Category Archives: UHA Business

Take Your Seat at the Professor’s Party

By Elaine Lewinnek

Once, my colleague’s parents were visiting from their rural hometown on a day when my department was holding an event. I don’t remember now if it was someone’s book party or retirement party or research colloquium, but I do remember that my colleague invited her parents to come along. “Oh, I don’t know, dear,” said her mother, nervously, “I don’t know how to attend a professor’s party.”

“Don’t worry,” my colleague answered cheerfully. “Neither do I.” She is one of the most graciously polished and socially adept scholars that I know. When she told me this story, I marveled that even she sometimes feels like an academic imposter.

 

I suspect that many of us do not really know how to attend a professor’s party. This may be one of the spurs to the recent conversation, on this blog, about what a conference is for.

It was not until I began organizing conferences myself that I learned that some scholars reach out to conference organizers to say that they are available, if necessary, to chair or comment on a panel. This can be a great help to the conference organizers while they work to complete panels. It may also help that scholar to be of service to the organization, to meet new scholars in their field, and sometimes to receive travel funds from their institution.

So, in the interest of transparency, and because few of us really knows how to attend a professor’s party, please do reach out to the conference organizers, LaDale Winling and me, at Columbia2018UHA@gmail.com , if you would like to be added to our list of potential panel chairs and commenters. We may not be able to match everyone to a panel, but we appreciate having a list of potential volunteers.

See you in October in Columbia.

Elaine Lewinnek is Professor of American Studies at Cal State Fullerton and the author of The Workingman’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl. She is currently at work on the collaborative project, A People’s Guide to Orange County.

The Metropole Book Shelf: Adam Arenson’s Banking on Beauty

By Adam Arenson 

Adam Arenson. 2018. Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California. Austin: University of Texas Press, 368 pp. 157 color and 17 b&w photos. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1529-3 $45. Hardcover.

“I want buildings that will be exciting seventy-five years from now,” financier Howard Ahmanson told visual artist Millard Sheets, offering him complete control of design, subject, decoration, and budget for his Home Savings and Loan branch offices.

9781477315293The partnership between Home Savings — for decades, the nation’s largest savings and loan — and the Millard Sheets Studio produced more than 160 buildings in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri between 1953 and 1991. Adorned with murals, mosaics, stained glass, and sculptures, the Home Savings (and Savings of America) branches displayed a celebratory vision of community history and community values that garnered widespread acclaim.

Banking on Beauty presents the first history of this remarkable building program, . drawing extensively on archival materials, site visits, and more than seventy oral history interviews with artists, Home Savings executives, employees, community members, and preservationists. Arenson completed the first thorough examination of the Smithsonian’s Millard Sheets Papers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, and the sketches, installation slides, project files, correspondence, and other materials in the Denis O’Connor Collection at the Huntington Library.

Banking on Beauty begins with architectural and commercial precedents for such works, including California world fairs and Rockefeller Center, and continues past the sale of Home Savings to Washington Mutual in 1998, and the seizure of WaMu in 2008, to explore the preservation challenges for this work today. The book tells a fascinating story of how the architecture and art were created, the politics of where the branches were built, and why the Sheets Studio switched from portraying universal family scenes to celebrating local history amid the dramatic cultural and political changes of the 1960s.

Combining urban history, business history, and art and architectural history, Banking on Beauty reveals how these institutions shaped the corporate and cultural landscapes of Southern California, where many of the branches were located. Richly illustrated and beautifully written, Banking on Beauty builds a convincing case for preserving these outstanding examples of Midcentury Modern architecture, which currently face an uncertain future.

Banking on Beauty is available February 1, 2018, but is available for pre-order now. 

Image at top: Mural “The Arts,” by Millard Owen Sheets at the Department of Interior Building, Washington, D.C., Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2011, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

unnamed-1California native Adam Arenson is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Urban Studies Program at Manhattan College. He has written or coedited three other books on the history of the American West and the politics and culture of U.S. cities: the award-winning The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (Harvard, 2011; Missouri, 2015 paperback); Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States (California, 2015); and Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (Penn, 2013). A graduate of Harvard and Yale, he has also written about history in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other venues. More information about this and other publications available at adamarenson.com

The Vernacular Architecture Forum is on the March!

