Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Kara Murphy Schlichting

img_4194Kara Murphy Schlichting

Assistant Professor of History

Queens College, City University of New York

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

I thought I would be an environmental historian of the American West, particularly the Utah desert (really).  But my first year in graduate school at Rutgers reinforced to me that environment was also everyday and urban.  And there I was living in New York, jogging along the East River on the narrow path between the ConEd plant and the FDR drive.  I ended up researching how the characteristics of the coastal environment of the East River and Long Island Sound shaped urbanization and, in turn, the environmental change wrought by regional growth in metropolitan New York.  My first book New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore is forthcoming this spring with the University of Chicago Press.  This book examines the city’s geographic edges—the coastlines and waterways—and the small-time unelected locals and residents who quietly but indelibly shaped the modern city alongside power brokers like Robert Moses. It challenges the idea that urbanization is always a linear progression and that growth is always directed by central planners and government officials.  Ordinary citizens (like joggers in waterfront parks!) also played a role.

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

Besides the US survey, I teach courses on the history of New York City and the history of Queens and the outer boroughs. My forthcoming book grew from the question “what does the history of the city look like if we get off Manhattan, stop obsessing about the powerbrokers of city hall, and look at the people and spaces of the periphery?” Manhattan is only 7% of the city.  There is so much more to discover, and my outer boroughs research class encourages students to dig into this history.  This spring I am teaching a new urban environmental history seminar, which looks at cities nationwide.  I believe that urban history is inherently about environment–an idea I look forward to pitching to the students in my senior seminar this spring.

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

I have a continually growing list of publications I am looking forward to from 2018 alone. I just got a copy of Karen Routledge’s Do You See Ice? Inuit and Americans at Home and Away and ordered Andrew Kahrl’s Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline. I am also on the waitlist for Joanna B. Freeman’s The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War. I am not a historian of antebellum America, but it is one of my favorite eras to read about.

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

I would say read widely. This is advice I also give myself. There is so much to be read about New York that I could never read a history of anything besides the city I live in and research and teach about. But then I would miss the smart work underway (and on display at the UHA this past fall) on cities like Hamburg, with its growing storm surge concerns, or the problems of made land in San Francisco, two topics that are also crucial to New York City’s history. We all have very specific research agendas, but that research benefits from creative, comparative thinking.

Your research interests center on shorelines and waterfronts. When vacation time rolls around, are you a beach enthusiast or do you run for the hills? 

I am mystified that this is even a choice for people. The shore always wins for me. I have family in Rhode Island which has wide sandy beaches, I grew up on Long Island Sound’s rocky shores, and I live three blocks from the East River in Brooklyn, which has derelict piers and fancy new parks. I love them all equally, in any weather.

New Years Resolutions inspired by recent Members of the Week

By Avigail Oren

My best teacher this past year was the collective wisdom of the The Metropole’s many contributors. We will end 2018 with over 130 posts, totaling over 200,000 words—all of which I read, sometimes multiple times! While I learned a ton of history from our Metropolis of the Month posts, book reviews, Disciplining the City series, and Graduate Student Blogging Contest submissions, I learned just as much about how to live the good (historian) life from our Members of the Week.

In 2018 we featured 33 UHA members ranging from 2-year MA students to Senior Archivists. We ran two themed series of posts, the first featuring UHA conference committee chairs and the second featuring incoming board members. Also for the first time, we awarded a Member of the Week post to the winner of the #UHA2018 Dope Orange Sweater Twitter Award (DOSTA) bestowed on the attendee with the best conference-related twitter feed. Each interview yielded some insight or advice about research, teaching, careers, and how we as historians should engage with the world.

As I was looking over the most recent Member of the Week posts—those since #UHA2018—I picked out five bits of wisdom from the interviews that I thought would make great New Years Resolutions for historians.

Resolution 1: Cast wider nets

Although Emily Callaci was specifically referring to sources when she advised historians to “cast a wide net when it comes to thinking about what constitutes an archive,” there are many ways in which scholars can and should take a more expansive approach to their work. Indeed, a common theme in Member of the Week posts is the celebration of urban history as a multidisciplinary field. Many UHA members also write for, conference with, and teach other sub-disciplines that are distinct from (but adjacent to) urban studies.

