Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

joanna-merwood-salisburyProf. Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

Faculty of Architecture and Design

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

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

I began my career as an historian of late-nineteenth-century American architecture, in particular the culture of the early Chicago skyscraper (roughly 1880 to 1910). My research investigated the broader group of social actors involved in the creation of the skyscraper city, and asked how the appearance of the skyscraper changed ideas about the nature of cities and American society as a whole. From there I moved on to explore the types of public space available to Americans during this period: what was the dominant understanding of public space? How was it incorporated into strategies of urban design and how did different social groups make use of it? These interests lead to my current project on the history of Union Square in New York City.

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

My current position as Associate Dean of Research and Innovation means I spend the majority of my time helping other scholars make the most of their own research. When I do teach it is courses in modern Architectural History. Throughout my career I have usually worked with students aiming for careers in architecture practice. I find that students enrolled in a professional program are principally focused on the contemporary issues at stake for design. For this reason I try to situate historical material in relation to those issues. For example, I connect the current concern with sustainability to the long-standing interest in “organicism” in architecture; in courses dealing with the formulation of the industrial city in the nineteenth-century, I relate historical processes of change to contemporary issues in urban design, in particular the impact of globalization and the environmental crisis.

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

I am excited for the publication next year of Race and Modern Architecture, edited by Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II and Mabel O. Wilson. This is a series of essays on the critical role of racial theory in shaping architectural discourse. Redressing a longstanding neglect of racial discourses among architectural scholars, it reveals how the racial has been deployed to organize and conceptualize the spaces of modernity, from the individual building to the city to the nation to the planet. I have an essay in it about racial themes in Civil War-era New York City architecture. I’m also looking forward to the publication of my book-length project on Union Square, Design for the Crowd Patriotism and Protest in Union Square, which investigates the history of the Square since the early-nineteenth-century, understanding it as both a real public space and as the symbol of competing ideas about the operation of democracy in the United States.

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

Even if it seems unfashionable, obscure, or even over done, find a topic that you are deeply interested in, not just one that seems to tick the right boxes. The many hours you’ll spend in library basements and archival storage will seem even longer if you’re not passionate about what you’re looking at.

In this current moment of political protest, how would you design the optimal protest space? What would it look like and where would it be? Assume no obstacles!

Protest movements today no longer rely on gatherings in physical space to get their message across. Some of the most effective contemporary activism (the “Black Lives Matter” movement, for example) is geographically dispersed with a heavy reliance on social media. However I still believe that physical space has a role to play, principally in giving a visual image to protest movements, as in the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park. The most effective seem to combine occupation of dedicated public spaces (where proximity to symbols of power is key) with dynamic connections to larger groups not present on site, via mainstream and new media.

Member of the Week: Scarlett Rebman

ScarlettSquareCrop-2-thumbScarlett Rebman

PhD Candidate in History

Syracuse University

@scarlettrebman

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 
My dissertation, “Saving Salt City: Fighting Inequality through Policy and Activism in Syracuse, New York (1955-1975),” uses mid-twentieth-century Syracuse, New York, as a lens to explore the relationship between grassroots activism and federal, state, and local government policies. I aim to uncover the factors that fostered innovative efforts to address social problems in Syracuse–and why these efforts largely failed. Five specific issues dominated community conversations during this time: education, housing segregation, tenants’ rights in public housing projects, employment, and leadership. Examining them reveals that although activists achieved some tangible victories at the local level and even reshaped the realm of possibility in the national political landscape, they were unable to fundamentally alter systemic mechanisms that reproduced inequality and segregation.
I came to this topic in stages. Before starting graduate school, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services. In this position, I worked with a geography professor to compile census data on the low-income neighborhoods that my organization served, including the one in which I lived at the time. The people with the lowest incomes lived in the areas with the oldest and poorest housing stock, which was expensive to maintain and potentially had lead paint hazards. Moreover, these neighborhoods were racially segregated. I wanted to understand the political, economic, and social forces that created this situation. My boss assigned me Tom Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis to read, and it captivated me and inspired me to study urban history.
As I began to think about dissertation topics, my focus shifted to the ways in which these oppressive urban conditions had been challenged by citizens. Syracuse is a perfect entry point into a study of urban social movements. The city had both a robust civil rights movement and two controversial War on Poverty programs that were terminated by the federal government. Using the case study approach allows me to untangle complicated organizational and political relationships and trace individual careers across organizations, capturing nuances that would be lost in a regional or national narrative.
 
