Category Archives: Member of the Week

Member of the Week: Kenvi Phillips

kenvi RadKenvi Phillips, PhD

Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University

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

Among the topics I am currently interested in is the Colored Y Campaign lead by Rev. Jesse E. Moorland in the early 20th century. The efforts of the national and local YMCA offices, local communities, and the Rosenwald Fund acquired enough money to have more than 20 YMCA buildings built for African American men across the country. The construction of these buildings helped to shape urban space and opportunities for its members. I first became interested in Moorland and the Young Men’s Christian Association a few years ago while I was working at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. There I came across one of Moorland’s scrapbooks from the St. Louis campaign. In the book was a photo of the organizing committee on an urban block with which I was unfamiliar. As a native of St. Louis, I thought that I was aware of all of the city’s neighborhoods, but this photo introduced me to an entire community that I had heard of in passing but had never before seen. These organizations through these buildings transformed both the physical and metaphysical landscape for African American men in urban centers across the country.

Describe what you are currently curating. How does this work relate to your scholarship?

I am the Curator for Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. As a curator I am working to expand one of the nation’s best collections on American women to be more inclusive. This means exploring communities, organizations and individuals that have been traditionally overlooked and underrepresented in archives and subsequently in scholarship. Uncovering the lives and stories of underrepresented women, many of them from or influential in urban communities across the nation, is critical to understanding the development of the American city as well as the suburb. Curators and collections managers are constantly uncovering and sometimes rediscovering past people and events that alter our understanding of American culture. Additionally, through our collecting we get to influence the direction of future research and scholarship. Women that we encounter today whose stories we archive, via oral histories, diaries, correspondence, publications and more will be the subject of current and future research.

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

Cheryl Knott’s Not Free, Not For All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow, and Daphne Spain’s Constructive Feminism: Women’s Spaces and Women’s Rights in the American City.

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

I would advise young scholars interested in both public and academic tracks not to be dismayed by the broadening of their professional interests because all things are related. A course that you teach on Second Wave feminism or an exhibition that you need to develop on 19th century cooking can and should be influenced by urban history. Making those connections often times will ignite your passion for urban history allowing you to make it more accessible to wider audiences.

What texts or readings would you recommend on the topic of your research?

There are not that many secondary sources that cover the history of the colored YMCA. There are quite a few Progressive era texts and primary source materials that I use. However, Nina Mjagkij has done an awesome job with the following two titles: Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946, and the book she co-authored with Margaret Ann Spratt, Men and Women Adrift: The YMCA and YWCA in the City.

Member of the Week: Koji Hirata

Koji HirataKoji Hirata

PhD Candidate

Department of History, Stanford University

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

Drawing on archival sources in Chinese, Japanese, and Russian, my dissertation, “Steel Metropolis: Industrial Manchuria and the Making of Chinese Socialism, 1909–1964,” tells the story of the rise and fall of the largest steel enterprise in China under Mao’s rule (1949-1976), Anshan Steel and Iron Works, and its urban base, Anshan City, in Manchuria (Northeast China). Particularly intriguing to me is the transnational character of this showcase of Mao’s “socialist industrialization,” with whose construction Japanese engineers, Soviet advisors, and Chinese experts from the pre-Communist regime were deeply involved.

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

I taught introductory classes on modern Chinese history, modern Japanese history, and world history of science as a teaching assistant. The experience reminds me to think about how my local research matters in the contexts of national and international history. This is especially important to me, given that one of the most frequent questions I receive from my interviewees from the city is: “Why are you studying such a minor place?”

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

I am excited for Isabella Jackson’s forthcoming book, Shaping Modern Shanghai: Colonialism in China’s Global City. It will be published by Cambridge University Press in the autumn. This will show how global connections of people, goods, and thoughts shaped what has been called China’s “most modern” city.

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

I think studying a city shows us the complexity and contingency of history. In my own research I am fascinated by the contrast between the high modernist visions of city planners and the rather chaotic process of urban formation on the ground. This helped me feel better about the gap between my dissertation writing plan and its real process.

What is your favorite city, and why?

Shanghai. Where else on earth can you sit at Starbucks, view the latest Hollywood movie, see French colonial-style architecture, and pay a pilgrimage to the building where the Chinese Communist Party was first established within a walking distance?