The Vernacular Architecture Forum invites urban historians — students, faculty of any rank, independent scholars, public historians — to apply for the third round of its Access Award. The award supports attendance at the group’s annual meeting — including two full days of tours and one day of paper sessions — no strings attached, for individuals who have had limited formal exposure to the disciplines of architectural history and vernacular studies, and  have never attended a VAF meeting. The conference, working with the theme of  A Shared Heritage: Urban and Rural Experience on the Banks of the Potomac, will take place in and around Alexandria, Virginia, May 2-5. For more on the award see vafweb.org/Access-Award and on the conference vafweb.org/Potomac-2018. The deadline for applications if February 1. Read about the experience of one last year’s winners, Emmanuel Falguières, a PhD candidate in history at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) – Paris, here: http://www.vafweb.org/VAN-Summer-2017/4936220.

 

Also don’t forget about the VAF’s Bishir Prize:

The Bishir Prize, named for longtime member and influential scholar Catherine W. Bishir, is awarded annually to the scholarly article from a juried North American publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes. In judging the nominated articles, the jurors look for an article that is based on primary research, that breaks new ground in interpretation or methodology, and that contributes generally to the intellectual vitality of vernacular studies. Entries may come from any discipline concerned with vernacular architecture studies. Articles published in the two years prior to the VAF annual conference are eligible for consideration. Please note that essays published as chapters in a book are also eligible if the volume is peer-reviewed, published within the time parameters specified, and the research presented in the essay is new. Anthologized collections are not eligible. The Bishir Prize was awarded for the first time in 2012.

Call for Nominations: 2018 Bishir Prize 

The Bishir Prize is awarded annually to the scholarly article from a juried North American publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes. Work published as a chapter in a book is eligible along with journal articles. Nominations should be based on primary research, break significant new ground in interpretation or methodology, and contribute to the intellectual vitality of vernacular studies. Entries may come from any discipline concerned with investigating vernacular architecture/landscape. Nominated pieces must bear the publication imprint of 2016 or 2017.

Deadline for submission is 1 February 2018. Send an electronic copy of the work to the prize committee: Elizabeth Collins Cromley (e.c.cromley@gmail.com), Joseph Sciorra (joseph.sciorra@qc.cuny.edu), and Richard Longstreth, chair (rwl@gwu.edu). Please provide the author’s contact information along with your own. Note that the committee automatically considered all refereed articles appearing in the VAF’s journal, Buildings + Landscapes.

The prize winner and nominator will be notified in early March. The award will be presented at the Vernacular Architecture Forum annual meeting in early May.

To nominate an article please submit the following:

  • MS Word document providing contact information, publication data (name of book publishing company or title of journal, and date of publication), and a brief statement contextualizing the author(s) and article.
  • PDF copy of the article.

2018 Bishir Prize Committee

Richard Longstreth, chair

Joseph Sciorra

Betsy Cromley

A Vision for UHA 2018

Earlier this month, longtime UHA member Jim Wunsch of Empire State College (SUNY) raised some great questions and points of debate regarding how we organize, conduct, and process conferences, including: accepting fewer papers for presentation; rethinking how historians present research (and the context in which they are presented); and posting papers earlier to encourage greater engagement and debate. Yesterday, UHA President Richard Harris responded, and today the Program Co-chairs for UHA 2018, LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek, weigh in.

We were pleased to see discussion about the shape and ambition of the 2018 Urban History Association biennial conference emerge on The Metropole blog earlier this month. The conference is the most important event of each two-year cycle for reinforcing key trends in the field, consolidating and creating new collaborations among different subfields, and introducing new voices in urban history. We want to discuss some current considerations and lay out a vision for the 2018 version of the UHA conference.

The 2018 conference, “Cities at the Crossroads,” sits at the intersection of several important trends within the field. The study of urban history may be at its most dynamic point in years because of the new voices bringing their stories of immigration and demographic change, capitalist investment and urban development, policy debates and political resistance, cultural change, environmental questions, and new scales of perspective – from the metropolitan to the transnational — to the urban realm.

