Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Robin Waites

Robin Waites Dec 2016_1Robin Waites

Executive Director

Historic Columbia

@RobinWaites

@HistColumbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Member of the Week: Jessica Elfenbein

unnamedJessica Elfenbein

Professor of History

University of South Carolina

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

I’m working on a community study of a now-disappeared place called Ferguson, SC. In the decades following Reconstruction, Chicago lumbermen Benjamin F. Ferguson (1840-1905) and Francis Beidler (1854-1924) made their way to South Carolina, acquired–at bargain prices–significant land (eventually totaling more than 200,000 acres), and began Santee River Cypress Lumber Company (SRCLC). The forest products the company generated were part of an international flow of commodities and helped make personal fortunes, national taste in home furnishings, and the town of Ferguson, South Carolina itself. Built out of the swamp as headquarters for SRCLC (one of the South’s largest lumber enterprises), Ferguson thrived as a company town for more than a quarter century. At its peak as many as 2,500 people from around the world lived and worked there, including local farmers who recast themselves as industrial workers, lumber experts who relocated from the North and Midwest, and Greek and Italian immigrants recruited by labor agents at Ellis Island.

Abandoned by SRCLC in the late 1910s, two decades later Ferguson became part of a New Deal rural electrification and public works project. The damning of the Santee River to build Lakes Marion and Moultrie, then the largest land clearance project on record, required the labor of 12,670 workers and caused the dislocation of 901 African American families. Lake Marion became the final resting place for the town of Ferguson which has now been submerged along the southwestern shore of South Carolina’s largest lake for more than 70 years.

Collaborative work on a Historic Resource Survey for Congaree National Park led me to this topic. The unexpected ties between largely rural South Carolina and cities like Chicago and NYC in the production of commodities, human capital, and philanthropy are fascinating. I am also interested in the environmental and communal costs of this infrastructure project.

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

After 10 years working in university administration, I returned to the faculty last year. I’m teaching Urban History, Public History, and the American History Survey. Next semester I’ll teach our undergraduate historical methods course for the first time. I have always liked the symbiosis of teaching and research. This semester my students and I are researching the residents of Ferguson in 1910 and following their moves to and from the lumber town.

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

I’m just starting Brian McCammack’s Landscapes of Hope: Nature and the Great Migration in Chicago. His reconceptualization of the Great Migration looks fantastic.

Recently I have been reading a lot about logging, the history of the lumber industry, and company towns.

My most recent article (with Elise Hagesfeld) is “Philanthropic Funds in Baltimore” in Hammack and Smith, eds., American Philanthropic Foundations: Regional Difference and Change, Indiana University Press, 2018.

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

Invite yourself to the party! Historians have so much of value to add to all kinds of urban and civic projects. My experience is that if you expect to be invited you will miss out. Instead you need to know what’s going on in the places in which you have interest and then find ways to get involved. This is especially true for those of us who study urban topics. Our work is relevant but it’s on us to demonstrate our worth. Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst that will happen is that you’ll end up exactly where you started. A little moxie and a lot of imagination are tools young scholars need. Flexibility helps, too.

Were there any places or local businesses that you discovered in Columbia, and might not have otherwise, through serving on the Local Arrangments Committee for UHA 2018? Did the experience influence the way you look at the city you call home?

After nearly 20 years in Baltimore, I moved to USC and Columbia, SC about seven years ago. I was a relative newcomer here when I answered the RFP to serve as host for UHA 2018. I knew there was a lot in Columbia and as Local Arrangements co-chair, I have learned much more about this place that delights and confounds expectations. For example, USC’s GLTBQ archival collection is the second largest in the Southeast. It has great material for all kinds of projects.

I have also been pleasantly surprised by the excellent service the UHA has received from ExperienceColumbiaSC, our convention and visitors’ bureau.

Finally, I suspected that Historic Columbia would be a great partner to the UHA, but again, my expectations have been exceeded by the dedication and commitment of Executive Director (and Local Arrangements co-chair) Robin Waites and her staff. I’m no sports fan, but I know for sure that they “punch above their weight.”

