Monthly Archives: August 2014

2014 UHA Dissertation Prize

The winner of this year’s dissertation prize is David H. Schley for “Making the Capitalist City: The B & O Railroad and Urban Space in Baltimore, 1827-1877,” completed at Johns Hopkins University, 2013.

In “Making the Capitalist City,” David H. Schley eloquently outlines the complicated relationship between the country’s first railroad and its terminal city. This well-written and thoroughly researched dissertation captivates as it examines the clashes and negotiations between the nations first railroad, use of city streets, and public space in the 19th-century built environment. He argues that “rather than simply ‘annihilating’ space, the transformative powers of the railroad developed amidst political conflicts over the use of city streets.”

David Schley is a lecturer at NYU Shanghai.


2014 Arnold Hirsch Article Prize

Patricia Acerbi is the winner of the 2014 Arnold Hirsch Prize for the best article published in 2013.

AcerbiPhotoUHAPatricia Acerbi’s essay, “’A Long Poem of Walking’: Flaneurs, Vendors, and Chronicles of Post-abolition Rio de Janeiro,” brings together social and cultural analysis to discuss the emergence of citizenship and modernity in Rio de Janeiro following the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the establishment of the first republic in 1889. Specifically, her essay provides a creatively fresh take on the concept of the flaneur — not as a product of European bourgeois anomie but as an engaged observer and translator of the emerging republican cityscape captured on daily walks through the city. In Acerbi’s account, the peddler — often a former slave or new immigrant — and the chronicler — the middle-class urban writer or literary journalist — embodied a new urban modern identity that was constantly in motion and formed through the quotidian encounters with the city as they moved between the center and margins of urban life. Rather than seeing these two figures as inhabiting worlds separated by distance, race, and class, Acerbi identifies them as Henri Lefebvre’s citadin — as citizens formed by their shared urban inhabitance. Republic officials did not regard these figures equally, however, as the vendor evoked the recent memory and history of slavery and was conceptually linked to urban problems that officials wished to contain or eradicate. As Acerbi points out, the chroniclers, whose literary and journalistic accounts of these urban denizens embraced their lives and work as a welcome adaptation of the traditional to the productive needs of the city, played a crucial mediating force in legitimizing them as urban laborers critical to the commercial and social life of the modern cityscape. By emphasizing these points, Acerbi’s article sheds light on and contributes to a better understanding of the emergence of alternative notions of urban citizenship in Latin America.

Patricia Acerbi is assistant professor of history at Russell Sage College. The full citation to her article is Patricia Acerbi, “’A Long Poem of Walking’: Flaneurs, Vendors, and Chronicles of Post-abolition Rio de Janeiro,” The Journal of Urban History 40 (January 2014): 97-115.

This text was provided by the UHA Prize Committee for the 2014 Arnold Hirsch Award for Best Article.

2014 Kenneth Jackson Book Prize

The 2014 Kenneth T. Jackson Prize for Best Book in RadfordAuthorityAmerican history goes to Gail Radford for The Rise of the Public Authority: Statebuilding and Economic Development in Twentieth-Century America, published by the University of Chicago Press. Radford questions the common perception that public authorities are undemocratic, insulated from public oversight, and responsive only to market forces, and challenges the conclusion of many scholars that this state of affairs is intentional. Meanwhile her elegant account of these agencies contributes to an important debate among scholars about the role of public institutions in shaping the modern metropolitan form.

Radford’s study is a painstaking historical reconstruction of the development of the authority as a governing structure. The public authorities that proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she demonstrates, were earnest efforts to achieve public purposes and meet public need in the nation’s rapidly urbanizing regions. The designers of these metropolitan experiments were limited by the legal structures of American federalism and state constitutional limits on municipal powers, and the forms that took shape represented those designers’ best efforts to create public capacity, given those constraints. Any discussions of the these agencies’ operations and of the potential for improving them, Radford persuasively shows, must be understood in this context.

