and elected officials in Phenix City participated in criminal enterprises that ranged from gambling to narcotics to a black market adoption scheme, and they were shielded from prosecution by the same Jim Crow governments that were criminalizing black southerners. The reverence for local control among white supremacists in the South protected criminal regimes like the one in Phenix City from outside scrutiny or criticism. I think this also helps to explain how Phenix City remade itself in the wake of scandal. Newspapers and tabloids called it “Sin City, U.S.A.” and the “wickedest city in America” after the Patterson murder case exposed its secrets, but less than a year after the murder Phenix City received an All-America City Award for the crime cleanup. Everyone wanted to forget what had happened there, and almost everyone did.

 Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses on the modern South, race and politics, and crime and punishment, so there’s not much space between what I do in the classroom and what I do at my desk. And I love that. My current research into sex trafficking and illegal adoptions in Phenix City in the 1940s and 1950s inspired a new seminar on modern slavery and human trafficking that I taught last year while I was a research fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale. While those students were developing their own research papers, I worked alongside them on my own. That paper ended up being an article that I completed over the summer. In my regular courses, I incorporate new scholarship into lectures and class discussions, but I also do primary source workshops with things I’ve found in the archives. Students seeing those sources for the first time have sharp questions and insights that I incorporate into my research and writing all the time.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about?

Right now I’m also reading everything I can find on underground economies. I love LaShawn Harris’s new book, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, but I’m also really excited to read similar work by non-Americanists, like Andrew Konove’s Black Market Capital: Urban Politics and the Shadow Economy in Mexico City. If anyone reading this has more suggestions, send them my way.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

The most important piece of advice that I can give to any young scholar is to write a lot and share that work widely and often. Submit to journals and presses, sure, but write shorter essays and op-eds and blogs for the kinds of media outlets and general publications that you like to read. Give conference papers or brown bag talks or lectures even when your work is not yet polished, as scary as that is, and do it with scholars and citizens and policymakers outside of your main field of interest. This is especially important in this challenging job market—a sore subject, I know—because you may discover job opportunities or publishing opportunities that you wouldn’t know about if you stayed in the same lane all the time. And you’re bound to get feedback that you are never going to get if you only share your work with your closest advisors and classmates and colleagues.

Your first book was on the Dixie Highway, the nation’s first interstate highway system. Can you suggest a road trip itinerary that urban historians would enjoy?

Oh, I love this question. Of course I have to recommend at least a portion of the Dixie Highway. Very little of the original roadbed is left, but you can drive much of the original route between Chicago and Miami. Whether you choose the eastern or western division of the highway, it’s a meandering route that will take you through ghost towns and railroad towns and straight through the middle of major urban centers like Indianapolis and Atlanta, so it’s a great way to see how towns and cities were linked in the 1910s and 1920s, when long distance automobile travel was a newfangled concept. Motorists skipped from town to town hoping their cars would get them to the next fueling station or hotel or auto camp before dark. I especially love the route through middle Georgia, where portions of the original roadbed survive, and in South Florida. I’ve never driven the entire thing, but anyone who wants to make a long road trip out of it should call me. If they want to do it on motorcycles, even better.

Member of the Week: Joe Merton

P1000726Joe Merton

Department of History

University of Nottingham

 

 

 

 

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

I’m currently working on a project which examines a perceived crisis of crime, particularly street crime, in 1960s and 1970s New York City, and its role in transforming the city’s politics, public policy norms and modes of governance, built environment and media cultures. You can find a recent example of my research in the Journal of Policy History, which examines the role of public and political anxieties over crime in undermining a culture of expertise in New York politics and policy during the Lindsay years. I was initially hooked in by the image of the infamous ‘Fear City’ campaign run by some of the city’s police officers during the fiscal crisis and widespread austerity of the mid-late 1970s, as well as the symbolic power New York holds in shaping the image we hold of the contemporary city and the promise and perils that lie within it. Yet there’s also something about this period more broadly which seems so fluid, so transformative, and so crucial to the making of our own times and our own cities today: it really is a critical juncture in contemporary history. I wanted my work to be part of that.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I teach a final year, full-year course on narratives of crisis and decline in the 1970s United States called Life During Wartime (I’m a Talking Heads fan). We look at the construction of various political and cultural narratives of crisis in the 1970s, from Barry Commoner and Paul Ehrlich’s predictions of imminent environmental disaster to neoconservative warnings of the impending ‘Finlandization’ of the United States; the pathologies of the urban crisis to the perceived failures of public policy in areas such as welfare or prisons. This is what we in British history departments call a Special Subject, with a strong emphasis on the analysis and discussion of primary sources. It is extremely rewarding to teach, as each year my students come up with new and amazing ways of conceptualising or making sense of the 1970s from their readings of original sources, much of which work to inform my own research (even if they also regularly complain how “gloomy” and “depressing” the content is!).

