Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Member of the Week: Cynthia Heider

meCynthia Heider

M.A. Student in Public History, Temple University

Digital Projects Assistant, Center for Digital Scholarship at the American Philosophical Society

@comebackcities

Describe your current public history project(s). What about it/them are you finding interesting, challenging, and rewarding?

I suspect that some readers may be confused by or unfamiliar with the term “public history,” so I’ll begin with the short definition given by the National Council on Public History (NCPH): “[P]ublic history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world. In this sense, it is history that is applied to real-world issues.” You can learn more in this section of the website.

Part of the challenge and reward of public history work is that it can be highly variable in topic and audience. I enjoy this because I’m interested in lots of different historical topics, and it keeps my research skills sharp. Currently, I’m working as Digital Projects Assistant at the Center for Digital Scholarship at the American Philosophical Society Library, which allows me to make notable Early American documents available to a wider audience through digitization, transcription, data visualization, and open data initiatives. I’m an emerging scholar currently finishing my master’s thesis on data collection and exhibition practices of Progressive era settlement houses as well, part of which includes an institutional history project in partnership with a still-operational settlement house in Philadelphia. I am finding these projects rewarding due to their potential for near-immediate community impact.

What is one of your favorite examples of public history, and why?

I’m very excited about the National Public Housing Museum which will be opening next year in Chicago. From everything I’ve seen, it is going to be really relevant, showing examples of family life in the public housing units as well as engaging contemporary issues of housing insecurity, gentrification, zoning, and other topics particularly pertinent to urban settings. It has been a long time coming, in planning since 2007, which is sometimes a reality of public history projects. But if it can involve the local community in a fundamental way, while starting fruitful public conversations about these issues, I think it will have been worth the wait.

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

I recently published a dataset in the Magazine of Early American Datasets (MEAD), and I expect to publish another within the calendar year. This open data initiative records receipt and dispatch of all mail in the Philadelphia Post Office between May 25, 1748 and July 23, 1752; it should be of interest to scholars of Benjamin Franklin, informational networks, and/or the early colonial postal service.

As for other scholarship, I just recently read and admired Joyce M. Bell’s The Black Power Movement and American Social Work (Columbia University Press, 2014), which gave greater depth to my understanding of the historical context of American social work institutions including settlement houses. I look forward to learning more about women’s role in the movement in Ashley D. Farmer’s Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era (UNC Press, 2017).

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

I think the idea of working with the public can be rather intimidating sometimes; there’s an assumption that you have to act or be a certain way in order to “connect” with them. But “the public” is just composed of individual people, many of whom have deep community roots or feel strongly about neighborhood issues. The best place to meet the kind of people who might want to work with a historian is anywhere where people gather: city council meetings, churches, recreation centers, cafes, city parks, even online. Strike up a casual conversation, see where it takes you- but remember first and foremost to listen.

What’s the coolest document you’ve discovered in your own research? And what’s the wackiest document you’ve processed as an archivist?

I’ve had the good fortune to have worked in a wide variety of archival collections–from the point of view of both researcher and archivist. I am fascinated by the decision-making processes that go into archiving things. For instance, my absolute favorite archival find from a research point-of-view was an extraordinarily formal letter sent by Bernard J. Newman of the Philadelphia Department of Health in 1911 that simply said, “I am sorry you did not wait at my office as I was only away to get a bite to eat.” I love, by the form and content of the letter, the insight it gives into this man’s fussy personality, and I’m so intrigued by the fact that it was archived at all! Similarly, from the archivist’s point-of-view, I’ve come across items that I waffled about archiving- for instance, an eminent scientist’s ca. 1970 copy of High Times. I’ll leave it unanswered whether I chose to accession this item or not.