And yet we can always find new ways to push boundaries, whether it’s poking at preconceptions, widening our geographic or temporal focus, examining new sources, or simply working to be inclusive of new colleagues or audiences. Let us all personally vow to take a step outside our comfort zone in 2019.

Resolution 2: Experiment with form

Certain formulas persist in writing and teaching history because they are tried-and-true methods of communicating complicated ideas. Other formulas persist for structural reasons—they’re easy for overworked scholars and teachers to execute. But Kevin Kruse’s Twitter offensive against Dinesh D’Souza, and Deborah Harkness’s best selling Discovery of Witches trilogy, and the explosion of history podcasts demonstrate that there’s a robust public appetite for history should we be willing to experiment with form.

Extending this into the classroom, Dorothee Brantz wrote that she is “playing with a new idea: rather than working with a set syllabus, [her next Masters seminar] will start with “What is a City?” from Deyan Sudjic’s, The Language of Cities and based on it, each student will identify topics of interest that they will independently pursue in research groups and then present to the rest of the class.” Whether taking on a student-guided approach, flipping a classroom, launching a YouTube channel, or writing a history book on Instagram, we can use 2019 as an opportunity to connect with new audiences while also deepening our connection to old ones.

Resolution 3: Infuse all work with scholarly knowledge

For the sizable continent of urbanists and historians who work partially or completely outside of the academy, it’s likely that many sympathize with the conundrum that Patrice Green articulated in her Member of the Week post: “Marrying my research and scholarly interests to the actual work I do has been a challenge.” While there are tasks that will never lend themselves towards critical inquiry—reconciling receipts with accounts, for example—the overwhelming majority of all work jives with aspects of scholarship. Every networking event demands an analysis of power relations. Most forms of activism and advocacy require an understanding of municipal, regional, and federal politics and policy. Serving a public, be they customers or clients, allows for constant consideration regarding the intersections of race, class, religion, gender, sexuality, and other myriad identities. Of course, none of these are the same as using your content expertise in your work. But at its heart scholarship is about the constant pursuit of new knowledge! So a 2019 resolution can be to reframe this challenge in a positive light, to find ways to apply some expertise to incongruent tasks, or to lean into a new expertise.

Resolution 4: Revisit an influential text

As our to-be-read piles grow and we feel increasingly behind on the current literature, it can be hard to justify devoting time to re-reading a book. But these experiences can be grounding and reinvigorating, as James Wolfinger reminded us when he described Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery as “the work that helped me see the power of history to illuminate the past and better understand the present.” “To me,” Wolfinger wrote, “Morgan analyzed the central issue for understanding the American experience: the vexed relationship between race and class throughout all of American history.” This resolution is simple: make time in 2019 to pick up that book that made you want to be a historian in the first place, inspired your dissertation topic, or that simply blew your mind the first time you read it.

Resolution 5: Fight against structures that marginalize, exploit, and imprison populations.

So many historians are already active, on so many fronts, in struggles for justice. Llana Barber wrote in her Member of the Week post that “Being an urban historian has made me particularly attentive to the fact that dramatic inequality can be created and maintained by restricting human mobility across space, and that force, law, and discourse have long been used in concert to contain marginalized populations.” Such clarity about our historical expertise can be put to good use in 2019, whether through grassroots organizing, expert testimony, education, or acts of protest.

Wishing everyone a happy new year!

 

 

The Metropole November Round Up

As we close out November with stuffed bellies and eyes toward impending December holidays, The Metropole’s editors would be remiss not to draw attention to one of the blog’s strongest months since its founding in 2017. With a new UHA board, filled with recent arrivals, readying to assume responsibilities in January, we profiled four incoming members: Llana Barber, James Wolfinger, Emily Callaci, and Dorothee Brantz. Get to know your new board!

