Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Ellen Hartman

Hartman_profileEllen Hartman

Research Landscape Architect, US Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory

Part-time PhD Student, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois

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

My current research at work covers a few areas, but it’s mostly focused on military aspects of cultural resources management and socio-cultural goespatial research, with some natural resources management aspects thrown in. When I started working I didn’t know what to expect, except that I was interested broadly in military landscapes (although, at the time I didn’t really know what that meant!). Academically, my research is more historical and theory-based and addresses the militarization of tangible and intangible spaces through nuclear armament.

Describe your current work for the Army Corps of Engineers. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?

My research for the Corps is very applied, which means I conduct historical research that informs the management guidelines I write that help the Department of Defense facilities maintain compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act, among other federal policies. The overlap between my work research and academic research is that I can view military landscapes from two different perspectives–operational and theoretical. 

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

It’s not that recent of a publication, but I just came across a book in the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series called “Warfare Ecology: A New Synthesis for Peace and Security” (2011). It explores the “complex, reciprocal relationships between warfare and the environment.” I haven’t read it in depth yet, but so far all the contributions seem really interesting. 

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

I don’t have much advice, except that history is awesome and cities are awesome so they might as well be put together.

A few years you became interested in geomancy and began incorporating influences of geomancy into your design work. What is geomancy, and what’s your favorite example of how you’ve used it for design?

Oh boy, the geomancy question. Way back when I was working on my masters in landscape architecture I had an ongoing conversation with my advisor, David Hays, about the assumption that design is predicated on improving future conditions. One of the questions was, how do you design for something that is unpredictable? David suggested I look into geomancy because it’s an ancient “science” that uses Earth’s energies to predict the future as well as locate sacred, or important, sites. But really, I use it as a method to filter, or recognize, my bias and to question the modern notion of technological arrogance and that we are always progressing upward toward betterment.

Geomancy is a fun exercise that helps generate narratives and then design responses. As mentioned above, I used it for my masters thesis, which got published as the chapter “Savior City” in (Non-) Essential Knowledge for (New) Architecture: 306090, Volume 15. I also used geomancy to question how sacred sites get formed in a journal article “Sacred States of America” in Forty-Five ( This project is a favorite because I wanted it to be a prompt for action, to have people go to specific places to do specific things with the hope that over time the prompt would be forgotten, but the actions would continue, thereby creating new sacred sites. To my knowledge, no one has enacted any part of that plan.

Member of the Week: Christine Henry

IMG_7235 (1)Christine Henry, PhD

Assistant Professor

Department of Historic Preservation

University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA



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

My current research is focused on several aspects of the history of Fredericksburg, VA including the influence of women in the preservation of local landmarks, and the role of the heritage economy in racial segregation in the city.

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

I currently teach four courses each semester on various topics of historic preservation including a wide range of class sizes, topics, and teaching styles. Classes include an introductory architectural history course, a building documentation course, a seminar on diversity in historic preservation and a seminar on vernacular architecture. In my large lecture courses I use my research on gentrification and neighborhood change as case studies to illustrate how historic preservation happens in urban environments. In my seminar, I have been able to involve my students directly in the documentation and development of a walking tour app for the Vernacular Architecture Forum meeting in Alexandria to be held in May 2018.

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

I am very excited about the upcoming publication of an edited volume titled Contested Pasts: Urban Heritage in Divided Cities. This past year I have been working with a colleague in the Department of Historic Preservation, Andréa Livi Smith, PhD, to co-author a chapter in the book which is titled ”Segregation, Gentrification, and Heritage in Fredericksburg, VA: A Preservation Perspective.”

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

The advice I have for young scholars is to keep an open mind in terms of research interests and to listen to as many people as possible about your research area. I am always talking with people about ideas, buildings and sites to investigate, which at first don’t seem to relate to my research areas, but after some exploration often have some connection I would not have found on my own.

As someone who studies neighborhoods, what would you personally argue is the most essential ingredient in making one great? Is it the built environment? The retail and services available? The relationships between residents? And what could you not live without in a neighborhood?

