Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Tracy Neumann

BilbaoTracy Neumann

Associate Professor of History

Wayne State University

@tracy_neumann

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

My current book project looks at how urban and international development became linked after World War II through the activities of philanthropic foundations, international organizations, and universities. I came to the project through my first book, which talks in part about Pittsburgh as an international model for urban revitalization first in the 1950s and in again in the 1980s. I wanted to know more about how urban planning models are developed and circulated internationally, and why certain models become enshrined as “best practices” while others never gain traction. When I got into the archives, I realized that the same people popped up over and over again in domestic and international urban development initiatives supported by institutions such as the Ford Foundation and the UN, and I’m trying to map the network of actors who influenced urban development globally in the second half of the 20th century.

The other project I’m really excited about right now is a Global Urban History “Elements” series Michael Goebel, Joseph Ben Prestel, and I just signed on to edit for Cambridge University Press. (We also edit the Global Urban History blog.) We’ve managed to enlist some really incredible global urban historians to write the initial volumes in the series, which should begin to appear in the next year-and-a-half.

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

This semester, both of my classes directly relate to my scholarship: I’m teaching a general education course on the History of Detroit and a course on Modern American Cities, which is a mix of undergrads and grad students.

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

 To be honest, I am *most* excited about the stack of mystery novels on my nightstand (it’s spring break for us right now). Once I’m finished with those, though, I want to check out Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century, edited by Lily Gesimer, Brent Cebul, and Mason Williams. Clay Howard’s The Closet and the Cul-de-Sac: The Politics of Sexual Privacy in Northern California is out soon, and I can’t wait to pick that up. I’m also looking forward to two forthcoming books on Detroit as a borderland, one on immigration and policing in the first part of the twentieth century by Ashley Johnson Bavery and one by my Wayne State colleague Karen Marrero on the role of indigenous and mixed blood peoples in the development of the region in the eighteenth century. On a longer time horizon, I’m really eager to read Ayala Levin’s work on how Israeli architecture and planning models were exported to Africa, Paige Glotzer’s work on U.S. suburban housing developers and their ties to transnational financiers and real estate interests, and whatever Nancy Kwak and Lily Geismer publish next, because their first books are two of my favorites.

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

 I’d echo the same advice others have offered in this space: read widely outside of your field and outside of history. Take classes on topics outside of your primary geographic and temporal interests, and in other departments. Talk to geographers, sociologists, and anthropologists and learn something about their research methodologies. Ask good questions and think carefully about the scale at which they can best be answered. And even though you didn’t actually ask for it, here’s my top piece of advice for young scholars about to go to graduate school (or already there) in any discipline: join your union! Organizing with your grad union will give you an invaluable education in the politics of academic labor and the structures of higher education.

How has being at Wayne State shaped the last few years of your life, intellectually and personally, and how do you feed that back into the work you are doing in the classroom, on Twitter, and as an all-around human being?

 Wayne State has been a really good fit for me, both in terms of my research and teaching interests—we are a public research university with an urban mission, and Detroit is a fascinating place to be for an urban historian—and in terms of the kinds of activities I care about as a faculty member. For instance, I love that I’m able to partner with organizations like the Detroit Historical Society to get students in my classes involved with community-driven, hands-on history projects, like conducting oral histories in Detroit’s Mexicantown this term. Urban history aside, my primary interests as a faculty member are graduate education and academic labor issues. I got my PhD (and my current job) in 2011, which as we know from recent AHA data was the only year in which there was a small uptick in history jobs after the 2008 recession. I’m still mind-boggled by how fast the academic labor market and career horizons for PhD students have changed over the past decade, both because of the acceleration of casual labor and because of heightened expectations for peer-reviewed publications and evidence of public engagement for entry-level jobs. I’m proud of how my Department and University have responded: we recently started a public history program to better prepare our master’s students for the kinds of jobs they actually end up getting, and we have been part of the last two rounds of the AHA Career Diversity Initiative, which has led us to rethink our doctoral curriculum and become more expansive in our efforts to support our doctoral students’ career goals. And I deeply value being at an institution with a unionized faculty; I’m one of my Department’s shop stewards, and I really enjoy the work I do with the union.