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

I really enjoyed Brian Tochterman’s recent book on cultural and political representations of post-war New York, The Dying City. It offers such a diverse and wide-ranging insight into the various narratives of fear, pathology and even death which worked to construct a particular image of New York, taking us from film and literature to planning documents and public policy discussions. I also enjoyed the recent collection of articles in Journal of Urban History on New York City after the fiscal crisis, edited by Jonathan Soffer and Themis Chronopoulos, each of which do much to challenge many of our prior understandings of the crisis and the rather loose or imprecise labels – neoliberalism, conservatism, gentrification – we use to conceptualise it. The series also, like Kim Phillips-Fein’s recent book, finally gives us an account of how ordinary New Yorkers experienced the crisis, and its role – sometimes deliberate, at other times inadvertent – in establishing many of the city’s contemporary problems and inequalities.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

Put yourself out there. It’s not easy, and often intimidating, when you’re starting out, but attend conferences and seminars, submit your work for review, and don’t be afraid to approach others, even senior scholars, with questions, advice, or simply to introduce yourself and your work. The encounters and exchanges you have will undoubtedly enrich your work. On a similar note, don’t forget where you have come from. You were once that irritating undergraduate determined to perfect their coursework or borrow that book. Likewise, you were once that sessional teaching assistant on a poorly-paid, fixed-term contract with little time for marking and teaching preparation, let alone research. Provide counsel and advice, lend support – especially to those new to the game or on short-term contracts – and be as giving of your time as others were to you.

What item/idea/trend/attitude would you bring back from the 1970s, and what enduring item/idea/trend/attitude from that decade do you wish hadn’t followed us into the present?

What a question. I would certainly argue that our diminishing faith or trust in a particularly academic or professional form of expertise – a trend whose genesis I would trace to the 1970s – has had a destructive impact on public life since the 1970s. Equally would anyone argue that the individualism of the 1970s identified in Tom Wolfe’s (admittedly limited) “The ‘Me’ Decade” – now manifested in selfies, Instagram feeds and #YOLO – has really enriched our lives?! As for what I would like to bring back, greatly reduced income inequality would be nice. Or how about a socialist Labour government?

Member of the Week: Danielle Wiggins

headshotDanielle Wiggins

Doctoral Candidate in History

Emory University

@from_dlwiggins

 

 

 

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

I’m currently writing my dissertation about the development of black politics in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s by examining how members of the black political class–namely, mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young as well as people on the city council and county commissions, in the Georgia Assembly, in the Department of Public Safety, and within the the black business community–governed through issues of crime and urban development. More specifically, I investigate how these figures responded to rising crime rates, in particular what they identified as “black-on-black crime,” and escalating fear of crime, as well as deepening inequality with punitive public safety policies and market-based economic development programs based in notions of law and order, personal responsibility, and the sanctity of capital. I argue that these leaders accomplished this with the approval of much, though not all, of Atlanta’s black electorate by drawing on a black reformist liberal tradition that emerged in the late 19th century, a political moment of revanchism similar to that of the 1970s and 1980s. More broadly, I consider the ways in which shifts in black politics on the urban level provide insight into the broader rightward shift of the post-Great Society Democratic Party.

I came to this topic in the aftermath of the murder of Freddie Gray and the uprising in Baltimore. I wanted to understand how putatively liberal, Democratic black political officials could come to condone systems of policing and urban redevelopment that criminalized poor black people and exacerbated racial inequality. My research shows that black leaders not only condoned these practices, they designed them, and furthermore, they defended them by appealing to traditional ideals in black political culture.

Describe your current public history work. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?

This year, I’m working as an editorial assistant with the Washington Post’s “Made By History” blog. It’s a forum that enables historians to share insights about current events and their historical context with a broad audience. It has been really fun as a historian to learn about the work other people are doing and to read fascinating pieces outside of my field. It has also been really rewarding as a scholar committed to dismantling barriers between the academy and the wider world to help other scholars make their work accessible and cogent for a broader audience.

