Member of the Week: Michael Glass

mglassMichael Glass

Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton University

@m_r_glass

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Public Costs of Private Growth: Amazon, the Great Depression, and the fiscal history #HQ2 supporters miss

Amazon’s search for a second headquarters has sparked widespread debate over the public costs of subsidizing private real estate. Critics question whether cash-strapped and socially divided cities should be spending billions on services for expensive office and residential projects. Supporters respond that these subsidies ultimately provide cities with much-needed tax revenue by encouraging property development. They point to New York’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s, when the city’s property taxes did not keep pace with operational expenses, as the nightmare scenario they wish to avoid.

While the historical perspective of these boosters is commendable, they are drawing lessons from the wrong crisis. They should look instead to the 1930s – a decade when New York experienced a crushing bankruptcy largely as a  result of municipal subsidies to real estate developers.

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New York dramatically extended its subway into the city’s periphery during the 1920s. Debts and interest from this project’s construction was a major cause of the city’s fiscal collapse in the early 1930s.

During the “Roaring 20s” New York’s local government promoted real estate growth in a variety of all-too-familiar ways. Older neighborhoods were underzoned in order to encourage new construction. High-income housing and office developments were under-assessed or given tax exemptions in order to entice development. Public credit was poured into expensive infrastructure projects such as subways in order to increase property values in the city’s periphery. The justifications then-Mayor John P. Hylan gave for these decisions could have come directly from the mouth of Michael Bloomberg: “The resources of a City are chiefly its taxable values. I set out to develop these values in the interest of the corporation which is the City of New York.”[1]

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Subdivisions like this one in Queens mushroomed in the city’s outer boroughs during the 1920s.

In 1934 this corporation went bankrupt. While the city’s policies had indeed spurred real estate growth, they had come at a cost. Thirty cents of every dollar the city spent in 1934 was required for servicing municipal debt incurred on capital projects for the city’s real estate industry. Moreover, the projects served by this infrastructure were unable to pay their share of the city’s debt. Over-construction for expensive housing left 175,000 vacant lots on the city’s periphery, while the city’s largest tower was nicknamed the “Empty” State Building for much of the decade. Only those who had acquired and sold land in time walked away smiling. Ultimately, the use of “municipal credit in aid of real estate speculation,” public finance expert A. M. Hillhouse wrote in his 1936 history Bonds: A Century of Experience, “affords a veritable master key to an understanding of the financial collapse of hundreds of areas in the early 1930s.”[2]

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A sign of the times, cropped from the above image. Note the reference to “paved streets.” It was the city’s taxes that paid for these streets, along with the subways that served the outer boroughs.

Unfortunately, American cities are repeating this history. The huge towers dominating Manhattan’s “Billionaire’s Row” are up to 30 percent vacant, their units providing shelter for off-shore investments even as the city’s homeless population grows. American property tax practices favor high-income coops and condos while discriminating against older rental buildings and their largely poor and minority tenants. And American cities continue to be willing to provide every manner of infrastructure to big developers, trading the reality of gentrification for the prospect of future tax revenue. While boosters have long claimed that subsidizing private real estate growth can simultaneously address the fiscal and housing crisis of American cities, it is clear that they fail on both counts.

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Another close-up reveals that many of these subdivisions were tax-exempt; a further cause of fiscal strain for the city during the Depression.

Are there any alternatives to this situation? It seems unlikely that American cities will acquire additional revenue through Federal aid or additional taxing authority anytime soon. There is another solution, however: local governments can enter the real estate business themselves. Cities like Singapore receive income directly from state-owned middle-income housing projects, loosening their dependence upon the property tax and, by extension, large property owners. Singapore also owns more than half of the city’s land, ensuring that growth in property values flows directly to the city’s coffers and not to gentrifying speculators. If this seems too statist, Community Land Trusts provide another way for city residents and local governments to benefit directly from urban growth without contributing to displacement.

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Hudson Yards: A major development project on Manhattan’s West side, this project is currently receiving 5.6 billion dollars worth of subsidies, mostly in the form of subway infrastructure and tax exemptions. Sound familiar?

These policies allow cities to balance housing equity with fiscal growth – goals that are all too often incompatible in the American approach, where City Hall depends on the private sector to accomplish both. But it doesn’t have to. If our local governments value entrepreneurs so much, perhaps they should be willing to act like ones.

