Tag Archives: Suburbs

Member of the Week: Ken Alyass

50211478_1237703249711565_3079804422419644416_o (1)Kenneth Alyass

Senior, Wayne State University

History Major

@kenalyass

 

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

I’ve been admitted to Northwestern and Harvard’s history PhD programs, and the project I proposed to both of those schools focus on Modern American urban history post-1970. More specifically, I want to study the intersection of suburbanization, the carceral state, and deregulation of finance in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. My ultimate goal is to understand the suburbanization of poverty in the post “riot” period of urban America. This history draws my interest because I live in suburb that isn’t lily white, affluent, or lined with white picket fences. Poverty and structural issues are so evident all around me, and I couldn’t help but notice that only a few miles north of my hometown, there were a couple neighborhoods where the wealthiest families in Michigan lived. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, what I was seeing was what scholars call uneven development.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your work on your honors thesis?

Currently I am taking a seminar called “Modern American Cities,” with my professor and thesis advisor, Tracy Neumann. The class takes a look at postwar American urban history. We’re reading books like Sugrue’s The Origins of Urban Crisis, Andrew Needham’s book on the politics of energy production, Power Lines, and a few other interesting pieces. This class directly fits in with my thesis work. I’m writing a paper preliminary titled “Law and Order, with Justice” Redevelopment and the Rise of the Carceral State in Detroit, which is the second part of my honors thesis.

What books or articles have you read recently that made an impression?

Julio Capó Jr.’s book, Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940, was particularly impactful on me. The book is a really interesting examination of Miami’s queer community, with a focus on policing the community, before 1940. It is slightly unusual for me because I mostly study postwar urban history, so it is refreshing to see a book that goes a little further back to unpack the early origins of policing, urban renewal, redevelopment, and even gentrification. One of my favorite things about it is that it approaches urban history with a more American Studies perspective, so he looks at visual media and architecture, something not all historians do.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students preparing an honors thesis related to urban history or urban studies?

Make sure you understand that urban history is really a combination of different thematic fields. We’re all doing social, political, economic, cultural, and other histories when we write about urban places. Having a grasp of the basics of those fields comes to be really helpful when you’re trying to understand them in unison. Another piece of advise I wish I took early on is read some spatial theory. People like Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey have been super influential in how I understand “space” – even if theory is a little hard to read.

You are graduating soon and leaving Wayne State! What will you take with you from your experience there, and how do you think what you learned (and who you met) will shape the next few years of your life?

I’ll argue this until I’m blue in the face: there is no better place to study labor and urban history than at Wayne State University. We have the largest labor and urban affairs archive in the nation right on campus, and from my first course here to my last, I have utilized the collections there. Tracy Neumann, David Goldberg, and Paul Kershaw, have been great influences on me. As I continue down the road into academia, their advice on how to be a good scholar and person will stick with me for a long time.

The Capital’s Surveillance Shadow: A Northern Virginia Bibliography

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

In the 1987 thriller, No Way Out (NWO), Navy Commander Scott Farrell, played by the allegedly dreamy, inexplicable leading man of the era, Kevin Costner, finds himself embroiled in a murderous love triangle featuring a nefarious Secretary of Defense, David Brice (Gene Hackman) and a dizzy D.C. courtier, Susan Atwell (Sean Young). Being the late 1980s, healthy dollops of Cold War espionage are also mixed into plot, as are a few regrettable homophobic and misogynistic tropes.

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Even Kevin Costner circa 1987 doesn’t understand his own appeal. From No Way Out

Yet, when one watches it today, the architecture of the capital and Northern Virginia stand out as much as the film’s dated social mores and loopy military/spy thriller vibe. NWO’s opening shot slowly trawls across the NOVA/DC landscape, capturing the usual suspects – The Pentagon, the Mount Vernon bike trail along the river, the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, and so forth – before settling on the Arlington side of the river, staring, with an impending sense of foreboding, at the capital across the water.

Even a notorious sex scene in the film (scandalous for 1987 but pedestrian for 2019) functions as a tour of the city’s monuments as much as it is a testament to the button down freakiness of Washington D.C. diplomats, advisors and lobbyists. After all, who doesn’t gaze at the Lincoln Memorial and imagine limousine-aided carnal relations?

Despite the familiarity of the Washington Mall, Congress, and other D.C. federal institutions, the architecture of the security state located largely in Northern Virginia defines the movie’s conspiratorial narrative. All the Presidents Men (1976) schemed to achieve something similar; Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), evoked a similar sentiment more recently, albeit aided by a great deal of CGI.

In NWO, the Pentagon casts its imperial shadow across the metropolitan region while its workers, many from the NOVA suburbs, scurry about in its endless regimented corridors. The CIA’s Langley Headquarters surveys the intellectual community hidden amidst a sea of green. When trying to thwart actions by a rival in the government, Farrell speeds down Georgetown’s Whitehurst Freeway with the Key Bridge and the Key Bridge Marriot in the background, the latter located just across the river in Arlington where according to historian Andrew Friedman, author of Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Virginia, C.I.A. agents clandestinely rendezvoused, eating and drinking their fill all while planning various covert actions abroad.

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Modern house in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Granted, it never reaches the level of California noir, but the idea and reality of clandestine meetings between elites and operatives was planted in the NOVA soil during the region’s post-World War II development. During the 1950s, Eleanor Dulles’s Maclean, VA bungalow served as a modern day foreign policy salon, “a kind of Round Table for Cold War Washington,” where elites like Allen and John Foster Dulles among numerous others lazed about the pool, drank martinis, and played games of touch football while endeavoring to covertly remake the world in America’s interest. Later, as the nation began wading into Southeast Asia, Edward G. Landsdale (think Alden Pyle from Graham Greene’s The Quiet American), a famed CIA operative in Vietnam, held “hootenannies” at his NOVA home in an effort to create cultural and personal bonds between Washington and Vietnamese elites.[1]

For Friedman, the expansion of the intelligence community in Northern Virginia transformed its human geography from rural farmers and large landholders to suburban CIA agents plying their trade amidst a cartography of pleasantly bland intrigue: a “covert capital” “hidden in plain sight,” which more accurately embodied “U.S. imperial management on the ground” in places like Vietnam, Iran, and Central America.[2] Transnational relationships between agents abroad and elites in these places later led to resettlement in the region, further altering NOVA’s demographics, though not every group that gravitated to the region found new footholds on equal terms.