December 1st also brought to an end to our most prolific Metro of the Month, Baltimore. In November, The Metropole published, counting our usual overview, eight pieces of scholarship on Charm City. We’ve provided a round up of each below. Delve into the history of the iconic Mid-Atlantic metropolis!

Baltimore, Maryland Row Houses
Row houses, Baltimore, Maryland, Carol M. Highsmith, November 1, 2008, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Mobs, Monuments, and Charm: A Baltimore Bibliography: From current 21st century popular culture attentions to the city (The Corner, The Wire, Beach House, Future Islands) to the story of Charm City’s unfortunately very influential residential segregation laws of the early 1910s, our annual overview/bibliography provides a bite sized bite of the larger whole.

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House in Negro section. Baltimore, Maryland, John Vachon, July 1938, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Race in Baltimore:

Longtime resident and Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matt Crenson, author of 2017’s Baltimore: A Political History, reflects on the city’s struggle with race relations. Equal parts academic analysis and memoir, Crenson juxtaposes his lived experience with the historical reality of the city.

harveyjohnson

The Brotherhood of Liberty and Baltimore’s Place in the Black Freedom Struggle:

Virginia Tech historian Dennis Patrick Halpin draws upon his forthcoming work on the city, A Brotherhood of Liberty: Black Reconstruction and its Legacies in Baltimore, 1865-1920, to discusses the history of Baltimore’s first black-led civil rights organization (and one of the first nationally) and the struggles it encountered to deliver the rights of citizenship to Charm City’s African American community.

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Baltimore (Convention Center Construction), Marion S. Trikosko, December 2, 1977, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Drug War in Baltimore: The Failure of the “Kingpin” Strategy in Charm City:

Walsh University historian Will Cooley delivers an account of 1970s and 1980s law enforcement drug policies in Baltimore. Unsurprisingly, the “Kingpin” approach failed to fully address the tragedy of the drug trade in the city. Cooley writes deft historical analysis with a journalistic eye in one of The Metropole’s most popular pieces of the last four months.

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Baltimore, Maryland. Thursday night shoppers in a line outside a movie theatre, Marjory Collins, 1943, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

When Baltimore Was Hollywood East: Racial Exclusion and Cultural Development in the 1970s:

The world does not have enough cultural history that manages to both provide insight about material culture while also exploring how such cultural productions contribute to larger municipal policy goals, or in this case, failed to. University of Rutgers-Camden historian Mary Rizzo delves into 1970s Charm City to explore how municipal leaders and others hoped to create a new Mid-Atlantic Tinseltown that would also undergird urban renewal efforts.

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From the Baltimore Evening Sun, June 3, 1959.

“Slum Clearance a la Mode”: The Battle for Baltimore’s Tyson Street:

As most urban historians know, highway construction in America’s cities hollowed out metropolitan America particularly for working class African Americans and other minorities who found themselves forcibly removed from their communities. Yet Seattle University historian Emily Lieb, whose forthcoming book examines the West Baltimore neighborhood of Rosemont, explores the question “But what happened when white people were in the way?” Her account captures numerous problematic aspects of “slum clearance” particularly in regard to race and class.

Mural in Baltimore, Maryland
Mural, Baltimore, Maryland, Carol M. Highsmith, September 2008, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Segregated by Design: “Free Choice” and Public Housing in Baltimore:

Rhonda Y. Williams published her groundbreaking work, The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles Against Urban Inequality in 2004. Urban planner Sara Patenaude also saw in the city’s public housing history important historical data points. In this thumbnail summary of her dissertation, Patenaude documents how “choice” in public housing failed to lead to greater opportunity or integration for black residents.

Paul Coates, 1971 (courtesy of Harry)
Paul Coates during his Black Panthers days, 1971, courtesy of Harry

Activist Businesses and Baltimore’s Overlooked History of Social Movements:

When discussing social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, one often envisions collective action and critique of capitalist organization and impulses. But, what about those “activist entrepreneurs” who attempted to meld social justice with business? Drawing upon his recent book, From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, University of Baltimore historian Josh Clark Davis explores Baltimore’s forgotten social justice enterprises.