Featured image (at top): “Where the subway is an elevated, New York City“, Detroit Publishing Company, circa 1905, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

unnamedDaniel Wortel-London is a Ph.D. candidate in history at New York University, Jersey-born and Gotham-based, interested in urbanization, the political economy of solidarity, and public policy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century North Atlantic. He has written about the class politics of bicycles, the political economy of post-war urban tourism, labor politics in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, notions of “public space” in the works of John Dewey, and the political effects of urban decentralization on Tammany Hall. He also serves as the graduate student editorial board member of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and hosts the podcast London’s New York. (@dlondonnyu) 

[1]  HYLAN, John F. Staten Island’s future. (In: Staten Island Chamber of Commerce. Annual yearbook, 1924. p. 9-11.

[2] Hillhouse, A. M. 1936. Municipal bonds; a century of experience. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 12.

Teaching Immigration History after Tree of Life

This morning we are briefly departing from our usual coverage on The Metropole to reflect on the intersection of pedagogy and current events. In this post, co-editor Avigail Oren comments on her experience in the classroom following the attack at Tree of Life.

On Monday, October 22, I began teaching a half-semester course at Carnegie Mellon University on the history of immigration to the United States. Within days, this history became personal. One mile away from campus a man murdered 11 Jews at prayer in their synagogue, in a violent act of protest against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Jewish legacy of support for immigration.

My body showed up to teach on the Monday after the shooting. From notes I printed out in my office beforehand, I read a lecture about Jewish immigrant John Jacob Astor. I have little recollection of what I said. In the final minutes of class time, I told students that they were welcome to leave if they felt unready to discuss the shooting, but that I was holding space for a discussion if anyone wanted to stay. I began by telling them that Tree of Life refers to Torah, to the revelation of God that comes through studying that holy text: “It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17-18). I explained to them that we do the same thing in the history classroom—study texts to achieve revelation about our place in the world. We study so as to make visible the tightrope we walk between the past and the future we are trying to build (or stave off). There I stopped, opening the floor for questions.

The first student to speak was the President of Chabad at CMU. He showed up for class wearing a kippah (yarmulke) as a visible statement of his Jewish identity. He asked, in more words, “how did we get here, to a moment of such hatred and violence?” And I explained that domestic terrorism was not new in this country, not for slaves or descendants of slaves or anyone with dark skin. Not for poor people or queer people or immigrants. And not for Jews either. I cannot recall if I concluded with some thoughtful tying of the bow, circling back to the present. I may simply have run out of energy and ceased speaking. I know other students asked questions but they are lost to memory. On Wednesday I canceled class and told my students to read a chapter from their textbook about the nativist Know Nothing Party.

Memory was a struggle for weeks afterwards. I walked into rooms unsure why I was there. I no longer knew the names of people I spoke to regularly. I was constantly searching for words. My students noticed this. When we returned the next Monday—and for many lectures after that—they had to fill in the holes in my memory. If a word or name or date was not written in my notes, it was a gamble whether I’d be able to recall it.

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Photo by author. 11/30/18, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA.

Yet, it ended up being the best semester of teaching that I have ever had. There is nothing like a local hate crime motivated by nativism to prove that immigration history has enduring relevance. My students felt personally invested in the subject and began following the news more closely. They brought this perspective with them into our discussions.

It also changed me as a teacher. First and foremost, I stopped sweating the small shit. Stochastic violence has a way of putting things into perspective. I gave extensions and was flexible about attendance and allowed revisions and provided extra credit opportunities. I focused more on each individual student’s growth and less on grades.

More notably, however, I became a more fervent defender of the rights of immigrants. I absolutely hammered the point that immigrants are human beings with bodies that are viscerally affected by the experience of migration, resettlement, assimilation, and how immigration restrictions denied them a chance at safety and were used to uphold the power of the powerful. If my students found me biased, they did not express it, but I do not care regardless. The dominant political narrative assumes that immigration restriction is a public good and sound policy, and so they have heard and will continue to hear that perspective. They may choose to disregard the polemics of their radical professor. But I made sure they heard it.

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Photo by author. 11/8/18, East Liberty, Pittsburgh, PA.