As a person who studies neighborhoods, I think that the most significant factor is the relationship between the residents and business owners. This atmosphere is of course shaped by the physical environment, which can enhance or inhibit interaction among residents, but the essence of a neighborhood is the people and the ties they create with one another. One thing that I could not live without in a neighborhood is age diversity—both personally and in my research I have found that having neighbors that are part of an age spectrum makes for a vibrant and interdependent community.

Member of the Week: Andrew Konove

HeadshotAndrew Konove

Assistant Professor

Department of History, University of Texas at San Antonio


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

I just completed my first book, Black Market Capital: Urban Politics and the Shadow Economy in Mexico City, which will be published later this spring. It traces the history of Mexico City’s infamous “thieves’ market,” called the Baratillo, from its origins in the seventeenth century to the present day, revealing how illicit street commerce has been central to both the urban economy and urban politics since the colonial era. My new research grows out of that project. I’m looking at how the circulation of informal currencies, which were traded in markets like the Baratillo, spurred new ideas about poverty, economic development, and sovereignty in Mexico and the Hispanic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I see it as a study that links economic ideas to on-the-ground economic practices and one that broadens my focus beyond Mexico City.

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

This semester I’m teaching Introduction to Latin American Civilization—my department’s one-semester survey of Latin American history. At first, the incredibly long time frame was a challenge (I begin the course discussing human migrations to the Americas during the last ice age and end with recent political developments in the region). But it’s actually become my favorite class to teach. I think it’s important for students to think about long-term patterns, something I deal with in my own research.

I’m also teaching a new class on Imperial Spain from the fifteenth century to the Spanish-American War of 1898. The idea behind the class is to put Spain’s interactions with Europeans, Americans, Africans, and Pacific Islanders into same frame of analysis. It covers a similar period as my course on Colonial Latin America, but it takes a global perspective. Teaching this class is helping me to conceptualize a new project that looks beyond Mexico to the broader Hispanic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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

On my shelf is Patricia Acerbi’s Street Occupations: Urban Vending in Rio de Janeiro, 1850-1925, which I’m eager to read. Along with Sandra Mendiola García’s recent book, Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico, and my own forthcoming book, we’ve had a surge of recent scholarship on street vending in Latin America, and that’s very exciting! I’m also looking forward to Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake: Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City, which comes out this spring.

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

I’d encourage them to think and read broadly about their topics, looking beyond their disciplines and outside their geographic areas of expertise. Some of the most helpful scholarship I read in writing my book was the social science literature on the informal economy and studies of street vending outside of Mexico and Latin America. I’d also push them to try to bring their research to a broader audience. We generally gear our first book toward specialists, but it’s also important to share our work with people outside the academy. From op/eds in the local paper to commentary in news magazines to articles in our schools’ alumni magazines, there are many opportunities to take our work to the public. And they might be surprised: in an era of short attention spans and rapid news cycles, there is a lot of demand for experts to provide historical context for present-day challenges.

What item sold at Mexico City’s thieves market would most surprise or delight The Metropole‘s readers? 

In 1895 a vendor in the Baratillo was caught with rails stolen from the Federal District Railway. The report doesn’t specify the length of track he was trying to sell, but it seems like a particularly conspicuous item to try to unload.

Member of the Week: Margaret O’Mara

OMara.pngMargaret O’Mara

Professor of History

University of Washington

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

I’m currently working on a book about the history of the American high-tech industry—from semiconductors to social media—and its relationship to the worlds of politics and finance. My interest and intent here is, to adapt a phrase, to “put the tech back in” to the study of modern American history, including urban history. Cities are among the many things that computer hardware and software have disrupted in the past half century—from the use of mainframes to run urban infrastructure and municipal services, to the personal computer’s transformation of workplaces, home life, and “third places,” to the role of social media in political mobilization, group identity, and sense of place. The high-tech revolution is rich and relatively underexplored territory, and as the PC reaches middle age and the smartphone approaches adolescence, it is ready for some serious historical analysis. I encourage other urban historians to join me!