We look forward to delivering more content in December!

Featured image: Bohemian Beer special, Hampden neighborhood, Baltimore Maryland, Ryan Reft, 2015. 

Member of the Week: Dorothee Brantz

TUB-BrantzProfDorothee04112013Dorothee Brantz

Center for Metropolitan Studies

Technische Universität Berlin, Germany

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

I am currently working on two new projects – one about the impact of seasons on urban life in the US and Europe between 1900 and 2000. The other asks about the role of nature in the transition from war to peace in 20th-century Berlin. As an urban environmental historian who doesn’t conceive of cities as simply human-made spaces, I am very interested in the ways natural forces continue to shape urban developments. Moreover, I am very curious about questions of temporality and how they manifest themselves in urban practices. Well, and as a historian of warfare and as a citizen in this contemporary world, I also keep wondering about the meaning of peace, which is quite puzzling to me.

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

This semester I am actually on sabbatical, which is great, not the least because it gives me a chance to really think about what I want to teach next semester to our MA students in urban history. Currently, I am playing with a new idea: rather than working with a set syllabus, we will start with “What is a City?” from Deyan Sudjic’s, The Language of Cities and based on it, each student will identify topics of interest that they will independently pursue in research groups and then present to the rest of the class. It’s an attempt to get students actively engaged in what they learn and to get them thinking about developing research topics. I am certainly curious if that can work…

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

Right now I am reading Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. She is an award-winning journalist and her book is absolutely fascinating in how it moves through the centuries making all kinds of rainy connections all the while telling a beautiful story. It’s a different kind of writing, maybe less academic but in that maybe also more accessible and I must say I learned a ton of new things. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how we as urban scholars write books, and for whom? As an urban environmental historian I am very interested in generating a dialog with politicians, and urban policy makers as well as with a larger public, and traditional history books might not be the best way to do that.

As far as my own publications go, I just co-wrote a short piece with my colleague Avi Sharma, which was a very inspiring experience because it forced us to closely discuss a topic both on the level of content and narrative.

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

Think broadly about sources and potential inspirations! By that I mean read of course, but also walk, listen, smell, touch, and watch. Walk through the city and look around at urban life throughout the year. As urban scholars we have the great fortune to live in our field of research, so we should use all of our senses to tickle our minds and to continuously ask ourselves why we are studying the urban, why is it important? Be inspired by life!

Tell us about the transition from American to German universities. What was unexpectedly joyful about the move, and what made for a difficult adjustment?

Returning to Germany after receiving all of my secondary and university education in the US, it was quite a transition, not the least because I was trained as a historian, but now direct an interdisciplinary research center, so I had to learn a lot about the day-to-day workings of interdisciplinarity and also about management. The Center for Metropolitan Studies is a wonderful place because it brings together German and American perspectives on urban studies, in large part we usually have guest researchers from the US and Canada.

Member of the Week: Emily Callaci

faculty-callaci-300x300Emily Callaci

Associate Professor of History

University of Wisconsin, Madison

@ecallaci

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

I’ve been working for a few years now on a project on the history of reproductive technology in Africa in the 1960s through the present day.  It’s not an urban history project in the conventional sense, but it did grows out of my first book, which has a section examining the role of Tanzanian family planning nurses as public intellectuals who shaped public debates about gender, national sovereignty and youth sexuality in a city filled with newly arrived youth migrants. In the process of interviewing some of these retired Tanzanian nurses, I became interested in a more transnational story about the circulation of biomedical contraceptives in Africa. So far, this project has taken me to archives in the US, UK, Switzerland, Kenya and Tanzania, and in the near future, I’m hoping to travel to several archives in Nigeria.

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

This semester I am teaching my Twentieth Century African History Survey and an MA thesis writing colloquium. One of my favorite classes to offer is an undergraduate course called The Global African City, which explores themes in global urban history through three case studies: the Swahili coast, Johannesburg and Lagos. In the future, I’m hoping to include Cairo as well, but I need to read and learn a lot more before I can teach with any confidence about that city. For that class, I’m always looking for interesting primary sources to share with my students—archeological site maps, works of art, noir fiction, Onitsha market literature, graffiti, pop songs, pamphlets, photography—and of course, this feeds into my interest in “street archives.”