At the end of the final lecture of the semester, I thanked my students for their patience and commitment. I told them that after the shooting I was unsure that I would be able to finish the semester, but that teaching them this history (and thereby reinforcing my own knowledge and understanding of U.S. immigration) had been healing. Part of that was watching them become aware of the continuities between the nativist rhetoric and policies of the past and those of the present moment. But it was also realizing that they cared and empathized with immigrants. There was one Robert Bowers, but in front of me sat 23 empaths. That gave me hope to persevere, in the classroom and beyond.

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Avigail Oren is co-editor of The Metropole. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2011 to attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University, where she still sometimes adjuncts.

Member of the Week: Carl Abbott

carl nov. 2011aCarl Abbott

Emeritus Professor

Portland State University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Obituary: Margaret Garb, professor of history, 56 Internationally recognized scholar of race and urban history

It is with great regret that the Urban History Association acknowledges the passing Washington University history professor Margaret Garb.  In her memory, we are running the obituary published on Dec. 20, 2018 on the Washington University website, The Source.

Margaret Garb, professor of history in Arts & Sciences and co-director of the Washington University Prison Education Project (PEP), died Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, after a long battle with cancer. She was 56.

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Margaret Garb

An internationally recognized scholar of race and urban history, Garb was born in Trenton, N.J., and raised in an 18th-century farmhouse in Buckingham Township, Pa. Her father, who served as Bucks County president judge, was passionate about prison reform, especially for young offenders; her mother was a reproductive rights activist.

Garb studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris before earning her bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from the University of Vermont. She then covered the police beat as a reporter in Chicago and later wrote for The New York Times and In These Times, among others.

Garb earned her master’s degree in history from the University of California, San Diego, and her doctorate from Columbia University in New York, where she studied with Eric Foner.

She joined the Washington University faculty in 2001, teaching courses on the American city and the history of poverty and social reform. Her numerous publications include the books “City of American Dreams: A History of Home Ownership and Housing Reform, Chicago 1871-1919” (2005) and “Freedom’s Ballot: African-American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration” (2014).

Garb established PEP with Robert Henke, professor of drama, in 2014, thanks to a three-year grant from the Bard Prison Initiative. “As a teacher, I’ve spent years training and gaining certain kinds of skills,” she observed at the time. “It seemed worthwhile to think about how to use those skills most effectively to improve the society we live in.”

Today, PEP receives ongoing support from the Office of the Provost and is the only program of its kind nationally to be fully funded by its university. Courses have grown from two per semester to 17 during the 2018-19 academic year. The first PEP graduation ceremony will take place in May.

“Maggie was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met,” Henke said. “She was — and really still is — the heart and soul of the project. Our program will always be identified with her and her spirit.”

Garb recently held fellowships at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Collegium de Lyon in France. She also won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in the Philippines, though her illness prevented her from going. Last spring, she was featured on C-SPAN’s “Lectures in History” program, discussing the birth of the skyscraper.

Garb is survived by her husband, Mark Pegg, also a professor of history; a daughter, Eva Garb; and siblings, Emily and Charles Garb.

Memorial contributions may be made in Garb’s name to the Department of History. To do so, visit gifts.wustl.edu and enter “In memory of Margaret Garb” in the “Special instructions” field.

Member of the Week: Kara Murphy Schlichting

img_4194Kara Murphy Schlichting

Assistant Professor of History

Queens College, City University of New York

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

I thought I would be an environmental historian of the American West, particularly the Utah desert (really).  But my first year in graduate school at Rutgers reinforced to me that environment was also everyday and urban.  And there I was living in New York, jogging along the East River on the narrow path between the ConEd plant and the FDR drive.  I ended up researching how the characteristics of the coastal environment of the East River and Long Island Sound shaped urbanization and, in turn, the environmental change wrought by regional growth in metropolitan New York.  My first book New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore is forthcoming this spring with the University of Chicago Press.  This book examines the city’s geographic edges—the coastlines and waterways—and the small-time unelected locals and residents who quietly but indelibly shaped the modern city alongside power brokers like Robert Moses. It challenges the idea that urbanization is always a linear progression and that growth is always directed by central planners and government officials.  Ordinary citizens (like joggers in waterfront parks!) also played a role.