Describe your current work in the public humanities. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?
Last November, I joined the staff at Humanities New York as Grants Associate. This necessarily entailed a transition away from the classroom and has made carving out writing time a challenge, but it has been so rewarding. Humanities New York is a state-level, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our grants and programs allow organizations around the state to creatively engage their communities using the tools of the humanities. I get to interact with representatives of libraries, historical societies, and quite a few academic departments. It’s all about drawing connections–among organizations doing similar work, from the particular to the general, between historic and contemporary contexts. My academic training definitely helped prepare me for this type of work.
Additionally, through my position I’ve acquired a new perspective on how communities both urban and rural are discussing issues such as economic inequality, race, democracy, and immigration. This has informed how I think about the activists that I study. It helps me appreciate that this type of work is ongoing. The issues at the top of reform agendas in 1967 certainly resonate fifty years later. On the other hand, we need to understand the specific factors that inhibited groups from achieving their goals in the twentieth century in order to move forward in the twenty-first.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
Elizabeth Hinton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America and Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy are both incredible books that shine new light on the history of the criminal justice system.
What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 
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.
You have done a lot of public history and teaching in the community. Would you share one of your favorite memories of doing this work?
During the 2016-2016 academic year, I was a Public Humanities Fellow with Humanities New York. Each fellow proposes and implements a public-facing project. I worked with the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse to offer a camp on local human rights history last summer. I received a Humanities New York Action Grant through my history department to make the project happen. Eleven young women between the ages of ten and thirteen participated, and I had an amazing co-teacher and assistant. We went on a field trip every day. The best trip was to Harriet Tubman’s house and gravesite in Auburn, New York. The students were amazed that Tubman’s home had been preserved and was not a replica. Harriet was a role model and hero for them, and they were excited to learn more about her legacy. At her gravesite, they spontaneously gathered around the marker and bowed their heads in prayer. History can impact us in profoundly personal ways, and I was fortunate to share that experience with the campers.

Member of the Week: John Fairfield

Fairfield head shotJohn D. Fairfield

Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH

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

I’m currently working on several projects. I recently drafted an essay on my late friend/mentor/editor Zane L. Miller called “’The Metropolitan Mode of Thought’: Zane L. Miller and the History of Ideas.” I hope it will be part of a retrospective on Miller’s career (including several excerpts from the unfinished manuscript he left behind) that I am working on with Larry Bennett and Patty Mooney-Melvin. I’m also writing something on Jesuit pedagogy and education for sustainability for a project that my Xavier colleague Kathleen Smythe is heading up. With my students, I’ve recently finished a little history of Oakley (a Cincinnati neighborhood) and am working on another one on Avondale (another Cincinnati neighborhood). I’m currently finishing an article on “The City Beautiful Movement, 1890-1920” for The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. That last work intersects with my current book project on urban sustainability and human ecology. The basic argument is that urban sustainability is not a new thing. The success or failure of cities has always depended on their ability to construct productive ecologies and to manage precarious settlements. We have not, however, fully developed the knowledge of human ecology that should guide those efforts. I think what unites all my interests, from the beginning, is urban space. I did a book on city planning, a book on public experience, and now human ecology; urban space is there in all that.

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

Most of my teaching is in two programs at Xavier, the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public honors program (PPP) and the M.A. in urban sustainability and resilience (MA URS) that I designed and co-direct with my colleague Elizabeth Blume (a former city planner in Dayton and Cincinnati). In the PPP program, I teach a course called “Constructing the Public” that examines political culture, political philosophy, and urban experience and a course called “Writing in Public” that explores the historical and philosophical roots of contemporary issues (the subject changes every semester as the course is blocked with a political science course where the students engage in legislative politics, trying to advance an issue). In the MA URS program, I teach a course called “Urban Ecologies and Urban Economies” that looks at the intersections, collisions, and synergies between urban ecologies and economies. I also teach (with a member of the City of Cincinnati’s Planning Department, James Weaver) a course on Urban History, Geography, and GIS. Weaver does the heavy lifting in that class, teaching the students how to use the ArcGIS software. My role in the PPP program came out of the work I did for my book The Public and Its Possibilities: Triumphs and Tragedies in the American City (Temple University Press, 2010). The MA URS courses come out of my current research on urban sustainability and human ecology.