Member of the Week: LaDale Winling

Ladale WinlingLaDale Winling

Associate Professor, Department of History

Virginia Tech

@lwinling

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

I am currently researching real estate and segregation in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s. From this milieu, in the midst of the Great Migration and in wake of the 1919 race riot, emerged new real estate practices, new public policy such as HOLC’s redlining, and a new electoral viability of African Americans with the election of Congressmen such as Oscar DePriest, Arthur Mitchell, and William Dawson. My collaborative work with the Mapping Inequality team, the inspiring scholarship by Margaret Garb, David Freund, and Carl Nightingale, and the time I spent in Chicago in graduate school led me to this topic. Chicago is a well-studied city but I think there are new stories to be told about the city, its institutions, and its people.

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

I teach digital history and public history at Tech, and I am contributing to a minor called Data in Social Context. This involves teaching math and science types to bring humanistic values to their use and understanding of data, and teaching humanists how to work with data tools. It is important to keep building skills into history programs, and to make sure historians can use a wide array of tools and resources in our scholarship.  As part of this effort, I am currently teaching an undergrad class in which students will choose a Congressional district and conduct research on the demographics and geography, the electoral history, current campaign coverage, and current polling, then make an election forecast just before midterm election in November. We’ll learn about the history of the U.S. census and the history of public opinion polling along the way, as well as how to read polls critically.  It brings together my interests in political history, spatial history, and bringing historical context to current events.

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

A team at the University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab is about to launch the first phase of a new history of Congressional elections in early October as part of the American Panorama digital atlas. By the time it’s all out, we’ll have have created an interactive mapping tool like you see for recent elections on major sites like the New York Times, as well as a large dataset of every House and Senate election result for researchers. Our goal is to contribute to work on grassroots political history by connecting Congress and the American voting public more directly in our political history.

In terms of books, I’m excited to see work in progress on racial capitalism by Destin Jenkins and Nathan Connolly, which will make important revisions in the way we think about the history of capitalism. I just met Nikole Hannah-Jones and am going to find it hard to wait for her book on segregation in education. As for recent books, I’m also looking forward to reading Timothy Lombardo’s new book on Frank Rizzo, Blue Collar Conservatism, and to pick up Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City.

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

I have one fundamental piece of advice: study a topic that you love, and that makes your heart sing, but keep a pragmatic consideration about developing transferable skills and opportunities to gain experience in non-academic venues. Learn GIS, as I did in graduate school, or get experience in writing and administering grants, or hone your prose in writing for public audiences, or work on an exhibit at a local museum, and most of all, learn how to pitch yourself. The academic job market is a difficult one, and while a tenure-track job is a great option, it is not the be-all and end-all of higher education or graduate school. There are many different ways to make a rewarding living and to use your knowledge to help improve humanity.

What are you most excited about for UHA 2018?

I am most excited about sitting in on some sessions at UHA. I have loved UHA from the beginning of grad school (my first conference was Milwaukee 2004) because I get so much energy and inspiration from learning about the new work people are doing and from catching up with old friends. It has been quite rewarding, through planning, to help move the conference and, potentially, the field in new directions. Now I’m just looking forward to being part of that fundamental process of sharing ideas, of hearing and responding to new research in progress.

Member of the Week: Elaine Lewinnek

Lewinnek headshotElaine Lewinnek

Professor of American Studies

California State University, Fullerton

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

At the UHA meeting in Philadelphia, I was enthusing to Laura Barraclough about her book, A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, which takes insights from urban historians and radical geographers, presenting them in an appealing guidebook format that is open-ended and wonderfully teachable. “You need another guidebook for Orange County,” I gushed to Laura, since Orange County is the county I teach in, is heavily touristed, and may be even more amnesiac than Los Angeles is about its own fascinating history.

