Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Hong Zhang

Hong PictureHong Zhang

Associate Professor of History

University of Central Florida

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

My current research focuses largely on the history of Tianjin in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Located about 120 kilometers southeast of Beijing, Tianjin is one of the four centrally administered province-level municipalities in China and the second largest city in north China. The city rose to political and economic prominence mainly during the late nineteenth century. The Convention of Peking of 1860, which concluded the Second Opium War between China and Anglo-French powers, sealed the fate of Tianjin and turned it into a treaty port and opened it up to foreign consulates and entrepreneurs. Concomitant with the designation of Tianjin as a treaty port in 1860 was the launching of the national reform movement by the Qing government, which soon appointed prominent proponents of the movement as governor generals of Zhili (now Hebei) province headquartered in Tianjin, who turned the city into a political and economic stage in north China to implement the modernization projects. Tianjin thus became a center for extensive military and economic reforms in north China. The co-existence of foreign commercial and cultural activities and Chinese endeavors as well as the interaction between the two moved Tianjin out of the shadow of Beijing and turned it into a pole of modernity and into a city that was more modern in its facilities and infrastructures than Beijing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am especially interested in the transformation of Tianjin as a result of the interaction, negotiation, and competition for influence and power between foreigners and Chinese.

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

I am teaching History of Chinese Civilization and Modern China this semester. My Modern China class relates well to my research. Standard history textbooks on modern Chinese history tend to focus heavily on wars and political upheavals, very often with only a brief allusion to the dynamic urban culture of the Republican era. However, political turmoil, warfare, and urban ills failed to represent the whole picture. A closer look at Tianjin of the Republican period reveals a cosmopolitan, multi-colored, and dynamic city. My teaching balances political events with cultural and social happenings and incorporates copious visual materials which constitutes a significant part of my research on Tianjin. For example, Beiyang Huabao, a pictorial published in Tianjin between 1926 and 1937, provides vivid images and rich materials on Tianjin in particular and on Republican urban China at large. Its colorful pages demonstrate the juxtaposition between things indigenous and things Western. My students  very much enjoy a look into Republican urban China through the visual lens.

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

My article titled “Yuan Shikai and the Significance of His Troop Training at Xiaozhan, Tianjin, 1895-1899” was published in the Chinese Historical Review last month. I became interested in the topic while doing research on Tianjin. This article explores Yuan Shikai’s troop training at Xiaozhan and its impact upon Yuan’s military and political careers and activities. China’s humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 shocked a number of high-ranking government officials into seeking ways to establish a truly modernized army in the Western fashion. Yuan Shikai, a much maligned political figure in modern Chinese history due especially to his ill-fated move to turn the Republic of China into a new imperial dynasty, was appointed commander in charge of troop training at Xiaozhan, Tianjin. Yuan’s military endeavors at Xiaozhan created a powerful army, earned him the loyalty of capable generals, and paved the way for his eventual rise to not only military but also political power. Recently, the Tianjin municipal government has rebuilt Yuan’s troop training site and named it the Xiaozhan Troop Training Park. The park has been open to the public since 2008. The local government has also made the site part of its “Viewing Tianjin Through the Lens of Modern China” Project. Like other recently rebuilt historical sites in Tianjin, the Xiaozhan Troop Training Park attempts to underscore the city’s political and military prominence in modern Chinese history.

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

I believe I can learn a lot from young scholars in urban studies. Since urban history can be approached from many different angles/perspectives, it is important to keep an open mind, read extensively, and follow the latest theories and arguments in related fields.

In addition to your research, you have taken on two translation projects. How did that come about, and do you have any advice or wisdom for scholars who might be interested in translating scholarly work?

I translated two scholarly articles, “Mothers and Sons in Warring States and Han China, 453BCE – 220 CE” by Miranda Brown and “Shifting Identities: Courtesans and Literati in Song China” by Beverly Bossler, into Chinese, which were included in Women’s Studies: A Collection of Contemporary Western Studies on Chinese History published by Shanghai Guji Chubanshe in 2012. Because of my research interest in gender studies, the editor approached me with the translation project. The translation, however, entailed much more work than I expected. The two English articles examine mother-son relations of the Warring States and Han periods and courtesans of the Song Dynasty while my work on women in China focus more on the contemporary period. Consequently, the translation work also meant conducting a lot of research on the history of ancient Chinese women. It was fun and enlightening but also time-consuming. So, one probably ought to think twice before taking on a translation job, especially if it does not relate directly to one’s own research area.