The Vietnamese endured the residue of the Jim Crow South and U.S. resentment over military failure in Southeast Asia. Iranians, often better off and with ties to higher ranking intelligence officers, reestablished themselves in upper middle class suburbs. El Salvadorians, victims of America’s secret wars in Central America, arrived as almost invisible specters, working some of the hardest manual labor jobs in the region and ultimately existing in a “zone of illegality” often viewed as undocumented despite residing in the U.S. legally.

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Eden Center, Peter Reft, July 2014

Each cast a cultural influence. Eden Center in Falls Church recreates the markets of Ho Chi Minh City while El Salvadorians transformed neighborhoods such as Alexandria’s Chirilagua neighborhood. Many Iranians slid easily into real estate development and other management positions, thereby contributing to the region’s physical transformation. And NOVA’s diversity extends beyond these examples. By the early 1990s, an observer traversing the halls of its public schools would hear nearly 50 languages spoken, including Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese.[3]

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Eden Center, Peter Reft, July 2014

Agents too brought remnants of their experiences abroad back with them, whether artifacts from Asia and Latin America as interior design or the imperial built environment they imported and embedded into the landscape. “The ephemeral newness and just-add-water domesticities frequently associated with the post-World War II suburbs, for transnational CIA families,” asserts Friedman, “became functional necessities, just as the neocolonial architecture seen as indigenous to these suburbs often played the double role of importing the comfort and style of colonial bungalows they inhabited abroad into their home environment.”[4]

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The blandly conspiratorial Key Bridge Marriott, Peter Reft, July 2014

Yet, while the intelligence community undoubtedly shaped NOVA, so too did the vast military industrial complex that ballooned in the post World War II period. In part under the leadership of Vannevar Bush, operations research (OR)—or to oversimplify, scientific applications used to align weapons systems and other armaments in the field—became the economic coin of the realm. RAND might have pioneered efforts in OR from its Santa Monica location but as Paul Ceruzzi notes, “the armed services wanted scientists nearby, and they established counterparts to RAND located in the Washington region.”[5]

It helped that after World War II worries that the concentration of military/intelligence agencies in cities would leave national security vulnerable to nuclear attack led Truman to embrace “industrial dispersion,” a “quiet effort that operated largely below the political radar screen,” as historian Margaret O’Mara writes. Dispersion resulted in the militarization of suburbia and the suburbanization of science and coincided with mass suburbanization. Dispersion along with the government’s increasing support of science as a form of economic development transformed the federal government into an extremely powerful consumer of industry while simultaneously increasing its interest in locating contractors in metropolitan areas outside of densely populated cities.[6]

Highway construction followed nationally, and more specifically, in Northern Virginia. Of numerous plans in circulation, only the infamous Beltway was ever fully realized. Its completion laid the groundwork for the growth of Reston, Dulles Airport and the Dulles Corridor. Tysons Corner, positioned at Beltway interchanges for routes 123 and 7, made it a prime location for housing, retail complexes, and corporate offices. Other destinations also benefitted, such as Annandale, but none to the extent of Tysons Corner.[7] Indeed, over the past several decades Tysons Corner has grown exponentially and today even has a silver line metro stop, though the station sits in the middle of two large thoroughfares and the “edge city’s” walkability remains marginal at best.

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Panorama aerial of Tysons Corner, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As the Cold War ramped up, the federal government created the National Science Foundation (NSF) and promoted the idea of science and tech research as economic development, or as O’Mara puts it, “city building.” The result has been the sort of “edge city” or “urbanized suburb” idealized by Joel Garrea, which has come to typify Northern Virginia.

Obvious parallels between Silicon Valley, Southern California’s aerospace industries, and NOVA exist. Today, Silicon Valley is seen as at the vanguard of the consumer electronics industry and social media, but it made its bones on federal contracts. Early on, Stanford’s Fredrick Terman, one of the individuals credited with laying the groundwork for today’s Silicon Valley, recognized that federal funds “served as seed money for industrial innovation.” Despite its long history of skepticism toward government and its promotion of free markets, Stanford (and others who established tech businesses in the Valley) quickly lined up at the trough of federal defense spending.[8]

Not to be outdone, Southern California, which historian Lisa McGirr argues is the birthplace of modern conservatism, also welcomed federal dollars for its aerospace industries, many of which relocated to or established offices in NOVA during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s: Computer Science Corporation (CSC), Science Applications International Corporations (SAIC), California Analysis Center Incorporated (CACI), DynCorp, and RAND, among others. Reagan’s SDI program brought these industries to a fever pitch by the mid 1980s, only to be consolidated under a handful of corporations later during the 1990s and 2000s.

Though not completely analogous, Silicon Valley had Stanford and the Stanford Research Park, while NOVA has George Mason University—which, behind the leadership of George Johnson in the late 1970s and early 1980s, oriented many of its programs toward OR and systems analysis. However, unlike Stanford, which pioneered this sort or relationship and created the model, GMU reacted to local firms, or, as Ceruzzi writes, “it is an effect, not a cause of the booming economy.”[9]

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Modern office building in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

For all its benefits, NOVA also lacks the kind of entrepreneurial venture capitalists that scour its Northern California counterpart. For better or worse, the government remains the primary consumer of the kinds of products and services produced by NOVA firms. Finally, building an industry around military policy makers, in which they serve as the conduit for development, results in a much different working culture. In Silicon Valley, “it is always the engineer, the programmer, even the computer hacker, who ranks at the top, even if he or she may not be the CEO of the company or necessarily have gotten rich from his or her efforts,” notes Ceruzzi.[10] Admittedly, in the decade since Ceruzzi published Internet Alley: High Technology in Tyson’s Corner, 1945-2005, figures like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey have dominated the narrative around the Valley in a fashion that seems more hierarchical than he asserts in his 2008 work, but his point remains salient.

Of course, the growth of defense industry companies such as Raytheon and the government’s emphasis on science research only partially explains the region’s development. If not for John “Til” Hazel and his partner Milton Peterson, Northern Virginia might look very different.

Described by journalist Joel Garreau in his flawed but influential work Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, Hazel was both “legal sledgehammer” and “John the Baptist of Development.”[11] According to Garreau, only Pierre L’Enfant, the French designer of the capital, had “done more to shape the Washington area.” Hazel rejected affordable housing, depicted environmentalists as irrational, and viewed unfettered development as the holy grail of suburbanization. “If he brought no little arrogance to his vision, it was because he was creating no less than a new world,” writes Garraeu, “He was bringing civilization to the ‘howling wilderness’ … He was bringing it the benefits of modernity….”[12]

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Tysons Corner Center shopping mall, Tysons Corner, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Opponents like Audrey Moore and the slow growth movement she represented blunted some of Hazel’s efforts, but the Northern Virginia developer rode roughshod over the region for decades until his efforts to transform the Civil War battlefield site of Bull Run into a suburban shopping mall ran into a buzzsaw of well positioned resistance.[13] Ironically the military’s history and not the development of its future capabilities was what ultimately blunted NOVA’s suburbanization.