“You’re right,” Laura responded, “We do need a People’s Guide to Orange County, and you should write it.” Laura Barraclough, Laura Pulido, and Wendy Cheng — the co-authors of the original People’s Guide to Los Angeles — are now working with University of California Press as series editors for People’s Guides. Because of that conversation in between sessions at a UHA conference, I am now working on A People’s Guide to Orange County along with my co-authors Gustavo Arellano and Thuy Vo Dang.

We are excited to tell Orange County’s full story. Orange County is a space of segregation and resistance to segregation, privatizations and the struggle for public space, too-often-forgotten labor disputes, politicized religions, global Cold War migrations, and efforts for environmental justice. Memorably, Ronald Reagan called Orange County the place “where all the good Republicans go to die,” but it is also the place where working-class immigrants live and work in its military-industrial and tourist-service economies. There are many urban histories to tell here. After I spoke about this project at the UHA meeting in Chicago, The Metropole co-editor Ryan Reft interviewed me and Thuy over at KCET.

What strikes me now is how UHA conferences led me to this project and how much they deepened it. I hope others find our upcoming UHA conference as inspiring.

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

I teach in an American Studies department where my courses include urban histories of suburbs, Los Angeles, southern California, and a class called “Race, Sex, and the City.” I also teach classes about cultural-studies topics like “The American Dream,” U.S. history, California cultures, public memory, and cultural studies theory and method. My students’ enormous appetite for learning the stories that surround the places they know certainly feeds into my current project, which, in return, enriches my teaching. In a U.S. history survey course, there is a dramatic difference between telling students that lynchings happened all across the United States and telling students precisely where the nearest lynching tree is.

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

See my answer to question 5. Serving on the UHA 2018 conference program committee really shaped what I’m excited to read in the future.

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

Congratulations for choosing something that matters so crucially. You happen to be entering one of the friendliest fields I know of in academia, perhaps because we tend to feel there is room for each of us to study different cities, but also because the elders of this field – Richard Harris, Dolores Hayden, Kenneth Jackson, Tom Sugrue, and so many others – are each wonderfully decent people. I did not get to meet Arnold Hirsch, but our upcoming UHA conference includes a panel addressing his legacy and I have been struck by how many people describe him as a mensch. You have entered a field of mensches. Welcome.

Serving on a conference program committee sounds like a great way to read the temperature of a subfield. What were your big take-aways from reviewing all the panels and proposals for UHA 2018 in Columbia?

Great question. Right now, we’re making many small corrections to the conference program, so my latest insight is surprise at the number of people whose institutional affiliations have changed since they submitted their proposals. I would like to think this is a sign of universities eager to hire urban historians, but I am afraid it may be a sign of the precariousness of academic employment right now.

More to the point of your question, this year’s conference has terrific diversity and breadth. There are sessions at the intersection of urban history and carceral studies, environmental history, queer studies, labor history, cultural studies, and public history. This year’s conference features numerous papers analyzing times before the twentieth century or spaces outside of North America. Our field is growing. Our upcoming conference also includes panels reconsidering urban history in museums, teaching urban history (both globally and at the high school level), and presenting urban history in documentary films. I am excited that, on Friday afternoon, October 19th, the conference will include a series of documentary films.

This reaching for broader audiences extends beyond the conference itself. In Andrew Kahrl’s recent interview about the people affected by Hurricane Florence, and David Freund’s introduction to the new reader The Modern American Metropolis, I see urban historians speaking up about the ways that the history of land-use choices and urban-planning decisions have exacerbated our current crises of climate change and mega-storms. Understanding today’s news requires understanding urban history, and we are slowly doing better at getting that message out, so I am not just excited about publications but about public urban history in general.

Member of the Week: Matthew Guariglia

39310556_10213341790634339_3231092978973933568_oMatthew Guariglia

Ph.D. Candidate in History

University of Connecticut

@mguariglia

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

My current research explores how policing changed as U.S. cities became more racially and ethnically diverse between the 1860s and the 1920s. A few years ago I became very interested in how the state learns about citizens and how that knowledge is employed in the project of policing and social control.