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

I am very excited about two recent books in African urban history—one that I have already read, and one that I have not yet read. The first is Kenda Mutongi’s book Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi. Matatus are the vans and buses that are Kenya’s main mode of urban transport. They emerged in the 1960s out of an ad hoc informal sector venture, and over time, became the public transportation system, serving 70% of the population. They are an essential part of the infrastructure of urban Kenya: when the matatu drivers go on strike, the city grinds to a halt. Through ethnography, archival research and interviews, Kenda Mutongi uncovers a vast urban network of matatu owners, drivers, passengers, mechanics, graffiti artists, sound system engineers, politicians, gang members and investors.  She uses the fascinating history of the matatu industry as a critical lens into the complex political, economic and cultural history of Nairobi.

The second, which I have not yet read, is Joanna Grabski’s book Art World City: The Creative Economy of Artists and Urban Life in Dakar. I love the idea about thinking about a city, its economies and its global linkages, through the lens of the art world. Plus, Dakar has such an amazing art scene, so the book is sure to be a visual treat as well. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

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

I would say cast a wide net when it comes to thinking about what constitutes an archive. I did not go into my dissertation research planning to use pulp fiction and Christian self-help books and family planning pamphlets and pop songs as my main sources, but I ended up learning more from them than I ever could have anticipated.

For you first book, you worked with unconventional sources that you called a “street archive.” What would you collect if you were to build an archive of the street on which you currently live?

That’s a neat question. OK, here’s one idea. For at least the past two years, all over Madison, people have been putting signs on their front lawns that say “In this house we believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is Illegal, Science is Real, Love is Love, Kindness is Everything.” Of course, I agree with all of these statements. But I wonder what kind of work these signs do in a place like Madison:  a predominantly white liberal enclave in a state that voted for Donald Trump, and a state that consistently ranks among the worst in the country in terms of the wellbeing of Black people. Who is the intended audience for these lawn signs? How do households collectively decide to put them up? What is the actual effect of these signs on how people feel moving through Madison? Do these lawn signs do anything to make Madison a more inclusive, equitable, diverse place?  Conversely, to what extent do the lawn signs serve some kind of emotional need of the white middle class families who live in these neighborhoods? I don’t want to be a cynical jerk about it, but I can imagine some really interesting insights coming from an analysis of these signs as a kind of street textuality. I think you could write an interesting history of Madison liberalism through a collection of signs that people have posted on their front lawns over time. I wonder if anyone has been collecting or archiving these.

Member of the Week: James Wolfinger

James Wolfinger September, 2015James Wolfinger

Professor of History and Education

DePaul University

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

I am currently working on a book about a World War II U.S. airman named Bert Julian.  Julian grew up in the Orange, N.J. area around 1910, in an era when the New Jersey suburbs were being more fully incorporated into New York City and people still rode to town in horse-drawn buggies.  Julian survived the Depression by doing odd jobs and sleeping on people’s couches.  He joined the Army after Pearl Harbor, trained as a waist gunner on a B 24 bomber, and was stationed in New Guinea, where he flew reconnaissance missions in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines.  Julian’s plane crashed in northern New Guinea and he was ultimately captured, interrogated, and killed by a Japanese officer in the commission of a war crime.  The inherent interest of Julian’s death coupled with the larger forces he experienced as an ordinary person swept up in huge events—world war and attendant globalization, urbanization, technological advance, and Depression—all drew me to this story.  What particularly fascinates me is how a young man who knew small town New Jersey, with its neighborhood stores, corner taverns, and concrete sidewalks, wound up on his knees in a muddy clearing in New Guinea with a man standing over him with a sword, screaming at him in Japanese.