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

I recall as a young faculty member hearing senior faculty describe work for encyclopedias and other research guides as the grunt work of the profession (they sometimes used a less gentle adjective). But I’ve always enjoyed doing such work and I believe it gets read more than anything else I write. A recent piece I did on “Green Cities and Sustainability” for The CQ Press Guide for Urban Politics and Policy in the United States (CQ Press, 2016) gives me great satisfaction. It also has provided me with something of a blueprint for my current book project. But the work I am most anxious to see is my partner and Xavier colleague Rachel Chrastil’s “historical companion to childlessness in the 21st century” (currently under review). Although I’ve lived a “child-full” life (having four children and now a grandson), I find Rachel’s work to be illuminating about all the most important things about life, from enjoying it and making a contribution to finding meaning and leaving a legacy. It’s a book we very much need today, not least because if we are to seriously address our mounting environmental challenges, childlessness is likely to be an experience that more and more people share in the coming years.

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

Well, I’d tell them it’s the right place to be. If you recall the talk about imbrication and the dangers of meta-narratives and interdisciplinarity and all that, cities demand it. They are so complex, so many things are always going on, there are so many dimensions to everything, that you can never be tempted by mono-causation or totalizing narratives. 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. I’d also tell them about something I read long ago, when I was in graduate school. I believe it appeared in the Journal of Urban History, in Bruce Stave’s interview of Sam Bass Warner, Jr. (the first one, in 1974, although I just looked it up and couldn’t find the passage). But Warner (or whomever it was) essentially said it takes all kinds, just write what you can, there is no one way to do history. Here was this giant of the profession saying that and I didn’t know what I could write, if anything, but that sounded encouraging; write what I can, there’s all sorts of contributions to make. I later got the same thing from Elvis Costello, in an interview about his anti-capital punishment song, “Let Him Dangle,” where he said we all have to find our own way to contribute. It takes all kinds; write what you can. Read and write and talk and read and write some more.

What’s your favorite history book to recommend to non-historians?

The book that drove me back to graduate school to study cities was Robert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker. I was just out of college, working as a glorified clerk (a “paralegal”) at a big-time New York City law firm with a roster of evil clients. I took that book everywhere I went in the city and read it every spare minute I got, cover to cover. Sure, it suffers from the great man theory of history and perhaps isn’t entirely fair to Moses, but what a story, what a canvas. I went to many of the places Caro wrote about (some of them on one of Ken Jackson’s early midnight bicycle tours) and it fired my imagination and ambition. Somewhat more recently, I’ve found Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors, Jeffrey Sanders, Seattle & the Roots of Urban Sustainability, and Andrew Needham, Power Lines to be stimulating reading. But here’s a test for any non-historian. Take a look at three very different books, Mike Davis, City of Quartz, Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America, and Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of American Whigs. If you don’t find something in at least one of those books that you find fascinating, then maybe you just don’t like history.

Member of the Week: Michael Pante

IMG_2792Michael D. Pante

Assistant Professor

Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University

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

My current research deals with the history of Quezon City, especially in terms of its evolving social geography throughout the twentieth century. I was drawn to this topic primarily because of my affinity to the city: I was born, grew up, studied, and am still living and working in Quezon City.

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

I teach Philippine History courses, and my research plays a big role in how I present this subject to my students. Although I can’t devote a significant part of the syllabus to teaching Quezon City’s history as a specific topic, the historical forces that have defined this city are the same things that I emphasize in my lectures: the emergence and eventual decay of socioeconomic structures, agrarian conflict, urbanization, sociospatial transitions, state-society relations, etc.

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

I am excited about the ongoing “urban turn” in Philippine studies. More and more scholars are engaged in identifying Philippine cities and the Filipino experience of cities as critical factors that shape society. Such is true not only in the field of history, but in other social science disciplines as well. There’s a wave of new books from both established scholars, like Daniel Doeppers’s Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), and up-and-coming academics, like Wataru Kusaka’s Moral Politics in the Philippines: Inequality, Democracy, and the Urban Poor (NUS Press, 2017), and I hope I can also make a contribution to the field in the near future.