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

I teach twentieth century political, economic, and urban history, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Every winter term—including this one—I teach my undergraduate survey course, “The City,” which covers North American urban history from New Amsterdam to the new economy. One of the joys of teaching this class is the wide variety of students who take it—engineering majors as well as history majors, freshmen to seniors, all drawn in by a curiosity about what makes cities work and how they’ve grown. Instead of a final paper, the students build a digital exhibition that uses the history of one Seattle city block to discuss broader patterns of urban change. The focus on the digital also allows me to introduce students to new scholarship and new scholarly voices, and to incorporate beyond-the-book digital platforms and sources like Mapping Inequality from the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and the urban visualizations built at the Spatial History Project at Stanford University.

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

I’m excited by the transnational turn in urban history, a good slice of which is represented in the edited volume published last year from Penn Press, Making Cities Global (full disclosure: I’m a contributor) and reflected in important recent books like Nancy Kwak, A Nation of Homeowners and N.D.B. Connolly, A World More Concrete. These and other works placing urban ideas and institutions in global and imperial context have had a significant impact on both my teaching and my research. Also, with tax reform in the news—and, as urban historians know, taxation is at the center of everything!—I’m gaining much from the recent crop of books giving tax policy and politics a deeper and more nuanced history, such as Isaac William Martin, Rich People’s Movements and Ajay Mehrotra, Making the Modern American Fiscal State.

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

One of the more refreshing trends in the profession today—call it the silver lining on the gloomy cloud of the academic job market—is that younger scholars are more willing and more able to practice history in public, whether by writing directly for public audiences, developing public history and digital history projects, or simply by being very good at Twitter. At a moment when “history” is so often wielded as a partisan weapon, it’s particularly important to have thoughtful and careful scholars out there engaging broad audiences. I encourage younger scholars to start thinking quite early about how they want to contribute to this conversation, how they delineate their scholarship and their activism, and how their scholarly expertise might translate to a broader scholarly community as well as to public audiences. Particularly good examples of this sort of careful, informed engagement can be found these days on the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) blog Black Perspectives, the Organization of American Historians’ Process: a blog for American History, and the online and print editions of the Boston Review, all of which are on my regular reading list.

You are the lead curatorial advisor to the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). What have been some of the highlights of serving in that capacity?

My work at the Bezos Center at MOHAI was a lightning-fast education in public history, and in the art and science of historical museums in particular. Creating an effective museum exhibit is a team sport involving players with a wide range of expertise, from my team of History PhD researchers to the to visionary architects and graphic designers who turned our research into words on a wall to the lighting maestros who set the mood and feel for the experience. It was also was an eye-opening lesson in how a well-designed museum experience can reach and educate so many different people, including those who don’t see themselves as “history people.” I also love that a future-tense business leader like Jeff Bezos has such an appreciation for the past—I hope other tech leaders will embark on their own philanthropic efforts to support history education and scholarship.

Member of the Week: Valerie Paley

V PALEY COLORValerie Paley, Ph.D.

Vice President and Chief Historian, New-York Historical Society

Director, Center for Women’s History

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

As a public historian working at New York City’s oldest museum, I find that my day job keeps me nimble where research is concerned. Just recently, I studied up on Radio City for an interview about its 85th anniversary with the New York Times. That same week I spent a day or two charting the evolution of Christmas and the holidays in New York for a live satellite radio broadcast with Cardinal Dolan. At this moment I’m fact-checking and editing the text labels for an exhibition of historic shoes called Walk This Way, set to open at New-York Historical’s Center for Women’s History in the spring. It’s my responsibility to ensure that all of this content for general audiences maintains a scholarly underpinning. I am fortunate to have an extraordinarily smart team of doctoral-level historians helping to keep me honest and on deadline with these varied tasks.