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

I teach a class for our graduate history education students with the prosaic title “Readings in American History.”  The class is chronological and covers American history from the colonial period to the present.  I like teaching it because the reading load emphasizes to future teachers that they are entering an intellectual occupation, it allows me to teach classics as well as cutting edge scholarship, and it has deepened my knowledge of many aspects of U.S. history.  Every book I read, whether it is on urban history or not, gives me new ideas on how to think about history, write history, ask historical questions.

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

I am excited about a new book that I am editing for Temple University Press, with the working title “African American Politics in the City of Brotherly Love.” Covering the period from the Great Migration to today, the book brings together mostly young historians who are doing fresh research on black politics in twentieth century Philadelphia.  There is no other book like it—on Philadelphia or other cities—and it gives me the opportunity to work with exciting new authors and help bring their work to a larger audience.  “African American Politics” will analyze formal politics, community organizing, women’s leadership, and many other topics.  It will focus on Philadelphia while offering a model for how scholars might examine the history of other cities.  In today’s political climate, this book will speak to historians but I believe it will also find a much larger audience.

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

Follow your passion!  Research and write about what interests you.  My daughter is currently an undergraduate in college, and I always tell her: “If you don’t do what you love, if you don’t try to make it your life’s work now, then you never will.”  I grew up in Oklahoma City, and I remember as a child listening to Boston Bruins hockey games on my dad’s old shortwave radio.  I was probably the only person in Oklahoma doing so!  Large Northern cities seemed so far away, so foreign to me as a child.  I wanted to learn more about them, live in one of them, be urban.  I have always been fascinated by cities, how they work and how people live in them.  Living in and exploring cities was my passion then, and now.

Do you have a favorite book about teaching? Is it one that’s personally resonant and meaningful? Or is it one from which you learned the most and gleaned the best advice?

Let me change the question a bit, to a favorite book to teach.  More than any other book, the work that helped me see the power of history to illuminate the past and better understand the present is Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom.  To me, Morgan analyzed the central issue for understanding the American experience: the vexed relationship between race and class throughout all of American history.  I tell my students that if there’s one book that they should read as a starting point for understanding the promise and problems of the United States, this is the one.

Member of the Week: Llana Barber

Barber - PhotoLlana Barber

Associate Professor, American Studies

College at Old Westbury (SUNY)

 

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

My first book, Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000, explored the history of Dominican and Puerto Rican experiences with urban crisis in Lawrence, MA, and Latinx activism to transform the city. When it was published last year, I thought that would mark the end of the project. Instead, it has brought me the opportunity to travel widely to discuss my research, and these conversations continually push my ideas to evolve. So, although I am no longer in the archives in Lawrence, I remain engaged in this research.

My new project, however, is quite different. I am researching the incarceration, interdiction, repatriation, and deportation of Haitian migrants from the 1970s to 1990s. I argue that this militarized migrant exclusion was central to the formation of the U.S. as a nativist state. While this project does not have a distinctly urban focus, there are surprising methodological overlaps. Being an urban historian has made me particularly attentive to the fact that dramatic inequality can be created and maintained by restricting human mobility across space, and that force, law, and discourse have long been used in concert to contain marginalized populations. My work applies these urban history insights to the study of national borders and American empire.

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

The College at Old Westbury (SUNY) is a small, public, liberal arts college with a longstanding social-justice mission and a student body that is diverse by nearly every metric. My scholarship weaves together several different fields, and I am fortunate that I get to teach in all of them: immigration history, urban history, Latinx history, and the history of U.S. imperialism. My students often have strong opinions and immense curiosity about the past. Their outrage over injustice and their enthusiasm for social movements keep these histories vivid and new for me, so being in the classroom consistently reignites my drive to excavate the past. My students never let me lose sight of the “so what?” in my scholarship; we feed in each other a faith that understanding systems of oppression will help us dismantle them.

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

I loved Julio Capó’s Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940! His work shows the rich results of applying queer theory and transnational methodologies to urban history. Also, I thought Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 broke important ground in uncovering the relationship between the carceral state and the nativist state.