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

Besides the US survey, I teach courses on the history of New York City and the history of Queens and the outer boroughs. My forthcoming book grew from the question “what does the history of the city look like if we get off Manhattan, stop obsessing about the powerbrokers of city hall, and look at the people and spaces of the periphery?” Manhattan is only 7% of the city.  There is so much more to discover, and my outer boroughs research class encourages students to dig into this history.  This spring I am teaching a new urban environmental history seminar, which looks at cities nationwide.  I believe that urban history is inherently about environment–an idea I look forward to pitching to the students in my senior seminar this spring.

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

I have a continually growing list of publications I am looking forward to from 2018 alone. I just got a copy of Karen Routledge’s Do You See Ice? Inuit and Americans at Home and Away and ordered Andrew Kahrl’s Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline. I am also on the waitlist for Joanna B. Freeman’s The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War. I am not a historian of antebellum America, but it is one of my favorite eras to read about.

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

I would say read widely. This is advice I also give myself. There is so much to be read about New York that I could never read a history of anything besides the city I live in and research and teach about. But then I would miss the smart work underway (and on display at the UHA this past fall) on cities like Hamburg, with its growing storm surge concerns, or the problems of made land in San Francisco, two topics that are also crucial to New York City’s history. We all have very specific research agendas, but that research benefits from creative, comparative thinking.

Your research interests center on shorelines and waterfronts. When vacation time rolls around, are you a beach enthusiast or do you run for the hills? 

I am mystified that this is even a choice for people. The shore always wins for me. I have family in Rhode Island which has wide sandy beaches, I grew up on Long Island Sound’s rocky shores, and I live three blocks from the East River in Brooklyn, which has derelict piers and fancy new parks. I love them all equally, in any weather.

Hyping Social Infrastructure: A Review of Eric Klinenberg’s Palaces for the People

Klinenberg, Eric. Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. (New York, New York: Crown, 2018). 336 pp. $28. ISBN 978-1-5247-6116-5

By Jacob Bruggeman 

Americans today consistently hear about the differences in wealth, geography, identity and politics that divide us, but they hear rather less about the forces of community and commonality which bring us together. Most welcome then is sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s new study of what he calls “social infrastructure,” which refers to “the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact” and that counter fragmentation. Palaces for the People does not imply that social infrastructure is a suitable substitute for “well-designed hard infrastructure”—the bones upon which communities are built—but it is a clear, forceful argument for social infrastructure as the lifeblood that keeps communities healthy.

Klinenberg takes off from, of all people, the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, whose brutal anti-labor policies did so much to fracture the body politic. But once retired, Carnegie came to understand that free libraries served as places in which diverse populations could converge and where community could be formed and strengthened. Carnegie called libraries “palaces for the people,” and thanks to his immense wealth and progressive philanthropic agenda, he built twenty-eight hundred palaces all over the world. In Palaces for the People sociologist Klinenberg begets a new defense of old-fashioned libraries and other public and private institutions which he believes are essential if a community is to flourish.

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The Phoenix Carnegie Library, now known as the Carnegie Center, is a historic site in Phoenix, Arizona’s Library Park, Carol M. Highsmith, March 3, 2018, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Though libraries take up a prominent place in Palaces for the People, social infrastructure is not just constituted by and in branch libraries: it is cultivated in community gardens, schools and universities, and the wide assortment of voluntary associations that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of in the 1800s. One could even argue that communities’ police forces, if they are dedicated to building ties to a place and its people rather sending them to prison, can be an essential element of social infrastructure. Klinenberg’s idea of social infrastructure, however, is generally limited to public institutions and places. Palaces for the People is not problematic for this focus, but readers may well put down the book wanting to better understand the role of businesses in bolstering social infrastructure. But in regard to the popular twenty-first century argument that humans are only socializing with their iPhones, Klinenberg asserts that despite the apparent dominance of all things digital, face-to-face interactions will remain “… the building blocks of all public life” and that physical interactions between people will necessarily define social interaction for generations to come.

When a community’s social infrastructure is deficient or missing, we see the emergence of inequities, declining civic life and polarized politics. To address these problems solutions are inevitably put forth: Economic solutions (which often take the form of development at the local or national level), technocratic solutions (such as those engineered by planners and policy makers), and civic solutions (including the rather artificial efforts to establish community groups and voluntary associations). We can properly and forcefully demand additional funding for schools, for low cost housing and health care, but we may be overlooking the need to address a deficient social infrastructure, the “missing piece of the puzzle” that pulls together and makes workable economic, technocratic, and civic proposals.