Columbia Conference

The UHA continues to expand from its traditional emphasis on 20th century U.S. cities and draws participants and ideas from ever more subfields and periods. One of the developments of the Chicago conference we are trying to maintain is the involvement of the Africanists, Europeanists, geographers, and many others who should feel at home in an organization devoted to the study of cities. The UHA and the conference planners are also making efforts to be open and welcoming to younger members, graduate students, and allied professionals who are essential to remaining a vibrant organization and forum for ideas on the study of history.

The success of the last several conferences constitutes a challenging standard to live up to. One of the ways UHA 2018 can do this is by embracing the intellectual and collegial spirit of those events without trying to match the bigness, which will be hard to do outside of those major centers. Columbia, a small southern city with a thriving tradition of public history examining its own complex racial, regional, and urban history, offers the opportunity for tours, plenary sessions, and collegiality that has long been part of UHA.

Apart from the exchanges that happen in the paper sessions, one of the wonderful features of a manageably-sized conference like the Urban History Association is the serendipitous meetings and many opportunities to make new connections between newcomers and veterans alike in this collegial organization. At one of her first visits to UHA, one of us (Elaine) serendipitously met Richard Harris, whose discussion of the definition of suburbia in Unplanned Suburbs proved essential to her own book on suburban history.  This accidental meeting and the gracious exchange that followed helped create a new relationship between two scholars with shared interests, two scholars that have come together a decade later as we work on the Columbia conference. Maintaining this esprit de corps is a priority and we hope all who attend, comment, and present help bring these values to Columbia.

As Richard Harris points out, the recent survey of UHA members reveals that conferences are an opportunity to learn about new research, not only in paper sessions but also at the book exhibit and in chance encounters. At the manageable scale of the UHA, we learn with friends old and new, while exploring a city and discovering our own roles within the field of urban history.

The Call for Papers for 2018 requests “proposals for innovative workshops or non-traditional sessions,” in addition to the familiar three-paper format. We hope that historians who have an interest in promoting new lines of research and new modes of presentation and discussion will propose those ideas when they submit their paper and session proposals–-whether oral presentations or interactive workshops in lieu of research findings.

We hope you’ll join us in Columbia and contribute to this process of engagement and learning from each other.

LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek

Co-chairs, Program Committee

UHA Conference 2018, Columbia, SC

The Conference Debate

Earlier this month, longtime UHA member Jim Wunsch of Empire State College (SUNY) raised some great questions and points of debate regarding how we organize, conduct, and process conferences, including: accepting fewer papers for presentation; rethinking how historians present research (and the context in which they are presented); and posting papers earlier to encourage greater engagement and debate. Today, UHA President Richard Harris responds, and on Wednesday the Program Co-chairs for UHA 2018, LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek, will weigh in.

Jim Wunsch has made some good points about conferences, and especially the paper sessions. These are perennial – or perhaps I should say bi-ennial – matters that UHA conference organizers have wrestled with over the years and to which there is no perfect answer. Significantly, in the online membership survey that we conducted earlier this year, members were perfectly divided on the question as to whether we should be more selective in accepting paper proposals. My response expresses personal views, not those of the UHA, although they are consistent with, and draw upon, the way members answered other survey questions.

Jim points out that some papers are less than ground-breaking, while presentations can be underwhelming. He suggests that greater selectivity might be desirable; that some or all papers might be posted in advance and that, afterwards, The Metropole blog could celebrate those papers or intellectual exchanges that were especially original or exciting.

The probable result of greater selectivity would be a conference in which panel sessions were of higher quality, more satisfying and, if only because there would be fewer of them, better-attended. But it would also produce a smaller conference, more top heavy in terms of seniority. It would be difficult for program committees to turn down proposals from established scholars who might include ex-supervisors, and even when such proposals were rejected the senior scholars might be able to attend anyway. In other words, fewer of those present would be graduate students and junior scholars.

Obviously, there are pros and cons, and the balance surely varies according to the conference and the organization. There are some large conferences that I have attended which seemed unwieldy; where there were dozens of poorly-attended concurrent sessions; where little intellectual exchange seemed to occur. I name no names. There, indeed, I had wondered whether the downside of taking all-comers outweighed the upside. But I have found that at smaller conferences, such as those organized by the UHA and SACRPH, the balance is different.