Member of the Week: Timothy Lombardo

Profile PicTimothy J. Lombardo, PhD

Assistant Professor

Department of History, University of South Alabama

Twitter: @TimLombard0

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

I am currently finishing my first book. It is a study of post-World War II Philadelphia and the blue-collar supporters of 1960s police commissioner turned 1970s mayor, Frank Rizzo. The book examines white, blue-collar Philadelphians’ engagement with the politics of law enforcement, education, employment, and housing and traces the establishment of an urban, class-conscious variant of populist conservatism. I came to the project for a number of reasons. The first is because I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I had long known of Rizzo’s reputation, but never really thought about it in a broader context until graduate school. I didn’t initially set out to write a dissertation on my home town, but I took a seminar on Conservatism in the Modern United States that piqued my interest. I also thought I recognized a gap in the literature. The majority of the urban history books we read in that seminar covered the Sunbelt or Suburban communities in the South and West (think Lisa McGirr, Becky Nicolaides, Matthew Lassiter, Kevin Kruse, Robert Self, etc.). These were all great books, but they didn’t seem to account for the kinds of urban conservative politics I was familiar with at home. I quickly decided to change my dissertation topic and spent the next few years chasing resources from the white, working- and middle-class neighborhoods that provided Frank Rizzo with his most enthusiastic support. Years later, the book is now under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press under the title Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and the Politics of the Urban Crisis.

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

I just finished my second year at the University of South Alabama. In addition to my modern US survey courses, this past year I also taught a writing seminar on post-World War II US history and a research seminar on 20th century US History. In the next academic year I will offer an honors class on American urban history called “The Urban Crucible: Cities and Suburbs in Modern America” and another course on America in the Sixties. All of these classes relate to my scholarship in a number of ways. My post-1945 US, urban history, and Sixties classes all take up the intersecting themes of race, class, and American political development that I write about in my book. I also try to integrate bits of my research into every class I teach, from surveys to research seminars.

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

Since you’ve already given me the space to make a shameless plug about my own book, I will say that I’m most looking forward to (finally) reading Ansley Erickson’s Making the Unequal Metropolis. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but the recent controversy over the book’s treatment by the American Historical Review has reinvigorated my interest. I had actually chosen the book as one of my course readings in my upcoming urban history class well before the AHR review came out, so now I’m really looking forward to figuring out how I’m going to incorporate it into the class.

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

Be flexible. Be flexible with your research, with your reading, with your writing, and with your career path. Urban history/studies is a growing field with a lot of possibilities, but young scholars shouldn’t let it also be a limitation. I think the flexibility to read across specialties and disciplines, to publish in different forums, and to research beyond what we usually consider urban history are important parts of scholarly development and maturation. I didn’t start out doing urban history; my research took me in that direction. It also helps to be flexible in where young scholars think they can do urban history. I’m pretty sure there was never a point when I was growing up in Philly, or at any point thereafter, that I told myself that I wanted to end up in Mobile, Alabama. But I remained open to different possibilities and followed them when they opened up. Now I’m lucky to be forging a career at a good university, with great students, and excellent colleagues.

What museum or historical site would you recommend to urban historians visiting Mobile, Alabama?

First of all, more urban historians need to visit Mobile, Alabama, where I’d be happy to show them around when they get here! We have a really good museum in the History Museum of Mobile. For those interested in the city’s architecture, I would direct them to some of Mobile’s historic neighborhoods like the Oakleigh Garden District, De Tonti Square, and Church Street East Historic District. I would suggest they visit Africatown, which is the community built by the last group of African slaves captured and brought to the United States, illegally smuggled in through Mobile Bay in 1860. And, finally, I wouldn’t want an urban scholar to leave without touring Mobile’s lively and growing downtown entertainment district. Like a lot of cities, Mobile’s downtown suffered from disinvestment and decline in the late 20th century, but a concentrated effort in the last decade or so began rejuvenating the area. Current planning documents call for future redevelopment that should allow for more walkability, bikeability, and green spaces. All in all, downtown Mobile offers urban scholars and students an excellent opportunity to see urban renewal in action.