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The Carnegie Library, erected in 1904 in in Trinidad, Colorado, on the Purgatoire River on the northern end of the Raton Pass leading into New Mexico, Carol M. Highsmith, June 8, 2016, Prints and Photographs Division

Klinenberg argues that social infrastructure, when robust, “fosters contact, mutual support, and collaboration among friends and neighbors; when degraded, it inhibits social activity, leaving families and individuals to fend for themselves.” No one showed this better than Klinenberg himself in his study of Chicago’s weeklong heat wave in July 1995, which was among the deadliest in American history. Survival rates in the city’s poor Hispanic neighborhoods were often far better than other neighborhoods precisely because of a superior Hispanic social infrastructure emphasizing visitation, self-help and care for the elderly. Social isolation killed all too many—more than 700—who died at home alone.

Klinenberg places his book in the context of the polarized politics of a nation’s   “…splintered social and cultural geography.” But what makes the book so useful is that it is neither strident nor pontifical. Palaces serves as an entry point for readers interested in learning more about inequality, civil society, and polarization in America and how to deal with those concerns. Indeed, it gains force and traction from the fact that it is grounded on a strong and growing body of literature on civil society and urban design, including classic works by Jane Jacobs, Robert Putnam, Elijah Anderson, and Ray Oldenburg. Just as important, Palaces is a work of scholarship that stakes a middle ground between market-based and state-based approaches to contemporary problems, and as such, it invites support from a broad spectrum of groups and leaders.

Finally, though Klinenberg is no Luddite, he does invite historians and social scientists to put aside our spreadsheets and Power Point presentations, instead asking us to renew and deepen an appreciation for specific places in our research. Furthermore, Klinenberg guides his readers—many of whom are not academics, but members of the general public—to the realization that each community and city is unique and that we should be wary of using quantitative data alone to generalize about their social conditions. Ultimately, if Palaces convinces readers of anything, it is that the goings-on of a community, and the places in which the things go on, must be grounded in local institutions—in palaces made by and for the people.

Jacob Bruggeman is an honors student in his fourth year at Miami University with majors in history and political science, and a combined BA–MA program in political science. Jacob was recently honored for his research as one of fifteen national recipients of the Gilder Lehrman History Scholar award, and he is one of two Joanna Jackson Goldman Scholars at Miami. Next fall he will begin coursework for a MPhil in Economic and Social History at Cambridge University. 

Featured image (at top): The Carnegie Public Library in Bryan, the oldest existing Carnegie Library in Texas, Carol M. Highsmith, June 12, 2014, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The briefest of guides to #AHA19

Growing up in and around Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, one witnessed the city’s incomplete political transformation. Mayor Harold Washington’s 1983 victory propelled him to City Hall where during his brief but impactful tenure he began dismantling the Democratic machine built under Anton Cermak during the 1930s and consolidated by Richard J. Daley in the mid-1950s.

Observers like University of Illinois Chicago political scientist, former alderman, and Chicagoland sage Dick Simpson argue the machine bent but never broke. Rather, under Richard M. Daley–who succeeded Washington (via the hapless Eugene Sawyer)–the machine would be reconstituted; “Pinstripe Patronage,” according to Simpson, which represented a shift toward large banking and legal institutions and transnational manufacturers. “Businessmen who give contributions to the mayor expect to . . . deliver goods and services to City Hall at inflated prices,” Simpson told Chicago Magazine in 2008. Crain’s Chicago Business called the new machine, “legalized bribery.”

As for the current occupant, Rahm Emanuel? Well he certainly has not lived up to the lighthearted brilliant social media-inspired satire of Dan Sinker’s The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of Rahm Emanuel. In Sinker’s completely fictional telling of the 2011 mayoral race, the author secretly created a majestically profane faux twitter feed (@MayorEmanuel) purporting to be the voice of future Mayor Emanuel campaigning for office in 2010/2011.

You get the idea. In the end, Emanuel closed a lot of schools, pushed for charters, enabled police brutality scandals to fester and pulsate, and economically cozied up to corporate interests. All that being said, the upcoming mayoral election, in which Emanuel is not running, features 50 candidates!