What has all this meant for the state of Virginia? By 1999, Fairfax County contained 14 percent of the state’s population and provided nearly a quarter of its tax revenue. Depending on the study consulted, and whether Arlington County and the City of Alexandria are included in the equation, the percentage of revenue to the state climbs to nearly 50 percent.[14] In 2008, NOVA accounted for one third of the state’s nearly 22 million residents, half of its economic development, and nearly the same in tax revenue, but only received back between 25 and 40 percent in cash and state services. “They treat us like the Bank of Fairfax,” said one county official at the time. Politically, over the course of the past two decades NOVA single-handedly transformed Virginia from red state to purple to blue. During the 2008 presidential campaign an advisor to the late John McCain told MSNBC that NOVA wasn’t “real Virginia.” The cognitive dissonance between Northern Virginia and its southern counterparts in Richmond led to a Washingtonian article that same year titled simply, “Will Northern Virginia become the 51st State?”

With changes afoot related to the arrival of half of Amazon’s HQ2 project, Northern Virginia remains far from static. Jeff Bezos’ online behemoth promises that the region’s growth will continue apace, perhaps in ways less dependent on the government—though contractors across the region whisper conspiratorially about the company’s alleged foray into federal contracting. Not exactly the stuff of late-1980s Kevin Costner spy thrillers, but, for good and for ill, compelling nonetheless.

Below you’ll find our usual attempts to craft a bibliography on the region. We’d like to extend special thanks to Krystyn Moon, Tommy Hill, and Lindsey Bestebreurtje for their expertise in building the bibliography; their efforts were immensely helpful. As always, we know we’ve probably missed something. If so, let us know in the comments!

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Aerial view with a focus on Francis Scott Key Bridge between Northern Virginia and the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Bibliography

Banham, Russ. The Fight for Fairfax: A Struggle for a Great American County. Virginia: GMU Presses, 2009.

Baker, Andrew. “Metropolitan Growth Along the Nation’s River: Power, Waste, and Environmental Politics in a Northern Virginia County, 1943-1971.” Journal of Urban History, 23, No. 5 (2015): 703-119.

Bestebreurtje, Lindsey. “Built By the People Themselves: African American Community Development in Arlington, Virginia from Civil War to Civil Rights.” PhD Diss., George Mason University, 2017.

Bestebreurtje, Lindsey. “A View from Hall’s Hill: African-American Community Development in Arlington.” Arlington Historical Magazine 15, No. 3 (Oct. 2015): 19-34.

Bunch-Lyone, Beverly and Nakeina Douglas. “The Falls Church Colored Citizens Protective League and the Establishment of Virginia’s First Rural Branch of the NAACP.” In Verney, et. al. Long is the Way and Hard: One Hundred Years of the NAACP. Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2009.

Ceruzzi, Paul E. Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008.

Chacko, Elizabeth, and Ivan Cheung. “The Formation of Contemporary Ethnic Enclaves: Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.” In Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America, 2nd ed., edited by John W. Frazier, Eugene L. Tettey-Fio, and Norah F. Henry, 129-41. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Chacko, Elizabeth. “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area.” Journal of Cultural Geography 20, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 2003): 21-42.

———. “Identity and Assimilation among Young Ethiopian Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington.” Geographical Review 93, no. 4 (October 2003): 491-506.

———. “Washington, D.C.: From Biracial City to Multiethnic Gateway.” In Migrants to the Metropolis: The Rise of Immigrant Gateway Cities, edited by Marie Price and Lisa Benton-Short, 203-25. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

———. “Ethiopian Taxicab Drivers: Forming an Occupational Niche in the US Capital.” African and Black Diaspora: An Internal Journal 9, no. 2 (July 2016): 200-13.

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Aerial view of Northern Virginia in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Friedman, Andrew. Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

Friedman, Samantha, Audrey Singer, Marie Price, and Ivan Cheung. “Race, Immigrants, and Residence: A New Racial Geography of Washington, D.C.” Geographical Review 95, no. 2 (April 2005): 210-30.

Gordon, Douglas. “Arlington Rebuilds a Community and its Roots.” Architecture + Design in the Mid-Atlantic 23, no. 4 (2012):18-28.

Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1995.

Hill, Thomas. “The Securitization of Security: Reorganization of Land, Military, and the State in the Pentagon’s Backyard.” Journal of Urban History 41, no. 1: 75-92.

Kaye, Anthony E. Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Meyers, Jessica. “Pho and Apple Pie: Eden Center as a Representation of Vietnamese American Ethnic Identity in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area, 1975-2005.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9, no. 1 (2006): 55-85.

Moon, Krystyn R. “The African American Housing Crisis in Alexandria, Virginia, 1930s-1960s.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 124, no. 1: 28-68

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Wolf Trap Concert Hall in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

———. “The Alexandria YWCA, Race, and Urban (and Ethnic) Revival: The Scottish Christmas Walk, 1960s-1970s,” Journal of American Ethnic History 35, no. 4 (Summer 2016): 59-92.

Morris, James McGrath. “A Chink in the Armor: The Black-Led Struggle for School Desegregation in Arlington, Virginia, and the End of Massive Resistance.” Journal of Policy History 13, no. 3 (2001): 329-366.

Perry, Nancy. “The Influence of Geography on the Lives of African American Residents of Arlington County, Virginia, during Segregation.” PhD diss., 2013.

Nancy, Perry. “Everybody was Looking for a Good Government Job”: Occupational Choice during Segregation in Arlington, Virginia.” Journal of Urban History 40, no. 4 (March 2014): 719-741.

Perry, Nancy, Spencer Crew, Nigel M. Waters. “‘We didn’t have any other place to live’: Residential Patterns in Segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Southern Geographer 53, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 403-427

Petrozziello, Allison J. “Feminised Financial Flowers: How Gender Affects Remittances in Honduran-US Transnational Families.” Gender and Development 19, no. 1 (2011): 53-67.