Member of the Week: Ken Alyass

50211478_1237703249711565_3079804422419644416_o (1)Kenneth Alyass

Senior, Wayne State University

History Major

@kenalyass

 

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

I’ve been admitted to Northwestern and Harvard’s history PhD programs, and the project I proposed to both of those schools focus on Modern American urban history post-1970. More specifically, I want to study the intersection of suburbanization, the carceral state, and deregulation of finance in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. My ultimate goal is to understand the suburbanization of poverty in the post “riot” period of urban America. This history draws my interest because I live in suburb that isn’t lily white, affluent, or lined with white picket fences. Poverty and structural issues are so evident all around me, and I couldn’t help but notice that only a few miles north of my hometown, there were a couple neighborhoods where the wealthiest families in Michigan lived. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, what I was seeing was what scholars call uneven development.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your work on your honors thesis?

Currently I am taking a seminar called “Modern American Cities,” with my professor and thesis advisor, Tracy Neumann. The class takes a look at postwar American urban history. We’re reading books like Sugrue’s The Origins of Urban Crisis, Andrew Needham’s book on the politics of energy production, Power Lines, and a few other interesting pieces. This class directly fits in with my thesis work. I’m writing a paper preliminary titled “Law and Order, with Justice” Redevelopment and the Rise of the Carceral State in Detroit, which is the second part of my honors thesis.

What books or articles have you read recently that made an impression?

Julio Capó Jr.’s book, Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940, was particularly impactful on me. The book is a really interesting examination of Miami’s queer community, with a focus on policing the community, before 1940. It is slightly unusual for me because I mostly study postwar urban history, so it is refreshing to see a book that goes a little further back to unpack the early origins of policing, urban renewal, redevelopment, and even gentrification. One of my favorite things about it is that it approaches urban history with a more American Studies perspective, so he looks at visual media and architecture, something not all historians do.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students preparing an honors thesis related to urban history or urban studies?

Make sure you understand that urban history is really a combination of different thematic fields. We’re all doing social, political, economic, cultural, and other histories when we write about urban places. Having a grasp of the basics of those fields comes to be really helpful when you’re trying to understand them in unison. Another piece of advise I wish I took early on is read some spatial theory. People like Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey have been super influential in how I understand “space” – even if theory is a little hard to read.

You are graduating soon and leaving Wayne State! What will you take with you from your experience there, and how do you think what you learned (and who you met) will shape the next few years of your life?

I’ll argue this until I’m blue in the face: there is no better place to study labor and urban history than at Wayne State University. We have the largest labor and urban affairs archive in the nation right on campus, and from my first course here to my last, I have utilized the collections there. Tracy Neumann, David Goldberg, and Paul Kershaw, have been great influences on me. As I continue down the road into academia, their advice on how to be a good scholar and person will stick with me for a long time.

Member of the Week: Hector Berdecia-Hernandez

s200_hector.berdeciaHéctor J. Berdecía-Hernández

Graduate Student, Program in Historic Preservation

University of Pennsylvania

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

My current research focuses on vernacular architecture and construction policies in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean from the late 19th century until the early 20th century. I am interested in its impact at the urban scale in the Spanish Antilles. After the U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico and Cuba in the early decades of the 20th century, after the Spanish American War of 1898, new construction technologies, materials and forms were brought to the islands. These changes had a profound impact on the urban space that has not been studied yet. How did the colonial relationship with the U.S. develop a new architecture that merged with previous Spanish urban traditions? How did these influence newly emerging urban forms on the island? These are some of the questions I seek to address in my current and future research.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your current or future research?

I am not currently taking any urban history-related courses this semester, but next year I will be taking an urban preservation seminar that focuses on urban history. As an undergrad at the University of Puerto Rico, I had the opportunity to take diverse urban history courses and seminars. In one seminar I studied the history of historic preservation between the 1940s and 1970s in Puerto Rico and its influence on the urban landscape, specifically on the early preservation policies for the historic city of Old San Juan.