Perhaps my opinion here is shaped by two of the first conferences that I ever attended, the first as an undergraduate and the second as a junior grad student. Both were modest in scale. The first was organized by housing activists in Newcastle, England, and helped inspire my continuing interest in housing. The second, in Guelph, Ontario, organized by Gilbert Stelter and Alan Artibise, was the beginning of a short series of Canadian urban history conferences, and it fueled my commitment to the field. Maybe it augurs well that my term as president should coincide with the first time that the UHA has held a conference in another mid-sized city.

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The book that came out of the first Canadian urban history conference.

Now if I am honest and if – even more challenging – my memory serves me well, it wasn’t the panel sessions alone that affected me in either place. Indeed, at the housing conference what I remember most vividly was a field trip to the Byker wall, an award-winning and soon notorious public housing project. At the Guelph conference what has stayed with me was the overall buzz – the excitement, the conversations in corridors and bars that declared: here is a community of people with shared, kindred interests. No subsequent conference could hope to fully recapture that feeling. It was first love, after all. But I still feel something similar when I attend the UHA and SACRPH conferences, sometimes in paper sessions, but at least as often in corridors or out in the city. The point I’m trying to make is that, for me, papers sessions are only part of the picture.

In this, I seem to be fairly typical. One the questions that we asked in the online survey of members was “what are the most important functions of the conference?” Respondents were given four options, and most checked off two or more. Almost nine out of ten reckoned that the conference was “very important” or “essential” as “an opportunity to learn what research other urban historians are doing.” Paper sessions are obviously a good part of this, but so too are chance encounters and, as a number of people indicated in their open-ended comments, conversations around the book exhibit. Just as striking, almost two thirds of members reported that one of the very important/essential functions of the conference was “to network – advancing my career and/or research” while almost half saw it as “an opportunity to socialize with friends and colleagues.” Fewer, about a fifth, also reckoned that it is “an opportunity to visit and explore a city that I may not know.” So, not surprisingly, it turns out that members attend UHA conferences for a variety of reasons.

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The Byker Wall Housing Project, Newcastle, England. Photo: Byker Community Trust

Bottom line: the presentation of a paper is as much a means to an end as it is an end in itself. If program committees were more selective, fewer people, and especially younger scholars, would be able to attend and enjoy the other benefits of conference attendance. That would be a high price to pay.

But it is true that we could all be more creative about how we present our research. Responding to another question, for example, one third of members reported that in paper sessions they usually read from a text (using no slides) but less than half that number reckon that this was the most effective type of presentation. It is here, perhaps, as Jim suggests, that we could all try to think outside the text, or the slide presentation. Along those lines, the program committee for the Columbia conference is encouraging people to propose less traditional formats, but I will leave it to the program co-chairs, LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek, to say more about that.

Richard Harris

UHA President

Rethinking #UHA18 and the Academic Conference

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“The play’s the thing wherein I will catch the conscience of the king”
– Hamlet in Hamlet

I have to confess, I kind of dug William Shakespeare in high school and college (Measure Per Measure anyone?). Admittedly, it might have been because he was great at rhyming couplets and the like. Still, Hamlet’s decision to stage a performance simply to gauge the King’s alleged involvement with the poisoning of his late father always seemed like an incisive move by the Danish Prince, or a sign of his increasingly tenuous grip on reality. I suppose Hamlet’s motivation remains colored by whatever baggage the reader brings to the table.

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Of course, the UHA, AHA, SACRPH and others don’t conduct conferences as a means to root out nefarious crimes or as means to determine the motivations of its participants, be they speakers or audience members. However, in the glowing radiance of #SACRPH17, which by all accounts appeared to be a great success, questions regarding the efficacy, organization, and goals of academic gatherings remain well-traveled topics of discussion; such questions persist as points of debate and worth consideration as we draw attention to the CFP for #UHA18 in Columbia, SC and consider its own meaning for conference goers and the larger field of urban history.