But I do value the hours I manage to spend doing sustained work by myself with my own scholarship on the founding in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of what would become some of the most famous cultural institutions of New York City. The New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Metropolitan Museum began as ambitious private projects for the public good and evolved into significant standard bearers not only for the city, but for the nation. I’ve pursued a research thread that places the main responsibility for these endeavors not with the directors or curators, but with their funders and founders. Their mark—bearing grander aspirations for their nascent institutions and, by extension, the character of their emerging metropolis—is still in evidence today. As a born-and-bred Manhattanite, I’ve always been drawn to the culture of the city in its entirety, and consider it almost a guilty pleasure to be able to legitimately spend time researching it for scholarly purposes.

Describe your current administrative, curatorial, and/or public history work. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?

I greatly value the skills and knowledge I gained in the academy, but nothing I encountered there could have prepared me for the kind of work that I currently do in the name of History. I have been engaged over the past couple of years in both the administrative and programmatic activities of establishing a Center for Women’s History under the umbrella of the New-York Historical Society. It requires me to think broadly about bringing women’s history into the larger narrative of American history as we convey it through educational and scholarly programming, public lectures, a yearly day-long conference, collecting, research, and a film, in addition to the expected exhibitions. This in turn extends to imparting this vision to our visitors, with my team of scholarly fellows and in collaboration with our CEO and board, and other colleagues like K-12 educators, librarians, art curators, exhibition designers, and members of our communications and fundraising departments.

I’m not sure how directly this relates to my own scholarship, other than by providing me with a framework for understanding the moving parts that make a museum function successfully “on the ground.” The theoretical texts which Museum Studies scholars write and read are all well and good intellectually, in a perfect world. But the challenges and choices I face daily actually working in a museum require me to be far more pragmatic in my approach. There is a struggle to be “pure” while heeding the necessity of being engaging to the public—not to mention getting the funds to make it all happen.

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

No doubt about it: I’ve anticipated Mike Wallace’s Greater Gotham as much as any other New York City history junkie. (In fact I was somewhat happy to come down with the flu last week so I could spend some extended untethered time reading it.) Wallace’s ability to harness the scale and variety of the growth of the city in the early twentieth century while capturing it in such painstaking detail is breathtaking. I also commend his capacity to be a great “crossover” historian that can create significant work that resonates for the general public.

The towering achievement of Mike Wallace with Greater Gotham makes me wonder with anticipation about when the other pillar of New York City history, Kenneth T. Jackson, will finally finish his new works on the late twentieth-century progression of suburbia and the current urban condition.

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

I offer the same advice I give to PhD-level historians: don’t be rigid or unimaginative about where the PhD can take you. There is a need for sophisticated content and critical thinking skills outside the academy. In fact, there is probably even more of a need. Speak and write clearly in a language anyone can understand, not mired in scholarly jargon. It’s harder than you think.

You are given the chance of a lifetime: an endowment to start a new museum anywhere in the world, devoted to any subject, time period, or person(s). Money is no object! What would you devote yourself to collecting, preserving, and curating?

This is an interesting question I’ve posed to my museum seminar students, and it cuts to the core of what a museum is and should look like. Is it a large, architecturally significant building in an urban space, filled with stuff and exhibitions? Is it a place for community engagement, in which visitors are encouraged to consider their place in society or even their very humanity? Is it a locus for an educational experience? Museums historically have been all of those things, and we hardly need another one. Perhaps what we need is a larger forum for collecting ideas that contemplate the history of the human condition. Would we do it in words, artworks, objects, images, documents, audio, video? I’d probably do it with all of the above and more, and ask a multi-disciplinary team of scholars, thinkers, and teachers to come up with a template of questions to spur an online “museum” that crowd-sources ways of visualizing this history and shares it on the web with everyone. Imaginative curators, web designers, and communications strategists can encourage the broadest ways of collecting this content from a diverse international community with access to the Internet. Then I would task museums around the world, large and small, with addressing through their own collections some of the issues the online museum raises. It would be like an abstract version of a History of the World in 100 Objects, but one that minimizes hierarchical curatorial thinking and utilizes a democracy of objects, things, and concepts—and defacto curators—representing a range of ideas and “stakeholders” as opposed to the standard object connoisseurship we expect of the best museums.