Member of the Week: Willa Granger

2709E908-D200-47D5-AE2F-8EA6573020CDWilla Granger

PhD Candidate

The University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture

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

I am currently working on a dissertation that examines the material history of the American “old age home” during the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Few architectural historians have studied the history of senior housing, and fewer still have examined congregate facilities for elder Americans (nursing homes, old age homes, assisted living facilities, etc.). What drew me to this subject was its contemporary relevance – as Baby Boomers start to enter retirement, the country will soon face its own senior housing crisis. I am curious how we reached this point, and how our ambiguous cultural, social, and regulatory attitude towards the elderly has manifested materially over time. More and more I realize the urban nature of the subject – not only the spatialization of these homes, but how they fit into the social “mosaic” of the American downtown.

Describe the ideal course you would create based on your research.

I’ve done a fair amount of writing about the incidental built environments of the US military. This includes studies of defense housing projects, and the most recent work I presented at UHA on the how the arrival of Korean-American “War Brides” and their extended families impacted the built environment around Fort Hood, Texas. I’ve conceptualized a class that uses an institutional history of the US military to understand larger built environment narratives. The military provides an architectural historian with a vehicle to study both “high and low” design, both local and transnational spaces, both rural and urban scales. It would be an exploratory “generator” to use with students towards understanding some of the fundamental considerations of the field.

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

I am excited (for my own dissertation work!) to read Carla Yanni’s forthcoming Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory. If you’ve read The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States, you know that Yanni is particularly adept at filtering social history through the lens of a specific typology – not dissimilar from what I hope to do with my dissertation. Dormitories – like insane asylums, like old age homes – fit into the landscape of the Victorian city, and I am eager to see what she has uncovered.

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

To simply look around! That’s one of the joys of this field (especially for built environment scholars examining cities) – our evidence is everywhere. Some of the best topics I’ve happened upon in my own work have come from simply moving through city-space. The material world (and even its absence) tells us things that other forms of evidence cannot.

You contributed a fascinating think piece about the film A Ghost Story to Interiors, a publication about “how architecture functions in film and media.” What was it like to write an architectural critique of a film? Would you do it again?

I am constantly thinking about the way the built environment is represented in film. In many movies the architecture is just a backdrop, a support – in conjuring a scene, oftentimes the whole goal of architecture is to not be idiosyncratic. I think this resonates with my interest in the everyday built environment, the vernacular. But the vernacular is so loaded with meaning; in its ordinariness it contains cues and clues about the actual lived experience of people. What I learned in writing the piece on A Ghost Story was the role that “vernacular looking” played on the film set. The director, the set designer, and many others shared a thoughtful attunement to the nuance of creating an “everyday,” home-like setting which played a critical role in the narrative.

Member of the Week: Rainer Schützeichel

Schuetzeichel_UHA-MotW_PortraitDr. Rainer Schützeichel

ETH Zurich, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta)

 

 

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

Intellectual history alongside (and intertwined with) urban and architectural history has always caught my interest. At the moment, I am following this research interest firstly in a project that is looking at a larger, regional scale: At ETH Zurich, we are conducting a research project on the Swiss civil engineer Heinz Isler (1926–2009), who played a major role in the development of prestressed thin concrete shells and was influential in shaping the Swiss infrastructural landscape by implementing a network of industrial buildings. These structures can shed light on developments in engineering, on changing conditions inside the construction industry, as well as on the phenomenon of land-consuming sprawl in industrial zones. Secondly, I am following the traces of several disciples of the architect and urban planner Theodor Fischer (1862–1938), who was one of the doyens of modern, yet traditionally rooted architecture in Germany. My goal is to carve out the effect that Fischer’s teaching had on the younger generations of architects who then, in turn, set the tone during the interwar years and in the reconstruction of cities during the early postwar period.

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

During the current semester, I am taking a pause from teaching to concentrate on my research. In the upcoming semester, though, I will be teaching History of Urban Design as a guest lecturer at Hochschule München. It is the relationship between theory, cultural history, and practice that intrigues me and that I want to reveal to the students. In past years, I concentrated on the discourse of space in German architectural theory – a discourse which also evolved in urban planning around the turn of the century. This opens up new perspectives on industrialized cities as both estranged environments that could be reclaimed and on larger spatial relationships that went beyond the historical boundaries of cities on the other. This investigation into theory and its actual effects on planning practice informs my teaching of urban history.