Posey, Zakia L. “Oromo Transnationalism in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area: An Examination of the Development, Challenge, and Prospects of Gaining an Institutional Footing.” PhD diss., Michigan State University, 2014.

Price, Marie. “Placing Transnational Migration: The Sociospatial Networks of Bolivians in the United States,” 209-219. Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America. Edited by John Frazier. Binghamton University Publishing, 2006.

Price, Marie and Elizabeth Chacko. “Mixed Embeddedness of Ethnic Entrepreneurs in a New Immigrant Way.” Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 7, no.3 (2009): 328-346.

Repak, Terry A. Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

 Reston Town Center: Downtown for the 21st Century. Ed. Alan Ward, 1st edition. Washington, D.C.: Academy Press, 2006.

Schrag, Zachary M. “The Freeway Fight in Washington D.C.: The Three Sisters Bridge in Three Administrations.” Journal of Urban History 30, no. 5 (2004): 648-673.

———. The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Vogel, Steve. The Pentagon: A History – The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon, and to Restore it Sixty Years Later. New York: Random House, 2007.

Wilson, Jill H., and Shelly Habecker. “The Lure of the Capital City: An Anthro-Geographical Analysis of Recent African Immigration to Washington, DC.” Population Space & Place 14, no. 5 (September-October 2008): 433-48.

Wood, Joseph. “Vietnamese American Place Making in Northern Virginia.” Geographical Review 87, no. 1 (January 1, 1997): 58–72.

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Aerial view of high-rise neighborhood in Arlington’s fast-growing Rosslyn, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Primary Sources (oral histories, online exhibits, etc)

Bearinger, David. “From Bolivia to Virginia: Interview with Emma Violand-Sanchez.” Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Accessed December 14, 2016 (http://virginiahumanities.org/2013/06/from-bolivia-to-virginia/).

Lindsey Bestebreurtje, “Built By the People Themselves.” (http://lindseybestebreurtje.org/arlingtonhistory/)

“Echos of Little Saigon.” (https://littlesaigonclarendon.com)

“The Gray: Isaac Schwarz.” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City. Accessed November 14, 2015. http://www.jhsgw.org/exhibitions/online/lincolns-city/exhibits/show/mr-lincolns-city/blue-gray/isaac-schwarz.

Iacobelli, Amanda. “German and German-Jewish Immigrants: Michael German, Lewis Baar, David Bendheim, Max Pretzfelder, J.H Gerhard, and Henry and Isaac Schwarz”http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/archaeology/AR500BlockGerman.pdf (2006).

Immigrant Alexandra Oral History Project. (https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/info/default.aspx?id=86067) .

“Life Across the River.” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, Accessed November 14, 2015. http://www.jhsgw.org/exhibitions/online/lincolns-city/exhibits/show/mr-lincolns-city/life-across-the-river.

Featured image (at top): Panorama aerial of Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

[1] Friedman, Covert Capital, 35-38, 150-152.

[2] Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013), 32.

[3] Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, (New York: Random House, 1991), 353.

[4] Friedman, Covert Capital, 90

[5] Paul E. Ceruzzi, Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 23.

[6] Margaret O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 29, 34.

[7] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 63.

[8] O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge, 109.

[9] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 123-125, 15-16.

[10] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 92, 15

[11] Joel Garreau, Edge City, 382.

[12] Garreau, Edge City, 351, 383

[13] Joel Garreau, Edge City, 351, 390-391, 396, 404.

[14] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 119-120.

Previewing Our February Metro of the Month: Northern Virginia

If you find yourself in Northern Virginia and you feel a burgeoning hunger in your belly, you won’t find many better spots for Korean and Vietnamese food. Swing down to Annandale for the former (maybe check out Honey Pig) and over to Falls Church for the latter, where Eden Center has numerous sumptuous options.

The shadow of the Pentagon (Arlington), C.I.A. Headquarters (Langley), and D.C.’s bureaucratic architecture often obscures the fact that while government and defense industry employment have made NOVA one of the nation’s largest suburban economies, the area also draws critical entrepreneurs, laborers, and restaurateurs from around the world, and in particular from Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Iran.

The point, I suppose, is that NOVA has more local color than the bland tones of federal bureaucracy suggest (and that observers often accord it). With the 2019 SACRPH conference taking place in Crystal City this fall (from October 31-November 3; see the CFP here and submit proposals by March 15), NOVA will be our first Metro of the Month (MotM) for 2019, in part to encourage our fellow urbanists to consider attending the conference.

To its credit, The Metropole has waded into NOVA territory before and in an effort to whet your appetite for our forthcoming MotM, we’ve summarized two previous articles on the region below–replete with links to the full piece. Check them out and then come back Monday when we kick off our February Metropolis of the Month: Northern Virginia!

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Eden Center, Northern Virginia, 2014

“Capital within a Capital: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

Published as part of our MotM on Ho Chi Minh City, The Metropole explored how the Vietnam War created transnational connections between South Vietnamese officials and soldiers and American policy makers in NOVA. Drawing from work by Andrew Friedman, Lisa Lowe, and others, the article examined how Vietnamese resettlement challenged binary ideas of race while also enabling South Vietnamese refugees to establish a foothold in NOVA and create a space for cultural expression.

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Home in Hollin Hills, April 2017

Mid-Century Modernism on the Fringes of D.C.: Charles Goodman and NOVA’s Hollin Hills

Though today images of suburban Northern Virginia litter movies like 1987’s No Way Out and are recreated by television series such as The Americans (the show wasn’t actually filmed in NOVA), it’s worth remembering that much of this development took place after World War II in relation to the growth of government–particularly the defense and intelligence industries. The white-collar bureaucrats that staffed these new positions needed homes, and some demanded more than large-scale subdivisions that ignored environmental factors. Enter architect Charles Goodman and his modernist enclave of Hollin Hills, a neighborhood evocative of the modernist architecture made famous by California. Though largely understudied, the community has influenced modern day media; the aesthetics of the television show Mad Men is just one example. In addition to the historical context it provides, the photo-rich article also doubles as a home tour so that you can get up close without leaving your seat.

Featured image (at top): Aerial view of Northern Virginia, across Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Member of the Week: Claire Poitras

Poitrasc3Claire Poitras

Professor of Urban Studies and Scientific Director of the Villes Régions Monde Network

INRS-Urbanisation Culture Société

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

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

My areas of research include urban, suburban and metropolitan history. I am particularly interested in the built environment and urban technical networks and the ways in which they influence our representations of cities and place-making.