Ok perhaps not 50, but as of late November, which marked the deadline for submitting petitions, 18 individuals sidled up for a mayoral run. Though speculation ran rampant, Chance the Rapper demurred and instead endorsed Amara Enyia.

The larger point here is that just as the city is embracing a new political day, marked by a certain nervous uncertainty, so too with the crossover appeal of this year’s #MLA19 and #AHA19 synergy are historians and literary scholars embracing a more interdisciplinary future! With this in mind, The Metropole has some suggestions for those attendees casting about for ideas regarding what to do in the Windy City while conferencing.

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Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood, December 2018

First, we’d be remiss not to remind everyone about the Urban History Association Meet Up, co-hosted by Becky Nicolaides and Carol McKibben on Saturday morning January 5 (you can also see here for more details).

 

Second, while hardly comprehensive, we have a couple of slightly off the beaten path recommendations.

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One of the highlights of the Chicago Architecture Center, its giant model of Chicago. December 2018

Chicago Architecture Center

Granted it’s not a giant affair–really two floors and a gift shop. Nor does the Chicago Architecture Center offer a particularly critical examination of the city’s building history. While the exhibits do make mention of discriminatory housing policies and highway construction, regrettably, it does not spend a great deal of time on such matters. Still, for a thumbnail and visually attractive tour of Chicago’s architectural history it’s good for a 45-minute visit.

 

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From the CAC’s second floor exhibit exploring designs across global cities (including Chicago). December 2018

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

Everyone knows the Art Institute and far be it from us to dissuade you from visiting the august cultural institution. The still newish modern wing is stunning and its collections remain some of the best in the world. However, its tragically ignored sibling the Museum of Contemporary Art offers a wealth of innovation and creativity, plus a truly great free sitting room known as the Commons (see featured image at top).IMG_8803.JPG

Notably for urbanists, the current exhibit West by Midwest explores the migration of artists, photographers, and other creative types to California, especially Los Angeles; think Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, Charles White, and Judithe Hernández, among many others. At several points West by Midwest functions like an advertisement for the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), due to the school’s overwhelming influence on many artists whose work appears in the exhibit. The exhibit traverses intersectional Chicano, Black Power, and Feminist threads that weave their way through the works on display. It alone is worth the price of admission, but check out other aspects of the MCA like Jessica Campbell’s oddly compelling yarn based artwork on display in the Chicago Works exhibit.

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If you have an evening open and are unsure where one might venture out to, let us offer this suggestion. Start off at Moneygun, a dimly lit bar in the Fulton Market/Near West Side/West Loop neighborhood, with sharp cocktails and draft beer set to soul tunes from the 1970s. Once you’ve imbibed a libation or two, walk a couple blocks over to Duck Duck Goat, an eminently solid Chinese restaurant with obvious hipster pretensions or perhaps the also nearby Publican, a popular spot that, although sometimes overrated by locals, provides a very good “American Creative” option. Of course it is Chicago and your restaurant/bar options are endless, so consider this a drop in the hat of your numerous choices.

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Moneygun at night. December 2018

Finally, we conclude with this helpful twitter thread from @tenuredradical (aka Professor Claire Potter of the New School) in which the historian offers some helpful advice for first-time AHA attendees and experienced conference-goers alike.

Also, for those caftan enthusiasts out there, don’t worry:

Good luck everyone!

 

Remember #AHA19 attendees, don’t miss the Urban History Meet Up this Saturday morning!

Let the editors at The Metropole wish you a Happy New Year! Only a few hours into 2019 and with #AHA19 on the very near horizon, we wanted to ring in the decade’s final year with a reminder that for those of you attending #AHA19 (and by extension #MLA19), don’t miss the Urban History Meet Up this Saturday morning, January 5th! If you don’t believe me, check out event co-host Becky Nicolaides on “the twitter”:

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Chicago Theater with Marina Towers behind to the left, Ryan Reft, Dec. 2018,

Clearly the rendezvous is set.  We hope to see you there this Saturday! See below for more details:

The annual American Historical Association (AHA) conference is a big, rich space for historians but can be a little overwhelming, especially for newcomers.  This year at the AHA, we are trying something new:  informal “meet ups” to help people with shared interests find each other at the conference.  I’m happy to be co-hosting a meet-up for urban historians at the upcoming AHA conference in Chicago, welcoming in folks working on all urban/suburban/metro geographies, time periods, themes, you name it. It will be informal, no agenda, just a chance to find old and new friends in the field and share what you’ve been up to, over coffee and croissants. I’ll be there along with Carol McKibben to welcome you. We are grateful to the UHA for generously underwriting the costs of refreshments.  Drop by if you can, bring your business cards, and hope to see you there!