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

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.

What was it like to travel by car or other transportation through Manila during the American Colonial period? Is it better or worse now? 

Many present-day Filipinos look back to the early decades of the twentieth century with nostalgia, thinking that that period was a sort of golden age for city living, including congestion-free streets. However, traveling by car through Manila during the American colonial period (1898-1935) was already quite a hassle even then. Traffic congestion in the central business district of Binondo was such an everyday occurrence that officials had to implement rerouting and one-way schemes to solve the problem, only to see these solutions give birth to other problems. Of course, the situation was better then, but only in terms of the limited geographical scope of traffic congestion. Before, people only had to contend with Manila’s traffic situation; now, the 12 million residents of Metro Manila experience the same situation but in a greater, metropolitan scale.

Member of the Week: Katherine Zubovich

20170623_152330-3.jpgKatherine Zubovich

Assistant Professor, Ryerson University

@kzubovich

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

I’m currently working on a book project about urban planning and urban life in Moscow in the 1930s-1950s, tentatively titled Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life under High Stalinism. This research focuses on a city-wide skyscraper construction project begun in Moscow in 1947. Seven out of eight skyscrapers called for (by state decree) in 1947 were built to completion in the waning years of the Stalin era and what drew my interest to this project initially was the buildings themselves. Anyone who has visited Moscow knows these skyscrapers well: they are distinctive features of the Moscow cityscape even today, they share a similar “wedding-cake”-like silhouette, and they continue to serve as important institutional sites in the city (one is Moscow State University, another the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). But if the buildings themselves drew me in, it was the rich trove of archival documents that their construction produced that held my attention. I was excited to find documents in the archives that have allowed me to write a history that stretches beyond design decisions made by top officials and architects.

For example, the plots chosen for skyscraper development in Moscow in 1947 were not empty parcels of land; construction would require the eviction and resettlement of tens of thousands of Muscovites who lived on those plots. I trace this process through the bureaucratic offices involved in resettlement, but also through hundreds of letters of complaint that remain in the archives written by the people who were evicted and resettled on the outskirts of the city. Still more archival files provide a glimpse into the lives of construction workers (both “free” laborers and Gulag laborers) who built the skyscrapers. How these various individuals understood their lives in relation to Moscow’s Stalin-era skyscraper project is a key element that I explore in the book.

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

I’m currently preparing to teach a Global Studies course in my first semester at Ryerson University this fall, followed by courses next spring on The City in History and a seminar on Stalinism. A few years ago, I taught a freshman seminar at Berkeley on The Socialist City and this course related more closely than anything I’ve taught since to my research. But even in the broader courses that I teach, like a World History survey I taught last year, I regularly use cities as a route into the past. Exploring city plans, maps, and photographs (if available) with students and walking them through city spaces while introducing them to broader themes works to make history more tangible and relatable and to make the past come alive in the classroom. I’m especially excited to begin teaching urban history in Toronto—the possibilities for using the city as a laboratory for learning are endless!

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

One of the books on my reading list that I am most excited to turn to this summer is Rosemary Wakeman’s Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement, which looks at the history of the New Town movement in the twentieth century from a global perspective. Now that I’m living in Toronto, I’ve also got some Toronto-related fiction on my list too, including Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion and Mordecai Richler’s The Incomparable Atuk.

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

I would encourage young scholars to reach out early on to communities of scholars working on urban-related themes, both within and outside their home institutions. Ideally, the networks you build will include people who work on topics similar to yours, as well as people who work in different disciplines and on totally different regions and periods than you do. Both the UHA conferences and region-specific conferences are great places make these kinds of connections, but even within your own department or program, forming an urban-themed reading group is a good place to start building up a network.

What was the Soviet equivalent of the Empire State Building or the Sears Tower, and what interesting urban details would a historian see when looking down from the top of it?

Soviet architects of the Stalin period that I study would not have been content with the notion that their buildings were “equivalent” to American structures—they were keen on surpassing American achievements. One building that aimed to do just this, with an eye to the Empire State Building, was the Palace of Soviets. This neoclassical tower topped by an enormous statue of Lenin was begun in the 1930s, but was never completed. Had it been completed and had it survived to the present day (hard to imagine!), a historian would be able to ascend to the top of this structure and look down straight into Moscow’s Kremlin.