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

I am currently on sabbatical leave after acting as the director of my research institute for 7 years. Next fall, I am going to teach in an Urban Studies program (Master and PhD). I am also the member of the place name committee of the City of Montreal and this allows me to connect urban history with issues of the contemporary city.

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

My recent publications have addressed suburban history as well as the changes in former working class neighborhoods in the Montreal area. Some of my publications have been linked to the Major Collaborative Research Initiative on Global Suburbanisms financed by the Canadian government and directed by Roger Keil at York University in Toronto.

Poitras, C. 2018. «Quand la banlieue était l’avenir» (When the suburb was the future), Revue allemande d’études canadiennes-Zeitschrift fur Kanadastudien (ZKS), January, no 38, p. 8-24.

Poitras and P. Hamel 2018. «The Montréal Metropolitan Region. The Metropolis of a not so Distinct Society», in North American Suburbanism, J. Nijman (ed.), Toronto, University of Toronto Press (in press).

Poitras, C. 2017. «Defining Peripheral Places in Quebec. A Review of Key Planning Documents and Electronic Media (1960-2011)», in What’s in a Name? Talking about Urban Peripheries, R. Harris and C. Worms (dir.), Toronto, University of Toronto Press, p. 112-130.

Poitras, C. 2017. «L’axe du Canal de Lachine et les quartiers du Sud-Ouest. Grandeur et misère du berceau de l’industrialisation du pays ?», in La cité des cités, J.-L. Klein and R. Shearmur (dir.), Montréal, Presses de l’Université du Québec, p. 107-124.

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

I recommend that they read a lot on different cities and contexts and that they nurture their curiosity. Also, they should not hesitate to express their individuality in research. About 10 years ago, I heard a comment by a senior scholar at a conference on urban environmental history that influenced my path. It goes as follow: you’ve got to do your own thing!

You have written about the history of Bell Canada and the telephone more generally–a very interesting topic! I notice that most people seem to prefer text messaging these days, but are you still in the habit of calling people on the phone? How did researching the topic of the telephone influence your affection for this technology? 

Strangely enough, I have a certain aversion to technology and specifically smart phones. In addition, I think that we spend too much time in front of screens and not enough in the real physical/material world. This said, my preferred mode of communication is email.

Doing Urban History in Cleveland: A Personal Reflection

 

St Patricks Day 1988
The author with friends on Cleveland’s Public Square, St. Patrick’s Day 1988.  Courtesy of Coventry Village Reunion (Facebook Group); Photo above: Cleveland Municipal Stadium, postcard, ca. 1940. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

By Todd Michney

As for my earliest Cleveland memory, I am unsure, but riding the RTA’s Red Line Rapid Transit to the old Municipal Stadium for baseball games toward the end of the 1970s is one that certainly stands out. Initiated in 1928 when Cleveland still ranked as the country’s fifth-largest city, the facility in its twilight years felt cavernous with the fans coming nowhere close to filling its near 80,000-seat capacity.

Terminal Tower Christmas
Higbee’s Christmas Tree in lobby of Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, 1968. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

Another is the Terminal Tower in all its Art Deco grandeur – once the city’s main train station, and until 1964 the tallest skyscraper outside New York City. Its observation floor was regularly open then, and I can still faintly resolve the urban vista I spied through those windows as a child. Or Gordon Park – founded at the turn of the twentieth century, and as I experienced it, a place where my father sometimes played in softball tournaments. I would later discover that the park was a site of sporadic racial conflicts over beach access in the 1930s and 1940s. It was to Gordon Park that I went even earlier, on one of the in-state field trips that the Cleveland Public Schools authorized under the auspices of some Nixon-era federal program, in tow with my father and his students from Harry E. Davis Junior High School on a visit to the city’s aquarium formerly housed there. The sight of Lake Erie’s vast expanse on that occasion, probably for the first time, may actually be my earliest Cleveland memory.

When my parents met there in the late 1960s, just out of college, Cleveland was about to elect Carl B. Stokes as the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city; although civic leaders in the 1950s had burnished a somewhat exaggerated reputation for good race relations, Stokes was elected in the hopes of quelling the discontent exposed by the 1966 Hough Riots.

Mayor Stokes Edgewater Beach
Mayor Carl B. Stokes with kids at Edgewater Park Beach, 1969. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

In a seminar convened this past summer to commemorate the semicentennial of his landmark victory, I had a particularly poignant opportunity to contemplate Cleveland’s changes in my lifetime, against the backdrop of my book research on its African American middle class over the course of the twentieth century. As David Stradling has shown, the city’s reputation took a hit as the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire coincided with a rising environmental consciousness; however, Cleveland was still a decade away from receiving its notorious moniker, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Even as the city hit its population peak of almost one million in 1950, the shrinking heavy industrial base was already a cause for worry, as discussed by J. Mark Souther. I experienced this contraction when in the late 1970s my paternal uncles lost jobs at factories like White Motors and LTV Steel. For working-class African Americans, it proved even tougher. In Cleveland just like in Detroit, they had been forced to confront rising unemployment from deindustrialization much earlier. Along with other suburban adolescents attracted to the local punk rock music scene in the late 1980s, I approached the city and metro area’s declining population with a sense of adventure as I made trips to explore downtown spaces like the Old Arcade, a precursor to the modern shopping mall built in 1890 with considerable buy-in from Cleveland’s most famous citizen at the time, John D. Rockefeller.

Old Arcade
Old arcade, postcard, ca. 1900. Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

Like many other historians, I was motivated to choose a dissertation/book topic relating to my own personal background. But for those of us who make this choice, at what point does the intense familiarity with (and affection for) one’s hometown stop, and scholarly interest begin? How does one articulate the significance of such overlooked places to a broader audience – or, as I have been asked on more than one occasion: “Why should we care about Cleveland history?” For me, this question has become even more perplexing with the rise of “Rust Belt Chic,” a term Richey Piiparinen credits to Joyce Brabner, life partner to the late Clevelander and comics legend Harvey Pekar.[1] Explored in Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology – first published in 2012 by Anne Trubek, who went on to found Belt Magazine the following year – the concept represents a wry effort to reappropriate and shape the urban image of Great Lakes postindustrial cities amid increased attention from East and West Coast culturati, most recently on the occasion of Cleveland’s hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention.

