Tag Archives: Transportation

Member of the Week: Emily Callaci

faculty-callaci-300x300Emily Callaci

Associate Professor of History

University of Wisconsin, Madison

@ecallaci

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

I’ve been working for a few years now on a project on the history of reproductive technology in Africa in the 1960s through the present day.  It’s not an urban history project in the conventional sense, but it did grows out of my first book, which has a section examining the role of Tanzanian family planning nurses as public intellectuals who shaped public debates about gender, national sovereignty and youth sexuality in a city filled with newly arrived youth migrants. In the process of interviewing some of these retired Tanzanian nurses, I became interested in a more transnational story about the circulation of biomedical contraceptives in Africa. So far, this project has taken me to archives in the US, UK, Switzerland, Kenya and Tanzania, and in the near future, I’m hoping to travel to several archives in Nigeria.

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

This semester I am teaching my Twentieth Century African History Survey and an MA thesis writing colloquium. One of my favorite classes to offer is an undergraduate course called The Global African City, which explores themes in global urban history through three case studies: the Swahili coast, Johannesburg and Lagos. In the future, I’m hoping to include Cairo as well, but I need to read and learn a lot more before I can teach with any confidence about that city. For that class, I’m always looking for interesting primary sources to share with my students—archeological site maps, works of art, noir fiction, Onitsha market literature, graffiti, pop songs, pamphlets, photography—and of course, this feeds into my interest in “street archives.”

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

I am very excited about two recent books in African urban history—one that I have already read, and one that I have not yet read. The first is Kenda Mutongi’s book Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi. Matatus are the vans and buses that are Kenya’s main mode of urban transport. They emerged in the 1960s out of an ad hoc informal sector venture, and over time, became the public transportation system, serving 70% of the population. They are an essential part of the infrastructure of urban Kenya: when the matatu drivers go on strike, the city grinds to a halt. Through ethnography, archival research and interviews, Kenda Mutongi uncovers a vast urban network of matatu owners, drivers, passengers, mechanics, graffiti artists, sound system engineers, politicians, gang members and investors.  She uses the fascinating history of the matatu industry as a critical lens into the complex political, economic and cultural history of Nairobi.

The second, which I have not yet read, is Joanna Grabski’s book Art World City: The Creative Economy of Artists and Urban Life in Dakar. I love the idea about thinking about a city, its economies and its global linkages, through the lens of the art world. Plus, Dakar has such an amazing art scene, so the book is sure to be a visual treat as well. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

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

I would say cast a wide net when it comes to thinking about what constitutes an archive. I did not go into my dissertation research planning to use pulp fiction and Christian self-help books and family planning pamphlets and pop songs as my main sources, but I ended up learning more from them than I ever could have anticipated.

For you first book, you worked with unconventional sources that you called a “street archive.” What would you collect if you were to build an archive of the street on which you currently live?

That’s a neat question. OK, here’s one idea. For at least the past two years, all over Madison, people have been putting signs on their front lawns that say “In this house we believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is Illegal, Science is Real, Love is Love, Kindness is Everything.” Of course, I agree with all of these statements. But I wonder what kind of work these signs do in a place like Madison:  a predominantly white liberal enclave in a state that voted for Donald Trump, and a state that consistently ranks among the worst in the country in terms of the wellbeing of Black people. Who is the intended audience for these lawn signs? How do households collectively decide to put them up? What is the actual effect of these signs on how people feel moving through Madison? Do these lawn signs do anything to make Madison a more inclusive, equitable, diverse place?  Conversely, to what extent do the lawn signs serve some kind of emotional need of the white middle class families who live in these neighborhoods? I don’t want to be a cynical jerk about it, but I can imagine some really interesting insights coming from an analysis of these signs as a kind of street textuality. I think you could write an interesting history of Madison liberalism through a collection of signs that people have posted on their front lawns over time. I wonder if anyone has been collecting or archiving these.

Member of the Week: Troy Hallsell

Hallsell PhotoTroy Hallsell

PhD Candidate, Department of History

The University of Memphis

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

My research explores the grassroots politics of anti-freeway activism. In 1956, federal highway administrators proposed a freeway that would run directly though Overton Park in Midtown, Memphis. Their proposal became one of Tennessee’s and the nation’s most contentious public works project of the post-World War II era. Community activists organized to protect their park, going all the way to the Supreme Court to successfully prevent the freeway’s construction. While many scholars recognize their efforts as critical to protecting public spaces in American cities, they have not fully interrogated the politics behind the citizens’ freeway revolt, nor have they fully considered the ways in which this struggle served to increase residential segregation in places like Midtown Memphis. The project bridges literatures on environmentalism, urban history, and historic preservation to demonstrate the surprising and often unintended consequences of grassroots environmental activism that sought to preserve neighborhoods and public spaces.