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

As obsessed as I am with systems, spaces, and structures, history is about people. If your work is missing people’s voices, it is missing the point.

Your undergraduate degree is in dance! What historical event or episode would you want to be commissioned to choreograph a dance about, and where would you stage the performance?

Great question! Yes, my undergraduate degree is indeed in dance, but I was always more interested in the cultural context (who danced and where? who watched and why?), than the content. So, if I may indulge my fancy here: rather than choreograph a dance performance about a specific historic event, I would rather take people out dancing. Popular dance cultures still thrive, and their transformations over time create an embodied record of the past. Similar to oral histories, dance cultures need to be interpreted carefully as historical sources, but there is a lot to be learned about a city’s past on its dancefloors!

Member of the Week: Patrice Green

Image.pngPatrice Green

MA/MLIS Candidate

University of South Carolina

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

My current research is on the history of the United States Space and Rocket Center, its establishment, and the development of its premier program, Space Camp. I’m looking at how the Center cultivated a national cultural identity developed during the Cold War/Space Race. I was a space camp counselor once upon a time, and those experiences, along with my fascination with the absurdity of Cold War America, led me to pursue research on the institution.

Describe your current archival work. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarly interests?

I’m a graduate research and archival assistant for the UofSC Center for Civil Rights History and Research, where I process archival collections related to civil rights in South Carolina. I’ve also just submitted a national register nomination for a home, lending my skills to historic preservation and property research. Marrying my research and scholarly interests to the actual work I do has been a challenge; my love for libraries, museums, and facilitating research helps bring them together, but for the most part they remain exclusive.

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

I’m looking forward to Audra Wolfe’s newest book Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science (2018). I’m very interested in the development of popular science, people’s accessibility to it (making bottle rockets in the garage vs buying an Eagle rocket kit), and the overall understanding of the value of science to Americans from WWII through the Cold War (however we’re defining it this week). This work, however, seems to lend itself more to how far we go in using science as our default definition of “progress.”

What advice do you have for first-time attendees of a UHA conference?

My advice for first time attendees is to scout networking opportunities before they actually get to the conference in the same way they would before a campus visit. I wish I would have done more research on the presenters and their work so as to have a better idea of who I wanted to meet, why, and what kind of connections I could make as far as jobs, collaborative opportunities, and furthering my education. Others may be looking for committee members.

What do you ideally hope to do when you finish your MA/MLIS? Any professional goals you’re looking forward to achieving?

Once I finish the program, I’d like to work reference and help facilitate research on an almost knowledge-management level. I see myself as a liaison librarian for a history department (or for humanities, depending on budgets), and as someone involved in information or science and technology policy. It would be nice to land a federal government gig as a librarian or historian for the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution (specifically the National Air and Space Museum), the National Park Service, or even NASA, if I’m dreaming big. I’m also still considering doctoral programs for history or information science.

 

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From the Library of Congress Junior Fellows Program annual Display Day

A Week for our Members

 

This tweet, for me, sums up the experience of #UHA2018. Throughout the conference I was repeatedly struck by the collegiality, generosity, and support that our association’s members showed to one another. I heard several first-time attendees remark that this spirit is what set the UHA conference apart, in their minds, from their less intimate and more intimidating conference experiences.

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The South Carolina Supreme Court Building in Columbia, the capital city of the state. In 1971 the court moved into the Neo-classical building, an old post office building completed in 1921, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, May 7, 2017, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

I should not have been surprised, because I have the great fortune to work regularly with UHA members who give freely of their time, with the utmost enthusiasm. The Metropole would not, could not, exist without our contributors volunteering their time to write and revise and find images and retweet our posts. The editors do not take it for granted, and are grateful for everyone who has believed in our vision for this public square.

This past week, I watched that vision actualize:

At the gala dinner, I was seated across from one of the University of South Carolina’s undergraduate history majors. Over paella they told me about their research on public housing in Atlanta, and because of the Member of the Week series I was able to connect them with Katie Schank, who writes on this very topic. They met the next day!