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

I am very much looking forward to the publication of my PhD thesis on the architect and theoretician Herman Sörgel (1885–1952), which will appear in the fall this year. It is not only that this research – as is the nature of a dissertation – accompanied me for many years. It is also my aim to contribute with this book, which for the first time shifts the focus from both Sörgel’s unfinished “Theorie der Baukunst” and his architectural and urban designs to a broader understanding of modernism in general by introducing a figure that until now has not been in the center of the historiography of modern architecture.

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

One that sounds rather self-explanatory: be curious, and be aware that when you answer one research question you raise at least two new ones. Although this can sometimes be sobering or even annoying, it is the best driver for research. And certainty about the fact that history never follows an easy logic of smooth progress, but that it contains a bundle of fascinating sub-plots, is one of its best outcomes.

You have written about the application of the philosophical concept of “Einfühlung” (empathy) in architecture. What is an example of a structure or architectural work that you particularly empathize with, and why?

It is rather an urban project than an architectural work that I am empathizing with, if I have to choose one. I am thinking of Joze Plecnik’s (1872–1957) renewal (or better, refurbishment) of Ljubljana’s city center. He was able to implement this by a series of punctual interventions: When strolling through the city along the river bank of the Ljubljanica, one is confronted with several bridges that were carefully implanted into the urban fabric, flights of stairs, monuments, and public buildings such as the Market or the National Library. In Ljubljana, one can experience a vivid urban center and at the same time some kind of open-air exhibition making visible the architectural search for an identity which the newly constituted capital city undertook in the crucial years after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Slovenia’s independence from the Viennese reign.

Member of the Week: Caitlin Moriarty

0Caitlin Moriarty, Ph.D.

Place Present & Moriarty Meats

Instagram @moriartymeats

Describe your research interests. How have they evolved throughout your career? 

I have always been interested in how retail spaces and commercial streets relate to neighborhood identity, and more broadly, the social and cultural functions of place. Places are more than just the setting of “history” but offer an important lens into the dynamics of change over time. More recently, through my work in historic preservation, I have become interested in the implications of place narratives like the contemporary “comeback” story of cities like Buffalo and how it reinforces the rise and decline framework of American cities that other scholars have shown to be partial and tired.

You spent several years working as a lead historian for an architectural preservation firm. How did that work differ from what you were doing as a grad student? And what did you get out of that experience?

It was satisfying to see history “uncovered” in projects and make the case for why buildings – most of which were vacant or in some state of disrepair – are still important to local history. My graduate program centered on using the built environment as a primary source of information, and we frequently grappled with the relationship between local history and “bigger” history. Buildings are inherently local yet they tell larger stories as well. As real estate developers in Western New York see new opportunities in historic buildings, architectural histories are valuable additions not only to their projects but as broader resources for the public, especially when narratives go beyond architectural style and create richer histories of how and why places were created and changed over time.

On a practical level, being part of larger projects with many moving parts forced me to let go of perfectionism for the sake of completing projects on time. Editing and working with others gave me new perspectives on writing process and effective communication. I hope that I am a better writer for it now!

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

I have to admit that I haven’t listened to a recent interview about the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures field school in Milwaukee, but I am looking forward to it!

Personally, I am starting to conceptualize a project about the historic landscapes of butchery in Buffalo. In January 2018, my husband and I started a whole animal butchery, meaning we source animals from local farmers and Tom breaks them down by hand. Historically, all butchery was done this way but industrial scaling has changed every aspect of the chain. As I learn more about the networks between farmers, our shop, and our customers, I want to better understand how these relationships used and shaped the city in the past. I am particularly interested in the hundreds of small shops and carts that served Buffalo’s neighborhoods and the families who ran them. I’m still working to gather preliminary information and focus the inquiry but am excited to ultimately display the study in our shop.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for careers both inside and outside of academia? 

Be open to opportunities and don’t underestimate how “academic” you can be beyond academia. There are tradeoffs in every scenario so ask yourself what matters most.

You now work for your new family business, Moriarty Meats. What parallels do you see between your academic and preservation careers and your new endeavor as an entrepreneur?

The more you learn, the more you know you don’t know!! I am really enjoying learning new things but, just like grad school, being self-directed comes with its freedom and challenges. The confused look you get when you tell people about your doctoral studies is not unsimilar to the one you get when you say you have a butcher shop, ha!

Our shop is actually located on the commercial street that I studied in my dissertation, which is a cool coincidence. I am seeing the history of the retail street, the legacy of mom and pop shops and the relationship between retailers and communities completely differently after a year of operating my own business here. I definitely have a new respect for the business owners I studied!

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.