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

When I’m not writing my dissertation or editing pieces for the blog, I’m working on an article that provides a genealogy of the concept of “black-on-black crime.” It has really surprising origins in black progressive politics that provide insight into the role of African Americans in constructing the carceral state. As for the work of other scholars, Brian Goldstein’s The Roots of the Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem has been really instructive for me as I try to untangle the messy politics of development within black politics. I also really enjoyed Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics, which is not only a well-researched historical study, but is a real page-turner. I think it would make a great movie a la The Big Short.

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

As I was struggling to write my dissertation prospectus, Nathan Connolly advised me to spend some time reading the records of city council proceedings. This really helped me to get a sense of what issues were really important to city legislators and their constituents and what they believed was at stake in how the city governed on particular issues. Issues that I thought would be really significant based on the secondary literature–affirmative action and animosity between the mayor and the business community, for example–were not nearly as inescapable or as contentious as the crime issue, which of course was inextricable from the development issue and the push to make Atlanta the “next great international city.” This realization changed the entire project. So my advice would be to start by spending a good amount of time with city council records to see what people actually cared about and how they went about addressing their concerns.

You have served as a teaching assistant and editor with the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project, in which Emory University undergraduate students are examining unsolved and unpunished racially motivated murders from the modern civil rights era. What was one of the most memorable moments–either experienced by you, or a student, or shared as a class–from the time you worked on the project? 

The Cold Cases Project  is an important initiative and I’m very happy to been able to contribute. There isn’t quite one particular moment that stands out because the course, and the project itself, was very much a process of discovery. We spent the semester examining one case, the murder of James Brazier in southeastern Georgia. Each week the students examined different components of the case and gradually they were able to put the pieces together. As a teacher, I enjoyed helping students do the real work of history–examining different kinds of evidence such as autopsy reports and witness statements, putting these pieces of evidence in conversation with each other and the secondary literature, and creating a narrative that provides an informed explanation of the case.

Member of the Week: David Yee

yee photo uhaDavid Yee

Ph.D. Candidate in History

Stony Brook University

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

My current work is a social history of mass housing and inequality in Mexico City. The dissertation traces the rise of Latin America’s largest shantytown, Ciudad Neza, as it grew alongside a government-built housing complex named San Juan de Aragón. Both Ciudad Neza and San Juan de Aragón are representative of a crucial historic juncture for Mexico, and Latin America in general, an era when the optimism of modernist urban planning was eclipsed by the rise of the urban shantytown. I focus on housing to explore how it contributed to “a great divergence” among the millions of migrants who arrived to Mexico City in the middle of the twentieth century. During this period, public housing evolved into a mechanism for upward mobility among the city’s incipient middle-class at the expense of the informal poor, producing a new set of political subjectivities and cultural sensibilities among the city’s residents.

The project stems from my life-long fascination with the historical experience of people leaving the countryside for major cities. After pursuing several different ideas (street vendors, migrant associations), I found that struggles over housing provided a focal point and entryway into this experience and allowed me to highlight the diversity of the people arriving to Mexico City during the 1950s (erroneously portrayed in the press and scholarship as a monolithic mass of poor, illiterate campesinos.)

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

In the past, I have usually taught courses on Latin American history, but this past summer I was able to teach a course called “Cities in World History.” It was great to go beyond Latin America and teach about housing and architecture in places like New York and Paris. We also went up to the present and covered the rapid growth of refugee camps, a socio-spatial formation that exists in a peculiar kind of limbo state that contains both elements of transitory encampments and permanent neighborhoods. The refugee crisis is creating human settlements of millions of people and they’re challenging what we think of as “urban.” Ben Rawlence’s account of a massive refugee camp in Kenya (City of Thorns) and the UNHCR’s online resources on camps/cities in Syria were very eye-opening for the students.

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

There has been an effervescence of literature on Latin American cities in the past few years. The best of example of that work can be found in Cities from Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America, which is really a great collection of cutting-edge work that spans across various disciplines and countries. I’m looking forward to the release of two books on Mexico City – Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake: Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City and Andrew Konove’s Black Market Capital: Urban Politics and the Shadow Economy of Mexico City (both due out next year).

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

In general, there is no perfect dissertation topic. I found it was better to go through an early process of trial-and-error, doing some initial archival research to see what existed and where it would take me as opposed to trying to conceptualize and formulate everything in my head. Specifically, with urban studies, it is by definition multi-disciplinary/ interdisciplinary, opening up the opportunity to reach out to other scholars outside of your own department for advice, leads, or possibly to serve on your committee.

As a historian who studies the built environment and housing in Mexico, what has your response been to the two massive earthquakes that just hit the country?