By scrutinizing these seldom-examined pre-World War II government corporations, Radford breaks new ground. She challenges the historiography of the Progressive Era by demonstrating that the Progressives who created these corporations sought to make them more democratic and not solely instruments of a top-down de-politicized administrative state. Radford demonstrates how the early ideas of Progressives, such as William Gibbs McAdoo, might lead states and the Federal government to democratize the investment of public capital and vindicate the initial promise of public corporate forms, starting an important conversation among scholars about the trajectory of public authorities in the modern era and efforts to both sustain and improve them. Finally, Radford’s meticulous reconstruction of these mundane and, to most Americans, invisible manifestations of state power will help historians grapple with a defining characteristic of American political culture: the disconnect between, on the one hand, popular indifference or hostility to state-building and, on the other, widespread reliance upon an ever-expanding public infrastructure.

Gail Radford is professor of history at the University at Buffalo, SUNY.

This text was provided by the UHA Committee for the Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book in North American history.

Digital History Workshop at UHA 2014: Apply Now

The UHA’s web and digital initiative has organized a number of digital history panels for the 2014 conference in Philadelphia, but there is one in particular that may be of interest to scholars, grad students, and professionals with a digital history project in mind but who might be uncertain of how to get it off the ground.

Digital Projects from the Ground Up is a session at 8:30 am Friday morning during the conference. Scholars will work with a Philadelphia-area digital and data professional who will advise on how digital capabilities can help facilitate research or communication, how to organize and phase a project, what technologies and tools are available, and where to look for support within a university or in external grant funds.

Space is limited and will be capped at 20. Applicants should submit a 150-word description of the project idea as it currently stands by September 15 to lwinling[at]

In the project description include

1. Basic information on yourself, including program/department/institution and your research area in urban history.

2. What your research question and/or communication goal is that led to your interest in a digital project.

3. 2-3 links to other projects or digital works that you find interesting or are relevant to your research project.

Hot Off the Presses: The Working Man’s Reward

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New from Oxford University Press this spring is Elaine Lewinnek’s book on suburbanization in Chicago, The Working Man’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl.

The author writes:

In my new book, I argue that suburbanization was both a response to industrialization and a resistance to it. Ever since Chicago’s packing companies moved outside the city limits in 1865, workers have been moving outwards to follow the factories, while they also used homes as small businesses, taking in boarders, growing market gardens, and relying on homes as investments that they hoped to control. In 1891, developer Samuel Eberly Gross advertised houses in the shadow of Chicago’s stockyards as “The Working Man’s Reward,” signaling a rewarding space of consumerism after work, yet also a working space that might produce more money, as well as a space that, like the word “worker,” was eventually raced white.

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Two riots against suburbanization bookend this story. In 1872, in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire, thousands of working-class immigrants stormed Chicago’s city hall because they were opposed to an early form of zoning that would have pushed small home-owners out of town. Later, in 1919, the residents of the area that Gross had advertised as “The Working Man’s Reward” recognized that they had not received their promised reward and chose to blame African-Americans. This undertow of resistance to suburbanization was not enough to counteract the tide of hopes for upward mobility through property ownership, strategies for domestic respectability imposed from above as well as crafted below, suburbanizing factory locations, the self-provisioning of a working class attempting to resist the vicissitudes of industrial capitalism, and the growth machine of businesses who encouraged Chicago’s sprawl.

Synthesizing the new suburban history, this book also re-periodizes it, looking to earlier metropolitan development to discover what choices were made when various Americans came to identify as homeowners. It was early twentieth-century Chicagoans who helped institutionalize the canard that African-Americans lower property values, in the first realtors’ textbooks of property assessment as well as in scholarly sociological theories, neighborhood “protective” associations, and varied parish politics. I call this the mortgages of whiteness. Through suburban-style property ownership, many European immigrant groups consolidated their whiteness while aligning themselves against blacks.

Chicago’s working-class immigrants helped design the American dream of homeownership, and for some of them, this dream turned into a nightmare. In 1872, anti-suburban rioters blamed city hall, but by 1919, anti-suburban rioters blamed blacks. Collectively, between 1865 and the 1930s, Chicago’s workers, factory-owners, boosters, sociologists, realtors, reformers, urban planners, and novelists all imagined how American cities should grow in suburbs that were always diverse and always contested.

The Working Man’s Reward is available from Oxford, Amazon, and other retailers. Elaine Lewinnek is an associate professor of American Studies California State University, Fullerton. Her web profile is available here.