I grounded an argument for Cleveland’s significance not just in its past prominence among U.S. cities and its significance as a Great Migration destination for African Americans, but by comparing its patterns of racial encounter with those in nearby Chicago and Detroit. Inspired by the work of Arnold Hirsch and Thomas Sugrue, among others, I nonetheless became dissatisfied with the applicability of Hirsch’s “second ghetto” concept[2] for the black middle class neighborhoods I studied, ultimately coming to believe that “surrogate suburbs” served as a better descriptor for these outer-city spaces and their residents’ ability to find creative workarounds in facing structural racism. I found that there was some truth behind Cleveland’s reputation for a more proactive approach to racial conflict during the 1950s – at least compared to Chicago and Detroit – but that an even more important factor was the disproportionate prominence of its Jewish neighborhoods that came to serve as black middle-class expansion areas, turning over with racial tension but little in the way of violent resistance. The intertwining of Cleveland’s Jewish history and African American history comes through particularly clearly in the tour we have created in conjunction with the upcoming SACRPH conference, which traces the outward geographic mobility of black families from peripheral city neighborhoods to suburbs like Shaker Heights.

Ernest Bohn
Ernest J. Bohn, 1962. Bohn simultaneously served as Director of the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA; 1933-68) and chair of the City Planning Commission (1942-66). Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

But Cleveland also turns out to be an incredibly well-documented city, as I began to realize in my first post-college job as a book page at the Western Reserve Historical Society, which is still the most important manuscript repository among all the city’s archives. Already as an undergraduate, I had encountered the voluminous personal papers of CMHA’s nationally-prominent head Ernest J. Bohn, nicknamed “Mr. Public Housing,” as a summer intern at Case Western Reserve University Library’s Special Collections. Later I discovered the Cleveland Press “morgue” at Cleveland State University (CSU) Special Collections, essentially the entire clippings files and photograph collection of the city’s once-leading daily newspaper that closed up shop in 1982. As I delved deeper and the dissertation morphed into a book project, I visited the invaluable Public Administration Library in City Hall, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Archives, the Cuyahoga County Archives and Recorder’s Office, and the often-overlooked Cleveland City Council Archives where materials are organized in a seemingly arcane fashion, according to the relevant ordinance.

The more obscure among these resources are obviously not where the novice or weekend conference-goer should begin. However, significant among all the changes I’ve seen in Cleveland over the last two decades is a growing consciousness of local history and the increasing availability of digital resources. Among the best places to start are the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, which originally debuted in 1987 in print form, as the first such reference work on an American city; and Cleveland Historical, a website and mobile phone app created by CSU’s Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. CSU’s Michael Schwartz Library has also developed the Cleveland Memory Project, containing thousands of maps as well as images from the aforementioned Cleveland Press collection; the Cleveland Public Library’s Digital Gallery also contains photographs, among other resources. An outstanding blog and research clearinghouse worth mentioning is Teaching Cleveland Digital. If you’re on Twitter, you could consider following This Was Cleveland, the most active of about a dozen similarly-themed accounts I’ve found. In any case, I hope to see you in Cleveland sometime, and that whether you come on a conference or a research visit, you have an enjoyable and rewarding stay.

Michney_1Todd M. Michney teaches in the School of History and Sociology at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is the author of Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). He is a current UHA board member and is the U.S. Articles bibliographer for the Urban History Newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @ToddMichney.

[1] Richey Piiparinen, “Anorexic Vampires, Cleveland Veins: The Story of Rust Belt Chic,” in Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, ed. Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek, 2nd ed. (Cleveland: Belt Publishing, 2014), 26.

[2] Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960, reprint ed. with a new forward (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

The Chrysler Village History Project: Public History and Community-Building on Chicago’s Southwest Side

This is the inaugural post in a series highlighting urban and suburban public history projects.

The Chrysler Village History Project has its origins in the spring semester of 2013, when a group of history graduate students from Loyola University Chicago nominated the Chrysler Village neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was successful, and the Chrysler Village Historic District was officially added to the National Register in early 2014.

Map CV
The Chrysler Village Historic District is bounded by S. Long Avenue, S. Lavergne Avenue, W. 63rd Street, and W. 65th

Rachel Boyle, who was part of the group that wrote the nomination, explained the district’s historical significance. “Chrysler Village represents an important link between urban and suburban history,” Boyle said. “It was a distinctly urban housing development created by private-public partnerships during WWII, but stands out in Chicago’s physical landscape with its suburban-esque curvilinear streets. Additionally, the neighborhood’s history contributes to Chicago’s history as one of the only construction projects that took place during WWII.”

In many cases, the focus on properties or districts nominated to the National Register fades with their rejection or successful designation. But Boyle wondered if she could take a different route and find some way to put the research gathered during the nomination phase to work for the Chrysler Village community. “Recurring questions [about the designation] from the community lingered: ‘So what? How does this actually benefit us?,’” Boyle said. “The Chrysler Village History Project began as an experimentation of how to harness the neighborhood’s newly discovered history for the immediate benefit of Chrysler Village residents.”

Maggie McClain recounts Boyle’s next steps. “In the interest of capitalizing on this successful nomination, Rachel Boyle visited my first graduate public history course at Loyola [in fall 2014] seeking ideas for how the neighborhood’s history could be used to build community within Chrysler Village.” The course was History 480: Introduction to Public History Methods and Theory, a requirement for incoming MA and PhD students in Loyola University Chicago’s graduate public history program. Boyle, who was by then a PhD candidate, worked with the course instructor, Patricia Mooney-Melvin, Ph.D., to turn these questions into a half semester-long course project. Students in the course had to develop proposals explaining how they would use the history gathered from the National Register nomination to create some kind of value for the residents of Chrysler Village.

Kelly Schmidt, who was also a student in History 480 that fall, explains what happened at the end of the semester. “I joined Rachel Boyle and a group of students who continued the project outside of the classroom.” Chelsea Denault, who had been part of the group that worked on the original National Register nomination, also joined the project at this stage. “Together, we decided our purpose was to preserve and celebrate the historical significance of the community, but we wanted to do so in a way that was accessible and engaging to everyone in the community,” explains Denault. “I thought it would be worthwhile to take part in a new project that involved the residents and provided them with some service, opportunity, or benefit.”

The Loyola team knew that they needed to establish a strong working relationship with local residents before they could move forward with their ideas. “One of the challenges we faced initially was coming in to a community as outsiders,” said Schmidt. “Fortunately, we met a group of residents who were ‘movers and shakers’ in their community and were willing to commit their time and energy to the project. We wouldn’t have had as much success in building a relationship with these residents without the involvement of the director of the local historical society, who was adept at serving as a bridge, communicating our interest in the community as well as what residents desired to see for their neighborhood. Our resident partners were able to draw upon resources and people in the community we never would have known about, or who we wouldn’t have been able to get on board ourselves… Residents were able to build other stakeholders’ trust in ways we as outsiders could not.”