After years of research, what I’ve discovered is that between around 1895 and 1920, police departments experimented with a number of different tactics in order to make people it deemed too foreign to be “legible” to the state more policeable. I’ve also been surprised at how international my scope has become in order to tell this story. By tracing the origins of these different tactics and technologies used on the streets of New York City, my dissertation has widened to include U.S. colonial governance and race making in the Philippines and Cuba, criminal anthropology in Italy, newly invented information management techniques in Germany, as well as a number of policing tactics present in European cities that were developed in colonies in East Africa and South Asia.

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

Last semester I taught African American History from 1865 to the present, which really helped me solidify a lot of the themes and ideas in my dissertation. I had been having trouble conceptualizing the difference between how immigrants and African Americans in New York were subject to two entirely different modes of policing and what that meant for the project of racial state building. Getting the chance to teach Reconstruction and the history of Black citizenship really helped me develop this idea of police as citizen-makers who could deploy different styles of policing depending on who they were bringing in to the national fold and who was being excluded.

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

 Lately, I’ve been very encouraged and inspired by the recent scholarship pulling the conversation on race, crime, policing, and incarceration further into the past. I believe the genealogies of mass incarceration go back much further than post-war policy. For me, Adam Malka’s The Men of Mobtown, Tera Eva Agyepong’s The Criminalization of Black Children, and Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates, have all been brilliant at showing the intellectual and structural foundations on which the carceral state was built. In terms of upcoming books, I am excited for an upcoming book by Craig Robertson on the history of the filing cabinet. It’s a bit of a pet project and obsession of mine, but because the state’s collection and retention of information on racialized subjects is so central to my thinking on state power, that book is going to be a must read.

As for my own work, this fall I have an article coming out in the Journal of American Ethnic History that looks at the mechanization of bureaucracy and deportation in 1919-1920. It is also proving increasingly timely as it revolves around the political agency of bureaucrats to resist policy from within institutions, especially those institutions that are engaging with questions of race, immigration, and civil liberties.  

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

When visiting that city for research, go seek out the archivists, librarians, museum employees, and historical society workers. Their perspective is invaluable for understanding the history of a city. Them, and cab drivers. Telling people I study the history of the NYPD has brought me so many good tips that usually begin with, “My grandmother always used to say her father was a police officer……”

Last year your Made By History article was retweeted by none other than Edward Snowden. How do you plan to top that? 

That was a weird day. I had a lot of people accusing me of being a Russian spy. If I could top that experience, it would be by getting some policy makers to actually read the Made By History column. It’s always so disappointing when politicians propose solutions to problems like police brutality or mass surveillance and are unaware that those solutions already have long histories. I would love to start seeing some of that work seep into the political sphere.

Member of the Week: Malcolm Cammeron

IMG-3199Malcolm Cammeron

2-yr MA Student

History Department

The University of Alabama

@itsmalcolmyall

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

I’m interested in the post-Civil War “Deep South” with a particular focus on the intersection of public policy, labor, cities, and civil rights. My current project explores urban renewal and resistance in an Alabama community following the Housing Act of 1949. Most studies of housing in the state focus on Birmingham, the state’s largest city. However, I hope to broaden our understanding of the practice in the state and its effects on communities. I first learned of urban renewal efforts in the community I study when conducting an oral history interview with a former civil rights activist. The former activist believed that urban renewal and other events in the community had been overlooked and encouraged research on the subject.

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

This semester I am a teaching assistant for an undergraduate world history course in which I lead four weekly discussion sections. Each week I make an effort to incorporate current events or elements of popular culture into our discussions. Most recently, I asked my students to analyze a classic hip-hop song as a primary document. I find that making the material relevant encourages engagement, particularly for those students who are not history majors or have had poor experiences in the subject in high school.

