Erika M. Kitzmiller
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
My scholarship examines the historical processes and current reform efforts that have contributed to and challenged inequalities in present-day urban spaces. My work leverages quantitative and qualitative data to understand the intersections of educational policy and the lives of teachers, students, and families.
My current book project, The Roots of Educational Inequality, traces the transformation of public secondary education in urban America over the course of the twentieth century. By arguing that the roots of educational inequality were embedded in the founding of American high schools in the 1910s and 1920s, this work directly challenges conventional declension narratives that hinge the challenges of urban schools on postwar white flight and failed desegregation policies.
I became interested in this work when I began teaching middle school at Wayland Middle School and became an activist in Philadelphia. I was fortunate to be able to meld my interests as an activist, scholar, and educator into this research agenda.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
I am currently teaching an educational foundations course and an elective, Education in the Age of Trump, based on the Trump 2.0 syllabus. I feel very fortunate to be at a school of education that values historical context and teaching, and thus, I have been able to infuse my research interests into my teaching. My next project is about youth inequality, mobility, and opportunity in rural and urban America and stems from my Trump course.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
I’m very excited about two forthcoming publications that are coming out in 2018. First, Rachel Devlin’s work on gender and school segregation, Girls on the Front Line: Gender and the Battle to Desegregate Public Schools in the United States, 1945-1968. Second, I’m eager to read Keisha Blain’s upcoming book, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and Global Struggles for Freedom, with Penn Press. I’m also eager to follow and continue reading Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, which is an open access book in-progress with collaborators, including MAGIC (the Map and Geographic Information Center at University of Connecticut Libraries), with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
Remember what brought you to graduate school, stick to your passions, and find mentors to push and cultivate you. I left my middle school classroom reluctantly. I loved teaching, but also knew that I wanted to give myself time to really understand the history of education and the challenges that urban schools face today with experts who had studied this for decades. I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor and dissertation advisor, Michael Katz, and a terrific committee with Tom Sugrue, Kathleen Brown, and Stanton E.F. Wortham. I am the scholar I am today because of what my middle school students taught me, because I stuck to what I was passionate about, and because I had a great team of advisors who pushed me as a scholar and teacher.
Your website is beautiful and makes excellent use of photographs to illustrate your work in the classroom and as a researcher. Does photography play a significant role in your research methodology? And do you have any advice for UHA members who want to incorporate photography into their work?
My commitment to visual work stems from conversations I had with individuals who did not always believe the challenges and inequities that I had witnessed in urban schools. I began taking photographs to show people what I had seen. To show them the inequities in our urban schools. Second, it was about access. I wanted people who do not enjoy reading or who have a hard time accessing academic prose to be able to learn from and contribute to my research agenda.
In Philadelphia, I took several photography classes and worked with a documentary film maker, Amit Das, as a graduate student at Penn. What Amit taught me is simple: pick up a camera and just try. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them. In the past, photography has not played a significant role in my work, but in my dissertation I filmed my oral history interviews because I wanted people to be able to experience what I was experiencing—to see and hear from individuals who either experienced or challenged racism in their schools and communities. And now, today, I am beginning to incorporate photography and film more in my work to expand access and open people to the humanity that history offers.