 

Without knowing that Amanda Seligman would attend our panel, I used a quote from her Digital Summer School post on the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee as the basis for my presentation. It was an honor to be the first person to ever quote Seligman to Seligman.

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A touch of Columbia’s vernacular architecture from the late 1970s, Greyhound Bus Depot, Columbia, South Carolina, photograph by John Margolies, 1979, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

For many attendees, the sites and architecture surrounding the conference–the Columbia State House, Main Street, modernist buildings, and U of SC campus–were all the more captivating for having read the Columbia Metropolis of the Month posts and having a foundational knowledge of the city’s history. I re-read Robert Greene’s post on the Congaree swamp during the drive down to Congaree State Park, which contextualized our visit and brought the swamp’s human history into focus.

So to everyone who has contributed or who will contribute in the future, and to everyone who shares and retweets and engages in conversation about the work of our members, it was a gift to spend the past week clapping for you and the strong association and field that you have helped to create.

Thank you. I am already counting down the days until Detroit and #UHA2020.

Avigail

Featured image (at top): Street scene, Columbia, S.C., 1909, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Member of the Week: Robin Waites

Robin Waites Dec 2016_1Robin Waites

Executive Director

Historic Columbia

@RobinWaites

@HistColumbia

Describe what you’re currently working on at Historic Columbia. What projects are currently keeping you occupied?

Over the last five years Historic Columbia has been engaged in a complete overhaul of the interpretive frame and content delivery at four of the six historic sites that we manage. Our goals include ensuring that all individuals associated with a site are represented in the narrative and that visitors are challenged to think more critically about the past in new ways. In 2014 we opened the only museum dedicated to the Reconstruction Era inside the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Here visitors experience South Carolina’s capital city from 1869 through 1873, through the eyes of a teenage Wilson and consider how his experience in Columbia influenced his public policy as president. In May we re-opened the Hampton-Preston Mansion with a tour narrative that places the lives and stories of the enslaved individuals as equal to that of the white owners.

What is one of your favorite examples of public history work that Historic Columbia has done, and why?

I’ve been at Historic Columbia for 16 years so its hard to select just one, but I’d say among my favorites has been the urban archaeological investigation at the Mann-Simons Site, which was owned and occupied by the same African American family from the late 1830s to 1970. This effort started in 2006 as the master’s project of an anthropology student, Jakob Crockett (now Ph.D.). Today one small residence stands on the property, but historically the site was a complex that included a grocery store, lunch counter, and residential units that housed both family members and renters. The excavation uncovered the footings for each of the buildings, as well as close to 60,000 artifacts that allowed Dr. Crockett and, subsequently, Historic Columbia staff to completely shift the interpretation at the site. These former buildings are now represented by metal “ghost structures” that comprise the basis for an outdoor museum.

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

I’m currently reading Blood in the Water in preparation for the plenary session that includes income UHA president Heather Ann Thompson. Other works that have been enlightening to me in gaining insight into South Carolina’s complex past include Tom Brown’s Civil War Canon and Katherine Chaddock’s Uncompromising Activist.

What advice do you have for urban historians who want to work with the public but might not know where to start?

Just reach out to your local museums and preservation organizations! We are often generalists trying to get information to the public. You likely have more in-depth content knowledge and are more abreast of current scholarship that can be utilized to enhance and often drive interpretive changes at museums and historic sites. We can be a platform for you to share your research and provide access to a broader population. We are also a great resource for your students!

What historic site in Columbia do you hope that UHA 2018 conference attendees make a point to go see? What is not to be missed?

Of course I hope that attendees with visit the house museums that Historic Columbia manages, particularly Hampton-Preston, Mann-Simons and the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, which experienced the aforementioned interpretive and physical upgrades. The conference tours are a great way to experience local history, but taking a walk on the Statehouse grounds or through the historic campus of the University of South Carolina will prove to be both informative and restorative. Our Main Street is experiencing a renaissance, particularly in the 1500 and 1600 blocks where Reconstruction-era buildings are being adaptively re-used for locally-owned restaurants, a bowling alley, art house move theater and more.