Committee Meeting
The community committee and Loyola team meet in Chrysler Village to discuss project plans.

The Loyola team brought the most viable ideas from the History 480 proposals to a community meeting in Chrysler Village in spring 2015. This meeting resulted in the creation of a community committee that worked with the Loyola team to decide on the parameters of what they called the Chrysler Village History Project. Together, they decided to plan an oral history initiative and community history festival, among other things. They also built a website to house historical materials relating to Chrysler Village’s history and to act as a central hub where anyone interested in the project could learn about it and join the effort as a volunteer.

Maggie McClain coordinated much of the oral history initiative, which involved interviewing current and former residents of the Chrysler Village area, transcribing the interviews, and donating them to the nearby Clearing Branch of the Chicago Public Library. They worked with Chris Manning, Ph.D., instructor of Loyola’s graduate oral history class, to incorporate Chrysler Village interviews and transcriptions into his fall 2015 course syllabus. Students in the course recorded and transcribed interviews with current and former Chrysler Village residents for their final course project. The community history festival, which took place in August 2016, also involved the recording of interviews—one of many festival activities intended to help build connections across the Chrysler Village community.

 

Community Fest mural.jpg
The Loyola team and volunteers from Loyola’s history graduate program at the community festival in front of a mural painted by a local youth in celebration of the area’s history. Photograph courtesy Barb Ziegler.

Ultimately, Boyle attributes the success of the project to the strength of the partnerships developed between the team and key community stakeholders. “A cohort of passionate residents were committed to making the project work for their community, and proved to be the core reason the project succeeded,” Boyle said. “The constant support of the local alderman’s office also ensured that the necessary resources were available. And when communication between public historians and the local community struggled, the local leader of the historical society quickly emerged as an incredibly valuable translator.”

The Loyola team faced challenges along the way that ultimately yielded powerful lessons about public history practice. Schmidt explains, “Sometimes in our public history training we study the ideal of public history method, but ideals don’t always prove effective in practice. We had been taking formal avenues…to obtain our goals, which was a slow and expensive project. Our community partners showed us how relying on relationship networks was a far more fruitful approach.” Boyle added, “I recall being rightly convinced by local residents that the marketing for the festival should emphasize ‘fun’ rather than ‘history’ and ‘community-building.’ These incidents drove home that public historians have valuable skills to contribute but need to be tempered by the realities of community stakeholders. In short, shared authority can produce better results.”

Denault notes another difficulty faced by the Loyola team: the decision about what to do with the project once the community history festival had taken place. “We struggled a great deal with how to responsibly extricate ourselves from the project and hand off ownership of the project’s future to the community. After meeting with our resident stakeholders and having an honest conversation about their expectations and vision for the future and how to achieve that, we ultimately felt that we had given our community partners enough tools, contacts, skills, and guidance to remove ourselves in order to let them grow and transform the project to continue to meet the community’s needs.”

 

Community Fest
The Loyola team with Chrysler Village residents and volunteers at the community festival. Photograph courtesy Barb Ziegler.

With the history festival behind them, the Loyola team is hopeful that community members will continue the efforts begun as part of the Chrysler Village History Project. Boyle said that residents from Chrysler Village recently established a block club to “build off the energy from last year’s festival and continue to foster community.” McClain added, “Many of us in this group felt that we have done what we can to engage the community…it will be up to community members to keep that going.”

Hope Shannon is the UHA newsletter editor and a doctoral candidate in United States History and Public History at Loyola University Chicago. Before joining Loyola’s history program, she was the executive director at the South End Historical Society in Boston. She is the author of Legendary Locals of Boston’s South End, a book that draws on oral history testimony to tell a new story of the neighborhood’s history. Hope is a founding member of Loyola University Chicago’s Public History Lab, and she is the chair of the American Association for State and Local History’s Emerging History Professionals Committee.


This post discusses only a small portion of a very large project. Click here for more about the many facets of the Chrysler Village History Project, including a mural, pop-up museum, short articles about the area’s history, and a collection of historic images. The Chrysler Village History Project was also the recipient of the 2017 Student Project Award from the National Council on Public History and a 2017 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. They received Honorable Mention for the Alice Smith Prize in Public History from the Midwestern History Association.

The Loyola arm of the Chrysler Village History Project operated within Loyola’s Public History Lab, a group founded by Loyola University Chicago history graduate students in 2013 that aims to create partnerships between history graduate students and organizations and sites of history in the greater Chicago area.

Bios:

Rachel Boyle earned her Ph.D. in United States History and Public History at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to studying gender and violence at the turn of the twentieth century, Boyle brings over seven years of professional experience in every corner of the public history field, from exhibit curation and site interpretation to oral history and historic preservation.

Chelsea Denault is a Ph.D. Candidate in United States History and Public History and Graduate Assistant at the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago. Her dissertation focuses on the local politics surrounding the construction of the nation’s largest trash incinerator in Detroit, the community and international backlash against its operation, and the complex and problematic financial legacy it left to the city.

Maggie McClain is the Visitor Experience Coordinator at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison, Wisconsin, where she plans and manages family programming and assists with the volunteer program. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago.

Kelly Schmidt is a Ph.D. student in United States History and Public History at Loyola University Chicago, where she studies eighteenth and nineteenth century American history, particularly in the area of race, slavery, and abolition. Kelly has pursued her interests in museum work at the Heritage Village Museum, Cincinnati Museum Center, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Member of the Week: Nichole Nelson

Summertime Facebook Profile PhotoNichole Nelson

Ph.D. Candidate

Department of History, Yale University

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

My dissertation examines how communities that choose to intentionally racially integrate in order to increase property values can serve as potential models to achieve racial residential integration nationwide. The methods that small, suburban communities have adopted in the aftermath of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s missed opportunity to achieve integration during George Romney’s tenure as HUD Secretary from 1969-1973 are strategies that other communities and the federal government can emulate.

I became interested in studying racially integrated communities both as a result of my personal experience and pure coincidence. Having grown up in Levittown, New York as one of 500 black residents out of a town of approximately 50,000 people, I always wondered if my experience was normal. It wasn’t until I attended college at the University of Pennsylvania and took history courses that I learned that my hometown—Levittown—was intentionally segregated both through federal policy and real estate developer William Levitt’s reluctance to sell homes to black people. Taking classes with Thomas Sugrue piqued my interest in learning about racial residential segregation as well as integrated communities, like the communities that Morris Milgram planned and integrated.