When: Saturday January 5, 8:30 – 10am 

Where Salon 8, Palmer House, Chicago, IL

Co-hosts:

Becky Nicolaides, Councilor, Research Division, AHA Council, and Research Affiliate, USC and UCLA
Carol McKibben, Lecturer, Stanford University

Hosted jointly with the Urban History Association

Fiction and the City 2018

When the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Historical Association (AHA) announced that they would both be hosting their 2019 conferences in the capital of the Midwest, Chicago, during always balmy January, it was not surprising. The two often overlap, particularly in the convention-friendly Windy City. However, what did create shouts of joy was the decision by both organizations to honor the other’s registration. In other words, historians attending the AHA could abscond to the MLA to hear their more literary-minded peers debate similar topics, themes, and historical moments and vice versa.

In celebration, some scholars referenced the obscure but deeply influential hip-hop group, Das Racist:

A few–okay, at least one–pointed to Law and Order-like crossovers:

Others clung to past affiliations while looking to the promise of new ones:

Editors cried out for writers:

Others simply drew upon their sartorial leanings to express their euphoria:

The larger point here is that the two fields, though often siloed by academia and, perhaps, professionalization have long been in dialogue. As a young, impressionable undergrad I still remember eminent historian and literary scholar Rashid Khalidi incredulously asking our class (and I’m paraphrasing), “Wait, you people aren’t reading fiction? It’s one of the best ways to learn history.” That comment stuck. During my commute to work over nearly ten years teaching public high school in NYC, I devoured fiction on the subway on the regular. So it goes to say that historians and literary scholars have a lot to learn from one another, hence the reason for this blog’s “Fiction and the City” month, in which historians deployed their knowledge of fiction to explore urban history around the globe.

Though The Metropole published Fiction and the City in February 2018, it remains an ongoing pursuit. With the year coming to a close, The Metropole‘s editors have rounded up all those who provided contributions. Below you’ll discover links and descriptions for each.

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“Welcome to Fiction and the City”The Metropole

A general overview of our historical and literary purposes; it’s short and sweet, including the Kevin Kruse twitter thread on writing.

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“Mickey Spillane’s Hell of a Town” – Brian Tochterman

“Spillane’s representation of a city in the throes of crisis may have been a stand-in for the atomic anxieties of the immediate postwar era,” writes Northland College professor Tochterman, “but it was also quite prophetic about the discourse of cities like New York in the not too distant future.” In many ways, Spillane’s problematic view of NYC served as a harbinger of things to come, a point which the writer explores through Spillane’s work, the history of domestic America during the Cold War, and New York City’s always unstable place in U.S. culture.

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“The Urbanization of Chinese Fiction” – Kristin Stapleton

Outgoing UHA board member, University of Buffalo historian, and general Chinese literary enthusiast Kristin Stapleton takes readers through a tour of urbanity in Chinese literature. In particular, Stapleton notes fictional discourse about Chinese cities remains a relatively new development, yet serves as an indicator of great change underfoot in the East Asian power. “Much of the popular fiction of the last forty years reflects the fast-paced new culture of China’s megacities,” notes Stapleton.

Crabgrass Science: Failed Suburbs in Science Fiction – Carl AbbottMetatropolis

The former editor of Pacific Historical Review and Portland State Professor knows more than a bit about history and popular culture. As discussed at this past year’s UHA conference in Columbia, the Rose City resident has been working for several years with artists and others producing comic books about Portland’s urban history. Therefore, this Mike Davis/Eric Avila-like piece on the suburbs in science fiction speaks to old and new depictions of suburbia all while adjusting for issues of race, gender, and class over recent decades. “If science fiction suburbs are usually troubled and dangerous places,” notes Abbott “it’s in part because popular discourse about suburbia has been equally negative—from aesthetic and moral censure in the 1950s to critiques of suburban isolation in the 1980s and the trope of ‘slumburbia’ in the present century.”