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

I am currently working with some colleagues on a publication in collaboration with the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture (ICP) and the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office (PRSHPO) titled A Citizen’s Guide for the Conservation of the Built Heritage in Puerto Rico. This guide aims to educate and help residents around the island to protect and develop research on historic buildings. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, there was an increased need to help historic property owners, especially in municipalities with a rich urban heritage such as Ponce, Arroyo, Coamo, San German and Aguadilla. The citizen’s guide will be translated into English and will be published this year.

What advice do you have for new or incoming Masters students in urban-related fields?

My advice would be to take one or two courses related to urban studies, urban planning, urbanism or a related field. Sometimes you can find urban history courses in other academic departments such as history, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, geography and even in the law school. Ask for the syllabus and talk to professors. Also, choose any topic related to your interest in urban history if you have the chance to work on research in a class. Lastly, find academic and professional mentors that can help and guide you.

You are a recent transplant to Philadelphia! What has been the highlight of exploring your new city? And how are you feeling about winter?

Philadelphia is a beautiful and great city. I recently worked on an urban history project in Germantown and I learned so much about the city’s history, its development and the urban renewal policies of the mid-20th century. Philadelphia is a city with many layers of history, so it will probably take me many years to learn everything from its rich past. I already explored West Philadelphia, Center City, Germantown and South Philly. Still, there are many more neighborhoods I am wanting to visit such as the great Latino and Puerto Rican community living in the north side of Philadelphia. It’s my first winter after moving from Puerto Rico, so I am learning to deal with the cold and the snowstorms. Still, I am very happy in Philly.

 

 

Member of the Week: Patricia Ploehn

4y6a6631Patricia Ploehn  

Senior, Honors College, College of Charleston

Double major in Historic Preservation and Art History, minor in Southern Studies

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

I am currently involved in two different research projects! I am continuing my research on the interpretation of monuments by seeking out more contentious monuments here in South Carolina, particularly ones located in Columbia and Charleston. I feel that the memorial landscapes we exist in should be meeting grounds where people can gather together to discuss controversial topics with open hearts and minds, and I believe that I have a responsibility to my community to use my passion for art and preservation to open up this discussion and keep it flowing. I am also currently working on research for my Senior Seminar course that pertains to the topic of Utopias, specifically Modernist ideas about reform in both societal and architectural ways. I am especially interested in Bruno Taut and his glass architecture and the idea of purposeful yet beautiful utopian spaces.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your work on your bachelor’s essay?

I am currently taking a Historic Preservation course on Preservation and Community Planning: Contemporary Planning Issues that tackles the topics of contemporary development, sustainability, and climate. I believe it is vital that we understand what development looks like when faced with increasing high-impact weather events and how we can change our policies and development standards to better fit the historic urban fabric we already have. Sustaining our historic buildings and preparing the urban areas around us for various changes in climate ties in directly with the idea of living in a utopian space: what we want our future cities to look like, and how can we change the cities we exist in now to allow our populations to thrive sustainably.

What books or articles have you read recently that made an impression?

I recently read a short article describing the work of photographer Jessica Ingram and her project Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial that documents historically significant locations throughout the South. Ingram is featured in the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art’s exhibition SOUTHBOUND, an exhibition of 21st century Southern photography here in Charleston, and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the exhibition and see her work up close. After viewing the photographs on display, I went to her website and scrolled through all of the Road to Midnight photos and read the descriptions. Her work is heartbreakingly beautiful, depicting landscapes of fields, roads, and houses that hold deeper, darker histories of racial violence. I find it so compelling that calm landscapes like the ones Ingram photographs can have silent histories that no one notices; it makes me see the landscape of Charleston differently, and I find myself pausing often to wonder about the hidden histories in my own city.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students preparing a thesis project or seminar paper related to urban history or urban studies?

I would offer this advice: keep an open mind! Find what you are passionate about and dive deeper into it. Be open to your professors about your passions, and they will definitely push you in directions you never thought you’d go. There are so many facets of urban history that have yet to be fully explored! Try looking into subjects you normally wouldn’t and combining those subjects with what you’re passionate about. I never thought I could combine my love for preservation and my fascination with architectural memorial forms, but here we are! When it comes to preparing for a thesis or seminar presentation, I would say that practicing your presentation is a very important aspect. Getting comfortable with the material is one thing, but even just knowing when to breathe and make eye contact with your audience is something else entirely!