Member of the Week: René Luís Alvarez

160205_Rene_Luis_Alvarez.jpgRené Luís Alvarez, PhD

Lecturer in History

Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago

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

I have researched and written about the history of American urban education, focusing mainly on Chicago’s Mexican American community. While the teaching and administrative responsibilities of my current position at Arrupe College have lessened the amount of time I can devote to new research projects, I am able to draw upon my academic training to serve Arrupe students, who mostly are first-generation college students from lower income and previously underrepresented communities across the city.

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

As a two-year degree-granting program, Arrupe College offers general education courses which students then can use to transfer to a four-year degree institution or to enter the working world. As such, I teach both halves of the United States survey and both halves of the Western Civilization survey. In addition to teaching full-time, I have a cohort of advisees with whom I meet regularly, both individually and in groups, to ensure that they are on their best paths towards graduation. As an educational historian, I understand the patterns of inequality that have deprived some students access to a rigorous, liberal art education. A large part of Arrupe College’s mission is to provide students the opportunity to achieve their educational goals at the highest levels. In this way, my training as an historian and my current work nicely complement each other.

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

Stephen N. Katsouros, SJ, the Dean and Executive Director of Arrupe College, published Come to Believe: How the Jesuits are Reinventing Education (Again) last year. In it, he details the first years of Arrupe’s founding and development. My signed copy has been on my office shelf since its release. While I have my own insider’s view of Arrupe College and have discussed several aspects of Arrupe with Fr. Katsouros on many occasions, I am eager to read about Arrupe from Fr. Katsouros’ perspective.

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

I would advise young scholars to take an interdisciplinary if not eclectic approach to their curricular and extra-curricular activities in order to develop their versatility. To this I would add that they be open to a variety of career opportunities. The contours of higher education have changed significantly since I completed my doctorate ten years ago, which in turn has affected the history job market. As such, I think young scholars need to consider opportunities that are not necessarily of the tenure-track nature. Having a diverse set of skills that include non-academic as well as academic skills while being open to different kinds of jobs can enable someone to find some very meaningful work.

You now teach at your undergraduate alma mater! What has changed for the better in the intervening years, and what are you relieved to find has remained the same?

I always have been proud of my affiliation with Loyola University Chicago because of its enduring commitment to quality education in the Jesuit tradition, so I am very happy to now be a part of that commitment and tradition. I am glad that Loyola’s commitment and tradition has not diminished since I graduated (at some point during the last millennium.) In many ways, it has grown even stronger, evidenced by programs like Arrupe College. In addition to this, I also have been overwhelmed by the physical changes of Loyola’s campuses. Both the Lake Shore Campus in the Rogers Park neighborhood and the Water Tower Campus in Chicago’s downtown have transformed over the years through ambitious construction projects, providing students facilities that not only are great for living, studying, and learning but also are aesthetically pleasing to the senses.

Member of the Week: Matt Lasner

matthew-lasner_uap-bio2Matthew G. Lasner

Associate Professor, Urban Policy and Planning

Hunter College, City University of New York


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

I am writing a new book tentatively entitled the rather cumbersome Bay Area Urbanism: Architecture, Real Estate, and Progressive Community Planning in the United States from the New Deal to the New Urbanism. It explores the work of socially engaged designers in the San Francisco Bay Area who, at various points between the 1930s and 1990s, either partnered with sympathetic developers (like Joseph Eichler) or became part-time developers to get new kinds of speculative housing built—generally low-rise, high-density communities built for a mixture of kinds of households, with open-space. Before the New Deal, urbanists all over the U.S. (as in Europe throughout the twentieth century) were interested in managing urban growth but quirks in big federal programs like public housing and, especially, urban renewal diverted attention to rebuilding city centers to the exclusion of most else. Except in the West, and especially the Bay Area, where the unique natural environment (geography, topography) made it more difficult to ignore the suburbs. So the book is about how professionals assert their values but also about flexibility and creativity in the American system of housing provision.