As a historian and native Memphian, I have sought to answer questions about my home town—especially why is it segregated and how did it happen? During my MA program at George Mason University I took a course titled “Technology and Power” with Zachary Schrag. A portion of this course was dedicated to infrastructure and I was fascinated with our discussion about how roads/streets/highways shape built environments physically, spatially, and politically. When I began my PhD program at the University of Memphis I stumbled upon this freeway revolt in a book and found the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park’s archival record at the Memphis Public Library. I decided to take it up as a dissertation project and add to my city’s backstory.

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

I am currently teaching two courses: one that explores cities, technological innovation, and technology’s effect on the urban environment. This course is an extension of my research, but I have expanded it to include public health, housing, policing, and military activity. My other course, titled Environment and Society, is an introductory course that exposes students to some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. Using an interdisciplinary approach, they learn the science behind these issues, as well as the economic, political, and social factors that influence environmental change and shape our responses to it. Here, they learn that environment and politics are deeply intertwined.

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

There are two books sitting on my desk that I am about to read: Benjamin Looker’s A Nation of Neighborhoods: Imagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America and Lila Corwin Berman’s Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit. Both books speak to dynamics at work in Memphis during my period of study.

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

The biggest lesson I learned came too late for me. When PhD students are selecting their major and minor fields, they must choose ones that complement, not necessarily reinforce. For example, I chose 20th century US history for my major field and African and African American history for my minor fields. Since my major field was headed by urban and civil rights historians, I read tons (perhaps literally) of African American historiography. While great for teaching, it is difficult to draw a straight line between Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship and urban renewal. I should have chosen an Urban Studies minor field instead of African American historiography. Working with a minor field advisor, we could have created a reading program that covered urban, race, gender, and class theory. This approach would have provided a theoretical foundation that I could then let loose on my dissertation topic. Instead, I am having to teach it to myself while writing a dissertation and found this to be a daunting task.

What Memphis sites are currently overlooked, but really should be a “must-see” on any historical tour of the city?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. When people come to Memphis they will inevitably eat BBQ, go to the National Civil Rights Museum, and drop $40 to see Graceland. But I always recommend people do the following things. First, see the Peabody Ducks. I’m thirty-five years old and I still act like a six-year-old when I see a guy in a tuxedo march ducks out of an elevator and along a red carpet to swim in the hotel’s lobby fountain. Second, if you are on Beale Street venture into Silky O’Sulivan’s. Upon first glance, it is a bar like any other. But if you venture into the courtyard you’ll see a pair of goats off to the right. They always make me laugh, because, well, goats. Lastly, walk down to the Beale Street landing and take in the Mississippi River. Memphis sits upon the river’s widest point and people rarely consider how big and powerful a river can be. They don’t call it mighty for nothing.

Member of the Week: Michael Pante

IMG_2792Michael D. Pante

Assistant Professor

Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University

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

My current research deals with the history of Quezon City, especially in terms of its evolving social geography throughout the twentieth century. I was drawn to this topic primarily because of my affinity to the city: I was born, grew up, studied, and am still living and working in Quezon City.

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

I teach Philippine History courses, and my research plays a big role in how I present this subject to my students. Although I can’t devote a significant part of the syllabus to teaching Quezon City’s history as a specific topic, the historical forces that have defined this city are the same things that I emphasize in my lectures: the emergence and eventual decay of socioeconomic structures, agrarian conflict, urbanization, sociospatial transitions, state-society relations, etc.

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

I am excited about the ongoing “urban turn” in Philippine studies. More and more scholars are engaged in identifying Philippine cities and the Filipino experience of cities as critical factors that shape society. Such is true not only in the field of history, but in other social science disciplines as well. There’s a wave of new books from both established scholars, like Daniel Doeppers’s Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), and up-and-coming academics, like Wataru Kusaka’s Moral Politics in the Philippines: Inequality, Democracy, and the Urban Poor (NUS Press, 2017), and I hope I can also make a contribution to the field in the near future.

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

There’s no substitute to experiencing the city, seeing first-hand its unexplored corners, uncovering its faults, and especially interacting with the people who make its existence possible on an everyday basis. I don’t think scholars of urban studies who do so will ever run out of new stories and insights.

What was it like to travel by car or other transportation through Manila during the American Colonial period? Is it better or worse now? 

Many present-day Filipinos look back to the early decades of the twentieth century with nostalgia, thinking that that period was a sort of golden age for city living, including congestion-free streets. However, traveling by car through Manila during the American colonial period (1898-1935) was already quite a hassle even then. Traffic congestion in the central business district of Binondo was such an everyday occurrence that officials had to implement rerouting and one-way schemes to solve the problem, only to see these solutions give birth to other problems. Of course, the situation was better then, but only in terms of the limited geographical scope of traffic congestion. Before, people only had to contend with Manila’s traffic situation; now, the 12 million residents of Metro Manila experience the same situation but in a greater, metropolitan scale.