What do you hope the next stage or season of your life looks like? Any big (or small) goals?

I know that the next season of life for me includes some very big changes, including graduating from college, finding housing here in Charleston, and most importantly finding a job in the preservation field! I know that through all of these changes, though, I will be able to maintain my friendships here in Charleston and also continue in my passions. I want my life to be focused on spreading hope in my community through projects that directly address issues in preservation, conservation, and urban development.

Member of the Week: Michael Glass

mglassMichael Glass

Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton University

@m_r_glass

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

As a former New York City high school teacher, I’ve long been interested in educational inequality. For my M.A. thesis, I studied the 1950s school desegregation movement in Harlem, portions of which were recently published in the JUH. But two events really shifted my thinking as I was entering graduate school. First, in the wake of the uprising in Ferguson, the DOJ report revealed that Ferguson police officers had become de facto tax collectors, and black residents a prime revenue source. Second, on the sixtieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 2014, reports showed growing segregation in suburban school districts, especially in nearby Long Island. Both flatly contradicted the dominant narrative that all suburbs are uniformly prosperous. My hunch, as an aspiring historian, was that both reflected long-term processes rather than recent developments.

So, I turned my attention from New York City to its suburbs. My dissertation, “Schooling Suburbia: The Politics of School Finance in Postwar Long Island,” examines conflicts over school funding and school segregation in the decades after World War II. Like Detective Lester Freamon in The Wire, I follow the money to explore the interaction of public education, property markets, and state and local politics in seven different Long Island districts. To do so, I have had to teach myself about a number of complex institutions—from zoning ordinances to mortgage finance, municipal bonds to property assessment, budget referenda to teacher salaries. My goal is to show how ordinary folks experienced and shaped these structural processes. I also focus on several key political episodes, including school desegregation movements, policy debates over state aid, and school finance lawsuits. In short, I trace how American suburbs have become so segregated and unequal, as well as recover the political campaigns that have challenged those inequalities.

 

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

I am actually not teaching at the moment. I have a fellowship this year, which has allowed me to focus exclusively on research and writing. With the time and space to reflect, I’ve been doing some reading on pedagogy. Thanks to the simple rules from Helen Sword’s The Writer’s Diet, I’m trying to whip my prose into shape, and hopefully I’ll be able to pass those lessons along to students. John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write has helped me brainstorm more authentic writing assignments. And Sam Wineburg’s Why Learn History makes the case for the importance of teaching historical thinking in the Age of Fake News. However, I must say: I really do miss the energy of being in the classroom!

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

My stack of unread books seems to always be growing. I just finished Elizabeth Todd-Breland’s A Political Education and I absolutely loved how she connects the long history of black education politics to the present conjuncture [Editor: you can read Breland’s own Member of the Week interview]. Jeanne Theoharis’s A More Beautiful and Terrible History is a must-read synthesis of new work on the civil rights movement. In their recent article on the HOLC, Todd Michney and LaDale Winling present staggering findings about its early lending practices. Pedro Regalado’s article on the anti-policing activism of Dominican New Yorkers looks fascinating, though I haven’t gotten to it yet. Finally, I have Fault Lines by Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer queued up as my next nightstand book—but I won’t get to it until I finish These Truths by Jill Lepore. (I’ve been reading Lepore before bed for a couple of months and I’m still only in the Progressive Era.)

As for forthcoming work, I cannot wait for Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s book on the 1970s FHA scandals; Kara Schlichting’s book on coastlines, waterways, and parks in metropolitan New York City; Nick Juravich’s book on paraprofessionals; Paige Glotzer’s book on the transnational origins of segregated suburbs; Natalia Petrezela’s book on the rise of fitness culture; Tim Keogh’s book on work, housing, and segregation in Long Island; Destin Jenkins’s book on municipal bonds; and Dylan Gottlieb’s article on yuppy-fueled arson-for-profit in Hoboken. [Editor: also check out Kara and Dylan‘s Member of the Week posts.]