Member of the Week: Rebecca Scofield

faculty picture scofieldRebecca Scofield

Assistant Professor of American History

University of Idaho

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

I am currently completing my book project, tentatively titled Outriders: Rodeo at the Fringe of the American West, which investigates various marginalized rodeo communities over the course of the twentieth century. My project asks how people who have been largely imagined outside the mythological West, including female immigrants, incarcerated men, African Americans, and gay people, have used rodeo to contest their historical erasure. Particularly, I argue that these communities often deploy complex and problematic notions of authenticity, tradition, and heritage as a way to assert national belonging.  For me, rodeo is interesting because it is a space where all our collective ideas about what it means to be masculine, western, or American are performed in violent, painful theater. It also contests simple delineations between the East and the West, the real and the imagined, and the urban and the rural.

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

Along with my more general American history courses, next semester I will be teaching a course on Gender and Race in the American West. This course focuses on both the regional West and the mythological West. Through memoirs, diaries, and novels, my students learn not only how diverse peoples shaped the region’s history, but also how that history became re-imagined as a rural, white, masculine space over the twentieth century. By looking at urban history in particular, my students can move beyond a definition of “the West” as having only existed in the nineteenth century or only located on the cattle range. My research on gay rodeo, for instance, contributes to how I teach this course as many of members of the International Gay Rodeo Association live in LA, Houston, or Denver. Teaching students from Idaho about the American West is fantastic. Most have grown up in the rural West and have been immersed in the mythology from childhood, it is wonderful to watch their ideas about their home change.

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

I will be starting a new project in the coming years on the imagined relationship between women and beasts in American culture. With this new focus, I am excited to read works on bestiality, like Doron Ben-Atar and Richard Brown’s Taming Lust: Crimes Against Nature in the Early Republic, and human/animal folklore like Maria Tartar’s new collection Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World. As a cultural historian, I am particularly interested in the anxieties that accompany women’s too-close relationship with animals. I am eager to read more about characters like King Kong in Leo Braudy’s new Haunted: On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, and Zombies and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds, as I shift away from our cultural dreams and towards our collective nightmares. After working on various forms of rodeo for so many years, I look forward to reading in new fields.

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

Don’t be afraid to pursue what interests you. As an MA student, I studied the racial dynamics of the Tokyo acrylic nail industry. As a PhD student, I completely shifted focus to western wear, rodeo, and the imagined American West. Don’t be afraid to change with your interests.   

What book, movie, tv show, or other media would you recommend as a primer or introduction to rodeo?

Vera McGinnis’s 1974 memoir Rodeo Road is an amazing account of her time on the professional rodeo circuit as a bronc-rider and trick-rider in the 1920s. McGinnis captured the time before rodeo associations had forced women out of rough stock riding, describing the excruciating injuries, the broken marriages, and the grinding financial uncertainty that came with being a rodeo performer. She also illustrates the violence of the lifestyle—from her fear of sexual assault to punching an opponent in the face for implying she slept with the judges. Not only is this book an entertaining read, it demonstrates the expansiveness of women’s lives and the complex racial, sexual, and gendered meanings behind their performances.

Member of the Week: Peter Siskind

Siskind headshot 6 17Peter Siskind, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor & Chair, Department of Historical & Political Studies, Arcadia University

Executive Director, Urban History Association

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

I’ve been exploring the politics of development in the cities, suburbs, and recreational vacationlands of the post-World War II northeast corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C. for quite a while now. I have lived most of my life on the northeast corridor, and I’ve long been fascinated by how multiple, often competing popular calls for land-use reform interact with fractured structures of metropolitan governments to produce such ambiguous, often dissatisfying policy results.

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

I teach a variety of courses on modern American politics and policy and the United States’ relationship with the world. A favorite theme that emerges from my work both in the archives and the classroom (with each influencing the other) is how implementation of policy frequently veers so far from executive and/or legislative intentions.