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

You’ve caught me in the middle of a sabbatical. Normally, though, I’d be teaching a mixture of service courses for our masters’ students like Introduction to Urban Planning and the History and Theory of Urban Planning, and courses focused on housing: both the history and current struggles. Nearly every fall I teach a course called Housing and the American City and in the spring a course called Housing in the Global City. In general I see teaching and research as iterative. Teaching the past and present of U.S. housing in a single semester has proven hugely helpful in clarifying my ideas about American housing politics. And it led, rather directly, to my work on the book Affordable Housing in New York (2016), which I co-edited, and wrote or co-wrote about half of, with Nick Bloom. Meanwhile, I recently published an article in Journal of Urban History (“Segregation by Design“) about how developers in the U.S. South used design to maintain racial boundaries in rental apartment complexes without flouting the law after passage of the Fair Housing Act. The primary example I look at is a swinging-singles complex built in the late 60s that I learned about from my students when I was teaching at Georgia State University. Had I not taught classes there on the history of U.S. suburbs and on U.S. cultural landscapes, I never would have known about these kinds of places. But, really, in every course I teach I learn so much from my students.

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

It should go without saying I’m eager to have my own book done, although it’s still quite a way’s off. Working on a book about the Bay Area, and about speculative postwar housing, I’m most excited about several new(-ish) books on overlapping topics: Alison Isenberg’s Designing San Francisco: Art, Land, and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay (2017), Ocean Howell’s Making the Mission: Planning and Ethnicity in San Francisco (2015), Barbara Miller Lane’s Houses For a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs 1945-1964 (2015), and James M. Jacobs’s Detached America: Building Houses in Postwar Suburbia (2015). I’m also quite excited for two non-scholarly books that have just been published: Progress & Prosperity: The New Chinese City as Global Urban Model (2017), edited by Daan Roggeveen, who previously wrote one my favorite books on contemporary urbanism in China, How the City Moved to Mr. Sun (2010); and The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion, which the Brooklyn-based planning firm Interboro Partners (Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore) have assembled after more than a decade of work.

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

My advice for PhD candidates is to broaden. It’s important to have feasible, realistic research goals—no one should bite off more than they can chew, and I believe in the old adage that the best dissertation is a done dissertation. At the same time, I find that too many dissertations jump from literature review to the internecine, losing sight of the kinds of questions that are of interest to a general scholarly audience, and that will advance the field. Urban history, broadly conceived, is still inchoate, especially for non-UK topics. In U.S. urban history in particular we need dissertations that ask big, fundamental questions about the contours of urban change, and that challenge the field’s foundational texts, many of which reflect the anxieties of a very different era in the evolution of the American metropolis.

Do you find that researching and studying housing as a profession has made it easier or more difficult for you to find housing? Has it made you more critical about where (and in what kind of housing) you choose live? Or are you a broker/real estate agent’s dream client?

My preferences in housing have perhaps become somewhat more particular—I think a lot about things like internal circulation (in apartment buildings) and the number of exposures (in an apartment). Since entering the for-sale market (multifamily, naturally) I’ve also likely become a thorn in the side of agents. When we bought our current apartment I had the seller scrambling to find not just copies of the building by-laws and house rules, but the original offering plan, floor plans, evidence of building reserves and all kinds of other things that most people never think to ask for. And when I sublet, I insist that my tenant also have copies of most of these documents. The place we live is a condominium—so no board interview with a screening (or screaming, as one observer called it) committee—but if it had been a cooperative, I’m sure I’d have had more questions for them than they for me. I came away from my first book believing that multifamily homeownership can work—that it’s not a lot of gold bricks, as one critic worried—but I’m all too aware of the potential pitfalls.