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

In my opinion, one of the great strengths of urban history is the shared commitment to the depiction of place. New York is not Chicago, Detroit is not Los Angeles—and we, as urban historians, are better than anyone at explaining why. My advice, though, would be to cast a wide net in thinking about how to depict a place. Sure, one must start with the classics of urban history. But I have also learned a lot from other mediums. For instance, certain television shows—like Breaking Bad or Sharp Objectscan render a place with a single camera shot honed in on a telling detail. Or fiction writers, who, let’s be honest, are much better at this than we are. I recently read Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward and after just a couple of pages I felt the texture of her hometown in Mississippi. Television, journalism, fiction: urban historians have a lot to learn from fellow storytellers.

You have taught college courses at the Southwoods State Prison through Princeton’s Prison Teaching Initiative. What about that experience made the biggest impression on you?

Teaching in a prison was incredible and I would recommend it to anyone. The students were curious, diligent, and full of insights. It was also a profoundly humbling experience. For example, the first class was on Reconstruction, as this was the second half of the survey, from 1865 to the present. My co-teachers and I walked in with a copy of the required textbook, Eric Foner’s Give Me Freedom, and slapped it on the desk: “So…freedom?” It was like a scene out of a bad teaching movie, except without any background music or ensuing montage. Despite the initial awkwardness, however, many of the challenges proved similar to teaching elsewhere, particularly with writing. The students were overflowing with ideas, but it took a lot of work to help them organize their ideas into coherent, analytical arguments. Overall, the best part for me was the reciprocal exchange during classroom discussions. Many of the students were twice my age with a lifetime of wisdom and I learned a great deal from them.

Member of the Week: Carl Abbott

carl nov. 2011aCarl Abbott

Emeritus Professor

Portland State University

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

I’m currently working on City Planning: A Very Short Introduction, an entry in an Oxford University Press series which tackles broad topics in 35,000 words [!]. I’m drawing on thirty-plus years teaching in our graduate urban and regional planning program and I like the challenge of figuring how to cover a big topic in limited space.

My other writing at this point examines ways in which urban history illuminates cultural products like novels and films, and vice-versa. An example is how the contrasting character of Northeastern and West Coast suburbs is expressed in the TV shows The Sopranos and The Rockford Files and in novels by John Updike, Richard Ford, and Douglas Coupland. A recent article in the Western Historical Quarterly explores the way that Octavia Butler’s upbringing in Pasadena affected and was incorporated into her science fiction.

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

I am fully retired, after a couple years of part time teaching on the glide path to full touchdown. I remain involved in public history. I have several presentations to different community groups on my schedule and serve on the board for the online Oregon Encyclopedia. I also contribute short articles and reviews to web-based publications that deal with history, literature, and urban issues—CityLab, Los Angeles Review of Books, Public Books, Public Domain Review. I haven’t figured out how to be an effective participant in the twittersphere, although I’m jealous of those historians who have found the knack. .

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

I’ve been serving on a book prize committee for a major historical association, which has added close to a hundred books to my reading list in recent months. Given my interest in cities in western North America, I recommend Beth Lew-Williams, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Urban in America, and Julian Lim, Porous Borders: Multiracial Migration and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Both books use the social history of western cities to illuminate national debates about immigration and race, showing how urban history is integral to national and transnational history (something my mentor Richard Wade kept telling his students fifty years ago).

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

Urban historians should make friends with geographers, learn some basic GIS, and take courses in policy research methods. Much discussion of non-academic careers for historians focuses on closely related areas like museums, archives, and historic preservation. Urban historians with social science and policy research skills have a wider range of options in government and think tanks jobs that should not be automatically ceded to economists.

What do we have to look forward to as emeritus/retired scholars? What are the pleasures of the later stages of a career?

The standard answer is that you can do what you want, which is true. It has given me the time to pursue short-form writing in which editors substitute for peer reviewers. Retirement is also allowing me to more fully develop a late career in science fiction studies, resulting in several articles and in Imagining Urban Futures: Cities in Science Fiction and What We Might Learn from Them (just translated into Chinese, I’m pleased to say). Of course, the freedom to take a week or two off from a drippy Portland January to work at the extremely pleasant Huntington Library is a bonus.

 

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.

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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.

Tyson Cartoon
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.