However, when I was working on a seminar paper that informed half of my M.A. Thesis at Vanderbilt, I started on the path to my current research. Then, I was interested in studying the lives and experiences of black suburbanites who resided in white, working-class and middle-income suburbs from the 1970s through the 2000s. I wasn’t sure of many communities with this history, but I called Thomas Sugrue for advice and he made me aware of two communities with that particular history. Upon doing further research, I was surprised to learn about communities intentionally integrating, given the government, real estate industry, and white homeowners’ investment in racially segregated communities. From there, my research interests slowly shifted to their current manifestation.

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

I’m not currently teaching, but I had the pleasure of serving as a Teaching Assistant for David Blight’s course The Civil War & Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 last spring. The texts that we used to teach students about Reconstruction, Redemption, and the Compromise of 1877 illuminate how, for a brief moment, there was an alternative to the rigidly defined system of white supremacy that pervades American society today, with several black men holding office and local, bi-racial governments populating the South. Although seemingly different from the history that I study, this notion of alternatives is something that I’m interested in–as someone who believes that the methods that racially integrated communities have employed to maintain diversity can serve as important alternatives to the racial residential segregation that pervades American society.

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

I’m interested in reading more from Destin Jenkins, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, who writes about racial capitalism and post-war San Francisco. I’m also interested in reading more from Anthony Pratcher, a doctoral candidate at Penn, who writes about the relationship between taxation and the de-valuation of bodies of color in Phoenix, Arizona.

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

I would definitely advise graduate students to try to maintain a close working relationship with their advisor. I have been fortunate to have fantastic advisors who have been very attentive and kind with their feedback at every stage of my academic career, from Stephanie McCurry who advised me at Penn, Gary Gerstle, my advisor at Vanderbilt, and my advisor at Yale, Glenda Gilmore. They have all been fantastic and have offered invaluable feedback.

I am fortunate to have an advisor like Glenda Gilmore, who provides line edits of my dissertation chapters and is very encouraging; I would recommend seeking out an advisor who will do the same for you. As urban historians, especially twentieth century urban historians, we can often times get overwhelmed by the number of sources associated with studying our particular time period. A great advisor can help you parse out the story that you’re trying to tell.

What recommendation do you have for the profession of urban history?

When I often think of my favorite works of urban history, the classics (Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Kenneth Jackson, Thomas Sugrue, etc.) are usually written by white men. However, when I think of works of urban sociology, the works tend to be more diverse, and names like W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary Pattillo, Bruce Haynes, and Sudhir Venkatesh come to mind. Unfortunately, there are few black urban historians that come to mind, like Nathan Connolly. My perception is that Sociology seems to be more diverse than History, and given that urban history largely involves the study of people of color who reside in urban environments, it would be wonderful if the Urban History Association could take the lead on creating a pipeline to for tomorrow’s faculty of color by creating a dissertation completion grant for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous graduate students and a grant for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous junior faculty.

Member of the Week: Robert Fairbanks

Photo #2Robert B. Fairbanks, PhD

University of Texas at Arlington

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

I am currently researching the growth of the so-called suburban cities of the Southwest. One of the hallmarks of modern metropolitan America after World War II is the growth of huge suburban cities. Currently, Mesa, Arizona, is the 38th largest “city” in America while Arlington, Texas, is the 50th largest “city.” Although neither has the look or feel of a traditional city, both of these share many of the characteristics associated with modern cities including a diverse population, numerous manufacturing plants, large office buildings, massive retail outlets, cultural institutions and serious traffic problems. Some suburban cities may have started out as small rural towns on the fringe of the city, or possibly emerged as bedroom suburbs after World War II, but from my study of North Texas suburbs it became clear that some civic leaders in these communities had larger visions for creating a new type of city in metropolitan America. Although big city spillover explains the growth of suburban cities to some degree, these places became more than “accidental cities” due to civic leadership that embraced planning, boosterism and aggressive annexation that would result in a new type of city. I was drawn to this topic because I have lived and taught at the university here in Arlington for over 35 years and have become curious about why it and places like it in the Southwest developed the way they did. Were they merely accidental, as Robert Beauregard has suggested, or something more? Moreover, since neither Mesa nor Arlington has attracted the kind of scholarly attention they deserve I thought these suburban cities deserved some a closer look and believe that such a study would contribute to a better understanding of larger trends in the history of the metropolitan Southwest.

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

I currently teach an upper division undergraduate course entitled Cities and Suburbs in U.S. American History. I have been able to integrate my previous research in the history of housing reform, urban renewal and urban politics in the Southwest to the course and to provide more attention to the history of the urban Southwest, the focus of my scholarship, than one would expect at a Midwestern university. I also teach a Colloquium in Transatlantic urban history at the graduate level that draws less from my actual research and more from the background reading in this new field. Although I am not teaching the History of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this semester, I do regularly offer this class as a case study of urban history and rely heavily on my research on Dallas and now Fort Worth for that class which includes lectures, readings and field trips to both Dallas and Fort Worth.

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

I am very pleased that Temple University Press has now published my book, The War On Slums in the Southwest, in paperback because this allows it to be used in courses and to reach a wider audience.   Although I focus on the various efforts to eradicate slums in five Southwestern cities from the 1930s to the 1960s, a topic previously little studied, the book is more than a regional study and I hope my conceptual approach which traces how the war on slums gives way to the war on poverty will have some impact on how we think about federal policy in this area.

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

I would encourage young scholars in graduate school to develop networks within and without the university. It is so important to share your research with others and not only have them read what you write but for you to read what they have written and learn from them. Attendance at conferences can be pricey but the ability to interact with one’s peers from across the country as well as meet more established scholars is important professionally because many of these people will become life-long friends. Finally, you should select a research topic that really interests you since you will be spending a lot of time focused on it.

What museum or historical site would you recommend to urban historians visiting the city where you live?

Although the Sixth Floor Museum, which retells the story of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, is tasteful and evocative for those who lived through it, my recommendation is go to the nearby Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. Located in the beautifully restored Old Red County Courthouse built in 1892 in the oldest section of Dallas, the museum includes four galleries that present the chronological history of the city using historical artifacts, as well as various touch screen computers, an educational learning center, and four theaters that run well-crafted 15-minute films for each section.