Member of the Week: Dakota Irvin

Irvin HS1Dakota Irvin

Doctoral Candidate in History

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


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

I’m currently writing my dissertation on the history of the city of Ekaterinburg, Russia, during the Russian Revolution, Civil War, and first years of Soviet power (1917-1922). My research traces the experience and activities of institutions of municipal government during a time of state collapse and war, and how different regimes utilized local government to transform the urban landscape and shape the lives of its citizens. Essential components of urban life, such as general law and order, public works and construction, food provision, waste removal, and a multitude of others broke down, transformed, and were prioritized by different political factions seeking to build a new administrative state on the shattered foundations of the Russian Empire. I became interested in the topic of the Russian Civil War after I read Mikhail Sholokhov’s classic novel And Quiet Flows the Don. After spending time in the Urals cities of Cheliabinsk and Ekaterinburg for work and study, I decided I wanted to write a dissertation about this area, which is often neglected in the larger scholarship of the revolutionary time period.

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

This spring I will be a teaching assistant for a course on how Russia became an empire, from pre-medieval times to the Crimean War of 1853-1856. As well, I am hoping to teach my own course this summer on world history since 1945, where I will emphasize the urban dimension of the time period by assigning books like Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums and Designing Tito’s Capital by Brigitte Le Normand. Cities have been a major driver of the economic, social, and political transformations of the second half of the twentieth century, and I plan to focus on the development of cities such as Shenzhen, Mumbai, Lagos, and many others to help tell the larger story of their countries and global history in general. Admittedly, until now I have been mostly engaged with the historiography of Russia and theoretical writings on the state and state building for my dissertation, but I am looking to expand both my research and teaching horizons by incorporating more concepts from urban history and theory.

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

The centennial of the Russian Revolution last year led to an explosion of books, articles, special issues, and conferences, giving me plenty to read. However, most of all I have been looking forward to reading Yuri Slezkine’s 1,000-page epic The House of Government, a kind-of urban history of a major residential building in Moscow during Stalinism. The second volume of Stephen Kotkin’s biography of Stalin is also at the top of my list, but I would recommend his earlier work Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization, which is one of the finest urban histories of a Russian city. For the history of the Revolution it seems to me that Laura Engelstein’s Russia in Flames is the most interesting new survey/comprehensive account. Outside of Russian history, I’m intrigued by Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities and Alice Weinreb’s Modern Hungers: Food and Power in Twentieth-Century Germany.

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

For me, one of the most important aspects of researching my dissertation was spending time in the city I was writing about. Walking the streets of Ekaterinburg not only helped me choose my dissertation topic, but also allowed me to go to the exact location of the events I researched in the archives. My advice would be to select a city or space that you connect with and want to spend time in, as physical presence can help you understand people and events that would not be as clear from afar. Also, I would recommend thinking about cities comparatively and drawing on scholarship from other thematic fields and disciplines. While Russia has often been seen as the “other” compared to the Western world, reading histories of European cities demonstrated that there were nonetheless many universal components of the urban experience.

When you started working on your research topic, did you ever expect Russia would become so central to US political news? Has your approach to your topic shifted at all in the past year? And have noticed a change in how people react when you describe your topic?

This is a great question, and one I have been getting a lot lately since I returned from 16 months of dissertation research in Russia last month. When I first began studying Russia, one of my biggest complaints was that the country was largely ignored by the US media overall, and they were missing out on fascinating developments. However, in hindsight, it seems I got much more than I bargained for, and people are constantly asking me what I think of Vladimir Putin and the 2016 US elections. My approach to the dissertation hasn’t necessarily shifted since this newfound interest began, but I have begun following contemporary Russian politics more closely. I think studying local government and politics from 100 years ago in Russia allows me to better understand the complex inner workings of Russian politics and governance today, and highlights the often-superficial nature of US reporting on the topic. People have always been surprised or skeptical when I tell them I study Russia, but now when anyone asks the conversation immediately shifts to discussion of US politics, which I don’t always appreciate. All that being said, I’m cautiously glad that more people are becoming interested in Russia.

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


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.