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

2019 marks Alabama’s bicentennial. To commemorate the occasion, organizations and institutions around the state have hosted educational programs and activities. I’ve celebrated by grounding myself in important texts for study in the state including Alabama: The History of a Deep South State (recently reissued for the bicentennial) by William Warren Rogers, Robert David Ward, Leah Rawls Atkins, and Wayne Flynt plus Michael Fitzgerald’s recently published Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South.

Recent titles about city planning and urban renewal I’ve also enjoyed include Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Secret History of How the Government Segregated America and N.D.B. Connolly’s A World More Concrete: Real Estate And The Remaking Of Jim Crow South Florida.

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

I would encourage graduate students to engage local historians and consult local cultural institutions. Both are likely to have resources not available in larger collections or secondary sources. My own research has benefited tremendously from primary sources in the possession of local historians and local public library.

You recently interned at the White House Historical Association! Tell us about a really cool moment or experience you had, or something you learned as an intern that you may not have learned in the classroom.

The internship provided a great window into public history in the nation’s capital. My responsibilities included content development, marketing, and historical research. Also, as part of the internship experience, I visited the White House twice. On the first visit, I was among the first users for the Association’s new mobile app. The app is the twenty-first century version of the Association’s White House guidebook and offers users guided tours of the Executive Mansion.

Member of the Week: Vyta Baselice

Vyta BaseliceVyta Baselice

PhD Student in American Studies

George Washington University

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

My dissertation explores the cultural history of concrete. I examine why concrete became the second most consumed material on the planet and how it came to define architectural and social modernity in the United States. The dissertation therefore attempts to move beyond aesthetic concerns typically addressed in literature on concrete and, in addition to built environments, looks at cement plants, concrete distribution businesses, contractors, and construction workers, among other important players. My interest in concrete is a result of both my personal and educational backgrounds. I grew up in a post-Soviet country, where the material was quite literally everywhere. My experience of studying architectural design and history, first at Wesleyan and then at University College London, got me interested in materials and environments people take for granted.

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

I currently work as a teaching assistant for various courses in the history of art, architecture, and science and technology. My teaching experience with undergraduate students allows me to clarify my own ideas about design and culture. This is important because although I come from a specialized background, I write for a non-expert audience. And it was only when I started teaching that I realized that students with no experience in architecture have a difficult time not only reading plans, drawings and other documentation, but also finding the language with which to describe space. So, I am now particularly sensitive about selecting helpful case studies that we can collectively break down and analyze, paying attention to how architecture can perform as functional buildings, artistic projects, capitalist ventures, and political statements.

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

I have been working on an article that examines the way concrete was transformed as a result of research and engineering efforts during World War I. This project has allowed me to engage with secondary and archival materials in the history of engineering, which is a fascinating though new field to me. In terms of other scholars’ work, I am excited to read Megan Black’s The Global Interior (Harvard, 2018), which examines the transnational aspirations of the Department of the Interior. Black’s approach to her topic is particularly inspiring to me as I am tackling some similar issues related to politics, culture, and the environment.

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

I would advise students to select a topic that allows them to visit diverse archival repositories and field sites. While I have found secondary and digitized materials to be helpful and convenient, it has been critical to actually get to the archives and flip through the different materials, which often reveal unexpected relationships and thoughts. This has been particularly true for a documentation report I wrote for the Historic American Buildings Survey on Paul Rudolph’s Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters. The different project-related boxes I examined at the Library of Congress often included information on other buildings the architect was working on simultaneously. It was fascinating to consider how those projects might have informed the design of Burroughs Wellcome. Visiting the building was likewise critical for understanding the scale of the project and the extent to which representational tools attempted to mediate some of the less successful aspects of the design.

You live in Washington, D.C., which has no shortage of interesting structures. What concrete building should be included in any architectural tour of Washington, D.C.?

Oh, that’s a tough question. Some of the most obviously stunning buildings are large in scale and built by and for various government departments, like Marcel Breuer’s Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters or Stanislaw Z. Gladych and Carter H. Manny Jr.’s J. Edgar Hoover Building (otherwise known as the imposing FBI structure). The DC metro likewise showcases a pretty impressive application of exposed concrete for transportation. I would, however, like to highlight some other lesser known works of concrete that represent earlier experimental uses of this material, like John Earley’s Meridian Hill Park, which is truly a spectacular urban park project, or the mini golf park in East Potomac Park.