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

I’ve been spending a lot of time with TP. Ho Chi Minh: Mega City (2016 – 3rd edition) following a trip I took to Vietnam with students in March. The book is mostly comprised of photography as well as short chapter introductions that collectively focus on recent, rapid growth and the ways the growth processes are affecting people, architecture and housing, urban transport, and the very soul of the city. The trip and the book have stimulated my curiosity about the extraordinary rate (and dizzying effects) of recent Asian urban growth (not something I’ve studied extensively before) and re-framed my thinking about American metropolitan growth and its discontents.

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

I encourage scholars young and old to develop and sustain a strong scholarly network in the best sense of the word. When one has a network of people one likes and with whom one regularly engages academic interests then a whole range of personal satisfactions and professional accomplishments follow a lot more easily.

What are you looking forward to most as the new Executive Director of the Urban History Association?

I haven’t done such a great job in recent years of taking my own advice about sustaining a strong scholarly network; instead, I’ve focused a lot of energy on my home institution (Arcadia University). So I’m most looking forward to meeting many urban scholars and getting to know them and their work. And of course I’m also looking forward to helping the UHA’s Board of Directors accomplish the goals they establish for the organization.

Member of the Week: Claudio Daflon

20150531_104913Claudio Daflon

@claudiodaflon

Doctoral Candidate in History

University of Connecticut 

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

My dissertation is about the expansion of the national university system towards the metropolitan municipalities of the Gran Buenos Aires. It questions how this process relates to the urbanization and transformation processes experienced in the conurbano bonaerense in the last three decades. I depart from the idea that only politicians and state educational policies have been influential in this expansion; multiple, contradictory voices participated in historical developments that institutional agents certainly did not always expect. Apart from the dissertation, I’m also working with some colleagues on a project about samba music and citizenship in Rio de Janeiro.

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

I’m currently a teaching assistant at UConn. I have taught courses as different as Contemporary European History, Western Civilization, and the recent history of the United States. The experience of teaching different courses is enriching. I have been fortunate to have the liberty to relate some of my discussions to topics connected to my specific research.

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

I strongly recommend one of my latest readings: Matthew Karush’s new book Musicians in Transit: Argentina and the Globalization of Popular Music. It narrates the transnational careers of some Argentinian artists, exploring themes such as popular culture, race, global cultural industry, and how they relate to Argentine national identity. I’m excited to start reading historian Jason Chang’s recent monograph Chino: Anti-Chinese Racism in Mexico, 1880-1940, which investigates how racial discrimination against Chinese Mexicans played an important role in the revolutionary Mexican state nation-building process.

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

In my experience, reading the most recent ‘classics’ of the field (whatever time and national scopes they cover) is a key step to developing the necessary skills to frame relevant questions for our own work.

What Brazilian city are tourists mistakenly leaving off their itinerary, and why do you recommend they visit it?

I’m very curious about Recife, the capital of the northeastern Pernambuco state. The city holds a long history of cultural encounters (that includes the occupation by the Dutch and the slave traffic that fed the sugar cane industry) and complex urban developments. I’m especially attracted by its effervescent popular culture, which combines many traditional folk expressions to very cosmopolitan influences. Recife is now a powerhouse in cinema, theater, and music; its nightlife is described as very vibrant, and its carnival as one of the best in Brazil. Sometimes overshadowed by the paradisiac beaches of the Brazilian Northeast, Recife is definitely a city that visitors should add to their travel plans.

Member of the Week: Carmen C. M. Tsui

Carmen Tsui_PhotoCarmen C. M. Tsui, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, City University of Hong Kong

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

Growing up in Hong Kong, I was always fascinated that such a tiny city can accommodate a population of 7 million people. Nevertheless, I have a fundamental concern with how the housing history has been written in China and Hong Kong, and this concern has led to two current research projects. The first project studies the origins of public housing in China. I wish to correct a common misconception that Communists invented public housing in China after 1949. My research traces the origin of public housing in China back to the Republican era in the 1920s and examines the state’s efforts to make housing a domain of the government. My second project studies philanthropic housing in Hong Kong from the 1950s to the 1960s. I challenge the official account that often describes the beginning of welfare housing in Hong Kong as a government response to resettle victims of a disastrous squatter fire in 1953. The project points out that, in fact, philanthropists invented welfare housing in Hong Kong, and these philanthropists had developed several housing estates for the local working class even before the official government public housing program.