With this in mind, we would like to draw your attention to a recent comment submitted to the blog by Jim Wunsch of Empire State College (SUNY). Professor Wunsch raises some great questions and points of debate regarding how we organize, conduct, and process conferences, including: accepting fewer papers for presentation; rethinking how historians present research (and the context in which they are presented); and posting papers earlier to encourage greater engagement and debate. We’d love for UHA members to chime in with their thoughts on Wunsch’s comments (at the risk of redundancy, in the comments section itself) but also the larger topic more generally. After all, the conference might not capture the field’s conscience but it does embody its direction and thrust.

With SACRPH in Cleveland and the SSHA in Montreal concluded and with planning for UHA’s Columbia, SC conference under way, it might be appropriate to consider for a moment how conferences might be improved.

Although expensive, they continue to be reasonably well attended because making a conference presentation remains for many academics a still useful way to demonstrate your academic interest and activity to those making promotion and tenure decisions. The problem is that since the success or failure of a conference is largely determined by how many attend, all too many papers of questionable value are accepted. And with so many panels scheduled during any given time slot, attendance can be disappointing. Then too by clinging to the ancient convention of reading papers out loud, sessions often prove tedious beyond words.

A modest reform would give priority to papers posted in advance. The presentation would entail explaining the basic ideas and argument and how they might fit into the larger historical framework; you know what you are supposed to do in a decent class.

This blog could play an important role in sustaining and strengthening conferences not only by celebrating them as joyful convocations, but also by singling out a few worthy and perhaps exciting papers and exchanges in various sessions.

Jim Wunsch

Empire State College (SUNY)

 

Planning Ahead for UHA 2018

We at The Metropole are still mourning the end of this last month’s excellent SACRPH conference, and so have eagerly begun to look ahead towards next year’s UHA Conference in Columbia, South Carolina. Jessica Elfenbein and Robin Waites of the Local Arrangements Committee and LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnik of the Program Committee assure us that we are not being premature in our enthusiasm–the deadline to submit paper proposals will be upon us sooner than we think! Check out the CFP below and leave a comment if you’re looking for urbanists to join a panel.

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The Ninth Biennial Conference of the Urban History Association

“Cities at the Crossroads”

Columbia, SC
October 18-21, 2018 

http://www.urbanhistory.org/Columbia2018

The Urban History Association invites submissions for sessions and papers on all aspects of urban, suburban, and metropolitan history. We welcome proposals for panels, roundtable discussions, and individual papers.

The conference theme, “Cities at the Crossroads,” reflects the growing interdisciplinarity of the field of urban history, the role of cities as meeting places, and the contemporary challenges of urban political isolation and tension over issues such as climate change, immigration, segregation, and inequality.

We encourage submissions that explore the diversity of the study of cities, including contributions from other disciplines and from historians who interpret notions of “urban” broadly and synthetically, whether politically, geographically, socially, or culturally. The program committee welcomes proposals for innovative workshops or non-traditional sessions. Successful panel and paper proposals need not adhere strictly to the conference theme, and the program committee will pay special attention to panels marking the anniversaries of events in or profoundly affecting cities, such as the Kerner Commission Report, the Fair Housing Act, or the 1968 Paris uprising.

Each proposal should have the following format:

Individual paper submissions should include an abstract up to 150 words with up to four keywords, along with a one-page CV, including address and email. These should be submitted as a single PDF file.

Panel submissions should include a cover page indicating the lead contact, with telephone and email, and the names of the session Chair and Commentator; a one-paragraph overview of the session’s themes and significance, plus a description of the format (eg panel, roundtable, workshop); a 100-word abstract for each proposed paper; and a one-page CV for each participant, including address and e-mail, all submitted as a combined, single PDF file.

The submission deadline is February 15, 2018. The program committee also plans for a graduate student workshop and a poster session, which will have a separate proposal deadline of May 1, 2018, with details forthcoming.

Please direct inquiries to Program Committee co-chairs LaDale Winling at Virginia Tech and Elaine Lewinnek at California State University-Fullerton (Columbia2018UHA@gmail.com). 

Announcing our Judges!