Member of the Week: Brett Abrams

Brett L. Abrams

Senior Archivist

National Archives and Records Administration

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

I am examining the role of visual arts in the development of Washington, D.C. during the twentieth century. My previous books examined the intersection between popular culture and urban history. Hollywood Bohemians looks at transgressive sexuality in the understanding of Hollywood during the 1920s and 30s. Capital Sporting Grounds analyzes proposals for built and proposed stadiums in the Washington, D.C. landscape.

How do you make time for your independent research around your day job at the National Archives? Do you stick to a writing routine, or is every day different?

Although not in a routine way, I usually devote some time to research, reading or writing on historical topics during the evening or on weekends. The challenge is balancing that with spending time in the present with my cats and my husband.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either that you have edited or from other presses or journals?

Because of my time limits, I don’t do much reviewing and often only read about books pertinent to the subject I am writing about. However, recently I enjoyed reviewing Benjamin Lisle’s Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture.

What advice do you have for scholars of urban history who are considering pursuing work as archivists?

Currently, archives appear to be most interested in hiring people with strong training in information services and library training along with a history background.

What do you think is more likely to happen first: an NBA championship win by the Washington Wizards, or achieving peaceful diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea?

At this moment: U.S. and North Korean peace but the Capitals did remove part of the D.C. curse.

A Quick Reflection on the Member of the Week Series

While I’m waiting for the newest batch of responses to roll into the UHA’s inbox, I wanted to share some thoughts on the first year-and-a-quarter of editing the Member of the Week series:

First and foremost, I am unceasingly amazed at the generosity of UHA members. I have solicited just over 50 posts since we launched The Metropole, and all but a handful have enthusiastically agreed to participate despite it adding unpaid labor to their already full plates. I do my best to make the process easy, straightforward, and fun, but even writing five short answers can take an hour of time. And yet our Members of the Week generously give the time and share pieces of themselves with the rest of the community.

Second, our Members of the Week have terrific senses of humor and I consistently find myself chuckling when I read over their responses. Topher Kinsell‘s recent remark about doing archival research in Hawai’i made me guffaw (“Living in Hawai‘i for six months was pretty rough. In between the hiking adventures, sunsets, and countless acai bowls, I barely had enough time to take naps at the beach”), and Cynthia Heider‘s favorite archival find had me giggling for a week (“an extraordinarily formal letter sent by Bernard J. Newman of the Philadelphia Department of Health in 1911 that simply said, ‘I am sorry you did not wait at my office as I was only away to get a bite to eat.’ I love, by the form and content of the letter, the insight it gives into this man’s fussy personality”). But the response that I found most memorable and funniest was from Andrew Konove, who, when I asked what item sold at Mexico City’s thieves market would most surprise or delight The Metropole’s readers, shared this perfect gem:

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

50127r.jpg
Standard Oil Building, drawing by Joseph Pennell, 1923, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

My third thought: you cannot read the Member of the Week posts and not remark on the wondrous history buried in global cities. I know that this is stating the obvious to an audience of urbanists, yet I read about Nate Holly‘s incredible archival find (Oconostota’s 1773 Certificate of Admission to the St. Andrew’s Society of Charlestown) or about the matryoshka doll that is the Standard Oil building, as described by Joseph Watson, and feel that we’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to know about these places.

Finally, the range of interests, experiences, and work done by UHA members is as vast as the Pacific Ocean and as dynamic as a coral reef. I try to ensure that the fifth question for each Member of the Week will not re-tread their description of their research or teaching, which can sometimes send me scrolling pretty deep through our members’ bios. Among us are artists, students of geomancy, photographers, foodies, tour guides, and yuppies. Our members work in political science departments and museums and at university presses, and quite a few have contributed to museum exhibits.