More than anything else, there has been a tragic loss of life (361 people so far) that stretches from Mexico City to Chiapas. They were jolts that revealed the underlying divisions in Mexican society, while producing acts and sentiments of solidarity that transcended those divisions experienced in one’s everyday life and daily routines. At the time of this interview, I see hundreds of volunteers throughout the city as I go through my day. The memory of the more devastating 1985 earthquake is palpable in every sphere of society. There is a large void to be filled among historians in regards to the urban social movements that preceded the 1985 earthquake, its role in the expansion of Mexico’s civil society, and the urban reconstruction phase in the aftermath of the earthquake (one of the largest since the Marshall Plan in Europe). Two great pieces for further reading are: Elena Poniatowska’s Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake (a book on the 1985 earthquakes) and a recent article by Pablo Piccato, “Lessons from Mexico’s Earthquakes: 1985 and Today.”

Member of the Week: Betsy Schlabach

headshot schlabachBetsy Schlabach

Associate Professor of History and African & African American Studies

Earlham College

@schlabetsy

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

My current book traces African-American women’s use of policy gambling to navigate racism, sexism, and capitalism in Black Chicago between 1890-1960. Policy structured economic and gender relations there, where participation in the formal economy was tenuous and unstable—or plain back-breaking. Policy was a viable option for the overwhelming amount of women who confronted a lack of opportunities to get ahead legitimately in the primary economy. I rely on archival collections from the Chicago Public Library’s Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and National Archives, as well as arrest records and police reports from the Archives Department of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, to show that Chicago’s policy women—the wives, the queens, the runners, the gamblers and conjurers—capitalized on both their tenuous relationship to the economy and the men in their lives to capture unheard of possibilities.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I’m teaching a first-year writing seminar on the Underground Railroad, with a focus on Eastern Indiana-Ohio history. I’m also teaching an upper-level survey course, African-American History to 1865. These courses, at first, don’t seem very related to my research on policy gambling but both push students to reconsider the legacies of escape. Escape informs the ways in which gambling, as part of the informal economy, unfolded in major urban centers such as Chicago, Harlem, and Washington, D.C. The Great Migration starts with these radical acts of self-emancipation and results in innovations to capitalism. Isabel Wilkerson charts this amazing chronology in her book The Warmth of Other Suns. I also push my students through various writing and digital assignments to reflect on the ways in which the past informs their present, especially our relationships in urban spaces. For example, my Underground Railroad students have to complete a digital storytelling project exploring the parallels between present-day issues such as Sanctuary Cities and the Underground Railroad.

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

Keisha N. Blain, the editor of the wonderful blog Black Perspectives, recently released her book Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Penn 2018). It is on my must-read list as is Tera W. Hunter’s Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Harvard, 2017). I’m also rereading Rashauna Johnson’s Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge, 2016). The latter is helping me craft a collaborative faculty/undergraduate research seminar on the History of New Orleans. I appreciate her use of digital humanities to help us reconceptualize the relationship between race, labor, and the urban geography of New Orleans.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

I can offer words of advice on balancing the demands of your institution while satisfying your own research agenda. I have found that the best way to balance my commitment to research and the demands of teaching at intensive small liberal arts intuitions like Earlham College is to follow academic blogs like this one or others such as Black Perspectives and to start networking on Twitter. This became my way to keep on top of the debates in my fields and keep me informed of relevant publications when I can’t devote a lot of time to reading scholarly monograph after scholarly monograph or traveling to conferences.

I’ll also offer a plea: if you find yourself in a place where you can take advantage of the benefits of tenure-track employment turn your focus to the tireless advocacy for contingent laborers in our field–the adjuncts, visiting assistant professors, and short-term contracts. There is no better place to focus our efforts.

Your current work is on gambling. What’s the best story you’ve seen during your research about how someone spent their winnings? 

Most people who won from policy drawings used their money to place more bets—this was how policy writers (those who solicited bets door to door throughout the neighborhood) made their living. Their goal was hook patrons on the excitement of the drawings and small kickback winnings. But by far the most incredible story comes from the famous Jones Brothers in Chicago. The brothers, with help from their mother, owned and operated several policy wheels all over Chicago pulling in millions of dollars annually. In the late 1940s their family had several run-ins with the Italian mafia forcing them out of the city. The family matriarch, Harriet Lee Jones, moved the family to Mexico City where they opened up a very successful car dealership and textile factory. Harriet and her boys were tireless and very successful entrepreneurs.