The Metropole is holding a blog contest for the UHA’s graduate student members to provide an opportunity for emerging scholars to gain experience working through the editorial process. We are excited to announce the panel of expert judges who will choose our winner, who will recieve a $100 prize and a certificate of recognition:

Judge 1: Pulitzer Prize Winner and UHA President-Elect Heather Ann Thompson

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Professor Thompson of the University of Michigan may be best known for the prize-winning book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, but she has also written extensively for publications as numerous and esteemed as The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, Jacobin, The Atlantic, Salon, Dissent, NBC, New Labor Forum, The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post. Thompson is also a prolific #twitterstorian, and regularly comments and retweets on issues of mass incarceration.

Judge 2: Bancroft Prize Winner and Former UHA President, THE Tom Sugrue

d45d47_f0bf0538959943a59b8d529f665e5c44~mv2_d_3441_3147_s_4_2You would be mistaken to remember Professor Sugrue of New York University for only his canonical book The Origins of the Urban Crisis, as Sugrue has also written and co-authored works on the Civil Rights movement in northern cities, on what the election of President Barack Obama signals about the history of race in the U.S., and on Americans’ enduring but fraught commitment to democracy. When not working on these longer projects, Sugrue has blogged for Talking Points Memo and published in London Review of Books, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Dissent, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Hollywood ReporterDetroit Free Press, and Philadelphia Inquirer. He can be found on Twitter fighting the good fight against the forces of ignorance that seem to be in global ascendance.

Judge 3: Elder Statesman of Urban Geography and Current UHA President Richard Harris

HarrisThe list of works published by Professor Harris of McMaster University stretches to 21 pages, and does not include the elegant addresses he has written of late for the UHA newsletter. In addition to his two most recent books–Creeping Conformity: How Canada became Suburban and Building a Market: The Rise of the Home Improvement Industry, 1914-1960–Harris has contributed to Canada’s National Post and is regularly sought out for interviews in publications ranging from the CBC to The Globe and Mail. We are still working to convince him to join Twitter, where we think he would have much to contribute.

We hope grad students will take advantage of this great opportunity to collaborate with an ace team of editors and have their work read by three of urban history’s luminary scholars. Make sure to get in submissions by 11:59 PM on November 26 in order to be considered for the prize.

Getting Pumped for SACRPH!

Ryan and I put out a call on Twitter asking what people were looking forward to at the upcoming SACRPH conference in Cleveland, and the response was crickets. I’m concerned that urbanists are insufficiently excited for what will most certainly be a great weekend! So here are the five things I’m most looking forward to…

5. Revisiting a Favorite City

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Betraying my adopted home of Pittsburgh, I will confess: I love Cleveland. I can’t really explain why, except to say that I’m easily bewitched by bookstores and believe in omens.

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Loganberry Books, Larchmere
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A Real Intersection, Tremont

4. Paper Sessions

It appears that I will have to roll a die to determine which panels to attend–there are so many good ones. I do know that I will be sitting in on the presentation of one of my best friends from undergrad, who I didn’t know was attending SACRPH until I found her name in the conference program!

3. The Conference Reception at the Cleveland Public Library on Friday Evening

I’ve never been to a library I didn’t love, and I can’t wait to drink a few glasses of wine and shmooze with my fellow urbanists while surrounded by books. Take note, graduate students–afterwards there will be a reception for the field’s most junior scholars at Hodge’s.

2. “From Surrogate Suburbs to Shaker Heights” Tour

Between recently reading Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Nichole Nelson’s fabulous post on the neighborhood, I’ve become obsessed with Shaker Heights. I can’t wait to explore the area and learn more about black suburbanization in Cleveland.

1. Meeting You!

Please come up and introduce yourself to me at SACRPH! Whether you’ve been a Member of the Week or a quietly lurking reader of The Metropole, I want to hear from you. This platform exists to bring together UHA members who might otherwise never meet, converse, share, influence, or inspire one another! As co-editors of the blog, Ryan and I do not only read and comment on writing–we also serve as a node, a point of connection within the larger network of our Association. So if you see me around, I would love to hear more about what you’re working on and what makes you passionate about urban history.

See you in Cleveland!