Thank you to our UHA members who have already participated, and, to those who I have yet to approach, I hope that you will feel that you are in good company!

Featured image (at top): Scene on campus of University of California, Los Angeles, 1950, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Member of the Week: Topher Kindell

image1Topher Kindell

Doctoral Candidate

The University of Chicago

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

Broadly speaking, my research lies at the intersection of urbanization, commercial trade, race, and public health in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. My dissertation examines how medical professionals, legislators, indigenous Hawaiians, and East Asian migrants transformed Honolulu from a passive, mid-Pacific seaport into a vital, disease-screening checkpoint for the Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Basin, and America’s overseas empire. The proliferation of steamship traffic during the second half of the nineteenth century accelerated the rate of transpacific trade and migration, thus amplifying the urban prevalence, interisland diffusion, and international circulation of infectious diseases. As a result, health officials in Hawai‘i came to view Honolulu’s position at the crossroads of the Pacific as both a blessing and a burden—a contradiction, they asserted, that needed to be controlled at all costs. Alongside its role as a lucrative waystation, agricultural entrepôt, and budding tourist destination, I contend that Honolulu assumed a unique and often self-proclaimed responsibility as a “sanitary sieve”—an urban clearinghouse that could filter out infectious diseases traversing the Pacific. Indeed, by the turn of the century, safeguarding the Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Basin, and the U.S. Empire from disease had emerged as Honolulu’s chief public health responsibility.

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

I recently finished a year-long preceptorship mentoring undergraduate BA thesis students through the research and writing process. Topics ranged from urban redevelopment in Paraguay and labor recruitment in Hawaii to education reform in India and foreign policy conflicts in Palestine and Israel. In the fall of 2018, I will be teaching a course of my own design—“Pacific Worlds: Race, Indigeneity, and Migration”—which will examine how race, racism, and racial ideologies were integral to the formation of three long-nineteenth-century Pacific Worlds. By focusing primarily on the northeastern Pacific, Oceania, and a selection of islands scattered in between, the course will investigate how divergent, convergent, and evolving notions of race shaped the histories of Pacific exploration and settler colonialism; indigenous sovereignty and the law; gender and sexuality; disease, depopulation, and public health; transpacific commerce and labor migration; war, imperialism, and national belonging.

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

As I’m in the throes of dissertation writing, I’ve had few opportunities to delve into new publications. However, I recently taught selected chapters from Amy Lippert’s first book, Consuming Identities: Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (Oxford University Press, 2018), which sparked an engaging in-class discussion about the interplay among migration, urbanization, and visual imagery (e.g. photographs, political cartoons, etc.). I’m also excited to sink my teeth into Seth Archer’s recently released book, Sharks upon the Land: Colonialism, Indigenous Health, and Culture in Hawai‘i, 1778-1855 (Cambridge University Press, 2018), as it appears to be a precursor to many of the themes I address in my own research on the Hawaiian Islands during the second half of the nineteenth century.

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

First and foremost, find something you’re passionate about, but also embrace any changes that may arise. When I began graduate school, I hoped to pursue a dissertation topic on the circulation of medical knowledge among municipal health officials in San Francisco, Sydney, and Honolulu; however, due to time constraints and funding hiccups, I found it to be in my best interest to focus my efforts on a single city. In so doing, I’ve been able to demonstrate how the physical and commercial growth of Honolulu had far-reaching consequences for other Pacific seaports and, inversely, how epidemic events beyond Hawai‘i had direct, persistent, and often detrimental effects on Honolulu’s development.

What torture do you endure, having to do research in sunny Honolulu? Describe a typical post-archive evening, so we can at least live vicariously through you.

Living in Hawai‘i for six months was pretty rough. In between the hiking adventures, sunsets, and countless acai bowls, I barely had enough time to take naps at the beach. Honestly, though, the Hawai‘i State Archives were open from 9am to 4pm, which gave me plenty of time to explore Honolulu and the island of O‘ahu.