Member of the Week: Katie Schank

Schank - UHA photoKatie Marages Schank

George Washington University, PhD, American Studies, May 2016

Emory University, Fellow, James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference, 2016-2017

@kmschank

 

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

In my current research, I explore the relationship between architecture, housing policy, race, and visual culture to study the history of Atlanta’s public housing program. The “rise and fall” narrative, which frequently relies on critiques of design, policy, and funding, has dominated public housing history, and I hope to demonstrate the ways in which visual representations and public relations had an equally vital and largely untold role of influence on this major municipal program. My research focuses on demonstrating that neither the early success nor the later failure of public housing was inevitable but both were the result of considerable rhetorical work dependent upon representations of modernist architecture, the social program, and residents. I also explore the unique, symbiotic relationship that existed between Atlanta – a city obsessed with image and self-promotion – and public housing. While focused on Atlanta, my research looks at larger questions about the ways that images and visual rhetoric operate as agents in urban politics, policy, and understandings of race.

I lived and worked in Atlanta for five years before moving to Washington, DC to start graduate school. It was unlike any other city I had lived in, and while it took a while to grow on me, I became fascinated with it. While I was working on a paper for a research seminar, I stumbled on a catalogue entry for a collection of papers at Emory University of an Atlanta real estate developer turned amateur documentary photographer, filmmaker, and public housing advocate. A year later, happy to have a reason to visit Atlanta, I took a research trip to view that collection. Within the first day of research, I had a feeling that I might have discovered my dissertation topic. This topic perfectly brings together my interests in the built environment, urban history, and visual culture. Now, as I’m taking my dissertation and revising it to become a book manuscript, I am still just as excited about this topic as I was when I started my research almost seven years ago.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Last semester I taught a course at Emory University called “20th Century African American Urban History and Visual Culture.” We examined twentieth-century African American urban history through the lens of visual culture. As a class, we worked to develop a clear understanding of the historical and interdisciplinary frameworks that are available to analyze and “read” both documentary and popular visual materials such as photographs, television, and film. The class drew directly from the methodology that I use in my own work, and while we did study other cities, Atlanta was the main focus of the class. It was rewarding to see students develop the critical skills necessary to look at visual materials and begin to realize that photographs and films are not innocuous materials but serve an agenda to shape perceptions about race and the city.

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

I am always excited for new scholarship about Atlanta, so I am looking forward to Maurice Hobson’s book, The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta, which is being published by UNC Press this fall.

While it is not a publication, I am also looking forward to the 2018 release of documentary about the East Lake Meadows housing project in Atlanta by Ken Burns and his team. They seem to be taking a very balanced approach in telling the history of the program and the story of East Lake’s redevelopment. I know that they have gone to great lengths to find and interview former residents. I also had the honor of being interviewed for the film, so that certainly adds to my excitement about its release!

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

I would encourage them to attend the Urban History Association Conference! The conference draws scholars who are doing such interesting and important work. It is a great way to get a sense for all of the possibilities that exist in the field. Not only should they attend the conference, attend paper sessions, and present their own work, but I would urge them to make an effort to meet people – both senior scholars and their peers from other universities. As a grad student, I was admittedly nervous and hesitant to approach scholars whose work I had read and admired. Yet, once I began to talk with people, I found them to be very approachable and genuinely interested in talking to me about their work and my work. Since my first urban history conference five years ago, I have had the opportunity to get to know a number of people in the organization. They have provided me with great advice and support in terms of my research and career, and I now look to them as mentors. I also look forward to seeing my “conference friends” – people I’ve gotten to know who are at similar stages of their careers to me. It’s always great to have a chance to catch up and encourage one another. Because I hope to have a career in this field, these are people that I will see and work with for years to come.

What is one of the most unique or unusual visual representations of public housing that you have used as a source in your study?

I would have to say that the music video for Outkast’s “B.O.B (Bombs Over Baghdad)” is one of the most unique visual representation I have used in my work. In the video, Outkast’s Andre 3000 stumbles out of an apartment in the now-demolished Bowen Homes housing project in Atlanta. Instead of the drab brick buildings and poorly landscaped grounds that existed when the video was filmed, he’s surrounded by psychedelic purple grass and trees, bright yellow sidewalks, and neon green roads. Whereas so many images from this time period are focused on despair and the failure of the program, the vivid colors of the video combined with the fast tempo of the hip hop music offer an image of Atlanta’s public housing that was very different from the dominant narrative being circulated when the album was released in 2000. The music video offers the view of an alternate future and different possibilities for public housing residents by invoking Afrofuturism. It was a valuable perspective and important message that was not coming from anywhere else during this time period. I love that my interdisciplinary approach to urban history means that hip-hop videos and traditional archival sources each have a place in my work.