~Avigail

UHA Award Tour 2017

Late in 2016, the seminal hip-hop collective A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) was still reeling from the death of founding member Phife Dawg when the group released its final album, We Got it from Here Thank You for Your Service. Though completed well before the election that year, one could not help but listen to group’s final opus, which dropped after November 3,  without thinking about the current straights of Trumpian America: a nation awash in racial mistrust and populist demagoguery. “There ain’t no space program for” black people, Q-Tip raps in the chorus on the opening track, “you stuck here.” On the second track, “We the People“, A Tribe Called Quest didn’t back down, sarcastically telling listeners, “All you black folks, you must go / All you Mexicans, You must go / All you poor people, you must go / Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways / All you bad folks, you must go.”

In our current environment, everything feels relevant and political. For many Americans, particularly historians, the past eighteen months have only confirmed the belief that the nation needs to better grasp its past. The Washington Post‘s “Retropolis” and “Made by History” columns, the latter of which has featured more than a few UHA members, attest to this broad yearning for, dare we say, historical facts. So it follows that the UHA would like to draw your attention to some of the best work in urban history published this past year. To borrow from an ATCQ classic, “We on award tour with Muhammad my man/Going each and every place with a mic in their hand.” Get on the tour bus with The Metropole and be sure to get your mics out because everyone needs to hear the history therein; after all, as ACTQ comrades De La Soul once noted, “Stakes is high“.

UHA Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book (North American), 2016

Winner

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Tyina L. Steptoe, Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City (University of California Press, 2016).

At first glance, Tyina L. Steptoe’s book, Houston Bound, is an unassuming book – ostensibly about one city and one moment at the turn of the century. Upon close reading, however, it becomes obvious the book is so much more: Steptoe offers richly hued depictions of everyday life for diverse communities of migrants, Creoles, Mexicans, African Americans, and more. She uncovers volatile processes of racial formation but always through the experiences of everyday folk living in specific places. And she brings together surprisingly eclectic topics into a riveting story of Houston spanning over a century: starting with a spatial history of slavery, Steptoe moves through Jim Crow urbanism, environmental changes and migrations, the evolution of racialized police practices, and mid- to late-twentieth century politics – all while emphasizing the music that gave voice to community and culture. The result is phenomenal: Houston Bound is at once intellectually rigorous and accessible, provocative and a pure pleasure to read.

Honorable Mention 

Rashauna Johnson, Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

51U4-dfUrBL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Slave economies fueled urban growth and the evolution of most – perhaps all – American cities in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Rashauna Johnson’s book, Slavery’s Metropolis, carefully maps this history for New Orleans from 1791 to 1825, and in the process offers insights into the urban geographies of empire, race, and power. Johnson persuasively argues that enslaved peoples moved through transnational and global spaces while also being profoundly unfree. This “confined cosmopolitanism” is at the core of the book’s explanation of urban racial order, and it is a weighty contribution to our collective understanding of slavery and cities. Johnson’s impressive archival work and solid grounding in theory make this a masterful book on all counts.

 

UHA Award for Best Book (Non-North American), 2015-2016

Winner

Su Lin Lewis, Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

4e39cabb-eb25-4e31-97d0-258b4c7816c6_1.83a417c5fe940740a2d2ad0226f6a486With Cities in Motion, Su Lin Lewis captures a transformative historical moment of international cosmopolitan culture through close examinations of Rangoon (Myanmar), Penang (Malaysia) and Bangkok (Thailand) in the 1920s and 1930s. The cosmopolitanism of the book’s subtitle is both European and a continuation of a millennium of exchange between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Lewis examines cosmopolitan cultural exchanges as vehicles for intricate and multifaceted negotiations of power within and between communities that are anything but insular or homogenous. In this, she builds upon and respectfully corrects the foundational work of J.S. Furnivall and Benedict Anderson, adding a richness to the struggles of class, gender and religion. She manages to better capture the complexity surrounding questions prematurely settled in histories driven by postcolonial and national framings. The sudden proliferation of print and other new media provides a thrilling set of important vehicles for examining negotiations of power between a Babel of linguistic communities. Throughout, some of the clearest evidence of modernity comes in the form of the new roles, public expressions, and vocal presence of women. Lewis is most impressive in her capacity to pursue the evidentiary trails within and between these three cities along the centrifugal trajectories that they shared with Singapore, Batavia (Indonesia), Manila (Philippines), British India, Shanghai, and beyond to Cairo, London, and Paris. Perhaps the most striking episode of the book takes place in adjacent neighborhoods of 1920s Paris, where the founding fathers of Republican China, Vietnam, Burma, and Thailand debated the futures of the region, even entertaining a pan-Southeast Asian state. Cities in Motion is an exemplary demonstration of how we might move toward more inclusive global histories while remaining grounded in local historical evidence.