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

I am teaching a lecture course on the history of architecture and urbanism, a seminar on architectural theory, and a studio course on architectural design. I hope that through a comparative global perspective, students can develop a critical eye in looking at China and Hong Kong. In my courses, I often challenge my students to think critically about whether Western urban and planning theories can be applied to China. For instance, while teaching the City Beautiful Movement developed around the 1900s in the United States, I analyze the ways that this movement impacted the city planning of early modern Chinese cities. When teaching the modernist planning ideas, I ask my students to compare the rationality and monotony of Le Corbusier’s planning models with their experience of the new towns in Hong Kong. By linking history and theory with familiar Chinese examples, my students are more engaged in learning when they see how history and theory link to familiar Chinese examples.

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

I am currently reading Nancy Kwak’s A World of Homeowners: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid. This book reveals how the ideal of homeownership was developed in the United States and further exported to the rest of the world. I am also happy to see several new books published recently on the architecture and urban history of Asian cities. These books include A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture: Colonial Networks, Nature and Technoscience by Jiat-Hwee Chang and Globalizing Seoul: The City’s Cultural and Urban Change by Jieheerah Yun.

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

I think young scholars should set their career priorities and stay focused. 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 focus on the project at hand and be realistic about our working capacity.

What architectural details do you enjoy looking for when you’re exploring a new city?

I love visiting architecture made by the common people: traditional markets, street food stalls, and so forth. I am always intrigued by the vernacular wisdom in construction and the way architecture is woven into everyday life. I also like to visit historical buildings that have been adapted for contemporary uses.

Member of the Week: Mauricio Castro

MauricioMauricio Castro, PhD

@CastroHistorian

Postdoctoral Associate, Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South

Duke University

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

I am in the process of converting my dissertation, “Casablanca of the Caribbean: Cuban Refugees, Local Power, and Cold War Policy in Miami, 1959-1995,” into a book manuscript. Like many other people from Latin America, Miami was the first place I visited in the United States. I was six years old, learning to speak English, and I wanted to piece together a sentence or two that I could say to someone on my first trip to the U.S. I arrived in Miami with my parents to find that just about everyone I met spoke Spanish. For a long time, Miami seemed like an aberration. When I began to study the city as a graduate student, however, I found that the investment in the Cuban exile community following 1959 and its effect on the city made it fit within established models of Sunbelt political economy. Instead of making Miami an outlier, the Cuban presence in the city made it a fundamental, but often misunderstood, part of the history of American defense spending and its effect on metropolitan areas. The project kept evolving from there, becoming a study of Miami’s Cuban community and its interactions with other groups in the city. I spend a good deal of the manuscript tracing the development of local economic and political power and the influence this afforded the Cuban American community. I am fascinated by the way in which transnational events and trends shape local communities and how local developments can affect politics at an international level.

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

I am currently teaching a course entitled “Society, Culture, and Rock and Roll.” This is the second time I have taught this course after taking over for the dearly missed Michael Morrison. My approach to the course leans more heavily on urban history than Mike’s did. I use the development of several styles of popular music in the postwar period as a gateway to teaching students about suburbanization and the urban crisis. I am currently also developing a course for the fall entitled “Latinx Communities in the U.S.” This course will be largely focused on transnational migrations and the creation of Latino/a communities in different regions of the United States.

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

I am currently very excited to read Llana Barber’s new monograph Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945–2000. Barber’s approach, combining the history of the urban crisis with the histories of American intervention in Latin America and the migrations they caused resonates with my own approach to Miami. This book is also part of an important trend in urban history that seeks to correct how we have largely conceived of Latino/a communities as existing in the largest of American cities. Barber’s book on Lawrence and other projects currently in development will be crucial to our understanding of the vastness of the Latino/a urban experience.

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

I would say that young scholars should keep the stories of the cities they study in perspective. 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 deals 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. Only when we consider this perspective in tandem with more traditional approaches can we form a more complete understanding of these places.

What is your favorite fictional (literary, film, art, media) representation of Miami?

I have yet to find something that captures Miami in the way that something like a Raymond Chandler novel evokes Los Angeles, or how countless films have represented aspects of New York City. My favorite representation of Miami is probably ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, the bilingual PBS sitcom from the late 1970s. While it is played for laughs, the encounter between cultures that is such a vital part of the Miami experience is the heart of that show.