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The View from 71st and Jeffrey”– Carl Rotello

Boston University American Studies chair Carl Rotello opens one of The Metropole’s most literary posts rather simply: “The best spot for ectoplasmic people-watching in South Shore is the raised wooden platform of the Bryn Mawr Metra station at 71st and Jeffery.” From there he cleverly uses the Metra stop as a means for evaluating local histories, known and lost, and the people and communities who populated them. “From the platform you can catch glimpses of the converging ghosts, and the lost cities they represent, that move among the current-day hangers-out on the corners, commuters waiting for buses or trains, and local residents running errands at the neighborhood’s principal intersection.”

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“Contending Urbanization Through Satire: Late Imperial Baku As Seen in Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s ‘If Not That One, Then This One’” – Kelsey Rice

Few genres elicit the kind of responses that satire does. When Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal,” some people truly believed he advocated eating Irish babies. Yet even amidst such confusion, it remains hard to deny the power of satire as means for resistance to prevailing political, social, or economic trends. University of Pennsylvania PhD candidate Kelsey Rice explores the work of Uzeyir Hajibeyov, a writer who arrived in booming turn-of-the-century Baku, a city one historian describes thusly: “It was as if the industry of Pittsburgh and the frontier lawlessness of Dodge City had been superimposed on Baghdad.” According to Rice, Hajibevov created some of the first operettas to engage Baku urbanity, as the city’s demographics, economy, and politics shifted. The operetta If Not That One, Then This One, “one of Hajibeyov’s most popular, grappled with the social challenges and violence presented by urbanization through a combination of biting satire and catchy tunes.”

 

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“Race, Sexuality, and Noir in Chester Himes’ Wartime Los Angeles” – The Metropole

Today the works of Walter Mosely – Devil in a Blue Dress and Fearless Jones among several others – stand as testament to the power of noir fiction when retreating from the kind of mid-century tropes of the genre that regrettably equated blackness with dark corners of the changing postwar metropolis. However, the lesser-known Chester Himes contributed mightily to the Walter Mosely’s of the future when he penned If Hollers, Let Him Go in the 1940s. “Himes offers a dark vision of American racial relations in If He Hollers while also charging headlong into the fraught dynamics of interracial sexuality,” notes The Metropole, “all under a sun-drenched Southern California sky that casts brighter light on Black Los Angeles.”

 

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Romance Novellas and the Post African City” – Emily Callaci

Recipient of the Urban History Association’s Arnold Hirsch Award for Best Scholarly Article on Urban History,  University of Wisconsin historian Emily Callaci explores the role of popular romance novels in the 1970s postcolonial city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Featuring male protagonists styled in the fashion of Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley and Bruce Lee, such characters and the stories they offer up function “as an unintended archive of the emotional lives of Dar es Salaam’s young men in the mid-1970s through 1980s, the final decade of Tanzania’s socialist experiment,” writes Callaci. Of course, the novels do more than simply chart the paths of fictional lotharios across the city; they also speak to the tensions at the heart of a city escaping colonialism while mapping its own course toward the future.

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Children’s Fiction in the City” – Avigail Oren, Kevin Seal, Melanie Newport and other #Twitterstorians

The Metropole co-editor Avigail Oren, Pittsburgh educator Kevin Seal, and University of Connecticut historian Melanie Newport present a compendium of children’s works that engage urban life, including Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach, When the Beat was Born by Laban Carrick Hill, Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street, and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia among many, many others. Oren, Seal and Newport break down individual works and discuss the importance of “fiction and the city” for both young readers and adults.

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Didionesque Sacramento: Race, Urban Renewal and Loss in Joan Didion’s ‘Run River’The Metropole

Perhaps it’s no secret that at least of one of The Metropole’s editors has a possibly unhealthy obsession with the work of Joan Didion. Still, the famed California writer continues to produce interesting and compelling works well into her 80s. In this piece, The Metropole examines how her first work of fiction explores the state of burgeoning post-World War II Sacramento and Didion’s own blindspots in regard to race and class. Though part of our April Metro of the Month on Sacramento, it neatly fits into Fiction and the City as well.

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