 

Arnold Hirsch Award for Best Article in a Scholarly Journal, 2016

Winner

Kathryn A. Sloan, “Death and the City: Female Public Suicide and Meaningful Space in Modern Mexico City,Journal of Urban History 42.2 (March 2016): 396 – 418.

Kathryn Sloan deftly illuminates the relationship between urban space and public suicide in the rapidly urbanizing environment of 19th-century Mexico City. Her analysis of newspaper accounts reveals how spectacular narratives surrounding suicide enabled reporters to regale the public with “lessons on honor, proper education, the roots of insanity, and gender ideology” (412). Editors trafficked discourse that refracted bourgeois anxieties about urbanization to the benefit of the autocratic Porfirian government. Public suicides, especially when in the name of nationalist love, honor, or passion, visibly empowered victims who had been largely disenfranchised in life. The symbolic associations these narratives took in urban spaces helped encourage popular placemaking while Mexico City incurred significant migration from rural communities. This article reflects the power of mass media to formulate popular understandings of public space—even concerning the most tragic of personal events.

Honorable Mention 

Michael D. Pante, “The Politics of Flood Control and the Making of Metro Manila,” Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints 64.3-4 (September-December, 2016): 555-592. 

Michael D. Pante’s article on flood control in Manila provides a detailed account on how the modernization of water management infrastructure was wielded to further the authoritarian goals of the Philippine government. The continual inadequacy of water management infrastructure resulted in repeated flooding that most seriously impacted marginalized communities within metropolitan Manila. Furthermore, members of these communities were continually relocated to make way for new infrastructure to replace the previously inadequate installations. Pante clearly elucidates how flood policy has exacerbated spatial and social inequalities when exercised by authoritarian forces.

 

Michael Katz Award for Best Dissertation in Urban History, 2016

Winner

Josiah Rector, Accumulating Risk: Environmental Justice and the History of Capitalism in Detroit, 1880-2015, Ph.D. Dissertation, History, Wayne State University, 2016.

Accumulating Risk by Josiah Rector brings together environmental history, the history of capitalism, and the history of race, class, and gender inequalities to show how Detroit’s economic transformation has concentrated environmental risk in poor urban neighborhoods. Rector expertly investigates large structures like capitalism, deindustrialization, and neoliberalism while also focusing the lens on human actors like regulators, business leaders, public officials, workers, union leaders, and city residents. His extensive research blends materials from the national archives with local collections in Michigan, oral history interviews and government reports, to create a rich and compelling narrative.

While many urban histories of Detroit focus on the post war period, this dissertation extends the traditional periodization by locating the origins of Detroit’s environmental crisis in the late nineteenth century. Nonetheless, the work is of current relevance, with immediate implications for our contemporary crises in the wake of the subprime mortgage meltdown, the lingering economic emergency in Detroit, and the poisoned water in Detroit and Flint. Rector doesn’t shy away from weighing in, using historical perspective, on current proposals for how to solve these crises in Detroit. This dissertation shows the importance of historical research and historical imagination when trying to understand our current economic and environmental problems.

Honorable Mention 

Theresa McCulla, Consumable City: Race, Ethnicity, and Food in Modern New Orleans, Ph.D. Dissertation, American Studies, Harvard University, 2016.

Consumable City by Theresa McCulla offers a refreshing approach to the hybrid racial culture of New Orleans, examining the experience of race and ethnicity through food. Tracing a long history from the nineteenth century to the present day, the project explores the contested meaning of ‘creole,’ showing how African American workers were exploited to produce the celebrated food culture of New Orleans even as the tourism and food industries worked to exclude or deny their presence and their cultural knowledge. McCulla effectively deploys a mixed methodological approach, using a unique blend of sources such as cook books, souvenirs, and market stalls as embodiments of social structures. Her creative interpretive approach takes risks to speculate on the meaning of cultural phenomena around food and to understand the often unspoken and invisible assumptions of racial hierarchy.