Category Archives: Research

A City For Children, by Marta Gutman

Marta Gutman is co-winner of the 2015 Kenneth Jackson award for best book in North American history, shared with N.D.B. Connolly’s A World More Concrete.

The committee is happy to announce its selection of Marta Gutman’s A City for Children: Women, Architecture, and the Charitable Landscapes of Oakland, 1850-1950 (University of Chicago Press) as co-winner of the 2014 Kenneth T. Jackson Prize for Best Book in American history.

In a masterful, revelatory study, Gutman shows how the struggle to create a better environment for children transformed urban space and remapped landscapes of race, class, and gender. Gutman’s remarkable combination of historical and architectural research and analysis delivers fresh new insights into the shifting grounds of work, home, and leisure space. She provides an intimate window onto the lived experience of working-class women and children, in a turn-of-the-twentieth-century American city.

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A World More Concrete, by N.D.B. Connolly

N.D.B. Connolly is co-winner of the 2015 Kenneth Jackson award for best book in North American history, shared with Marta Gutman’s A City for Children.

Based upon a broad range of rich archival collections, newspaper accounts, and a plethora of comparative secondary studies, this book advances a series of compelling arguments about the role of realtors and rental property owners in the development of the Greater Miami system of “racial apartheid.” Specifically, this book places the story of black Miami within the larger context of capitalist development, particularly the colonization of non-European people, both locally and globally, and challenges us to rethink several closely interrelated propositions in contemporary scholarship on 20th century U.S. and African American urban history. First and most significant, whereas most studies of urban history identify white landlords, realtors, banks, and private property owners, particularly “slumlords,” as the principal actors in the creation and perpetuation of the racially divided and unequal housing market, Connolly underscores the role of black and white realtors in this process. In careful detail, he shows how an interracial alliance of landlords perceived themselves as a “class” and reinforced each other’s interest through reciprocal loans and joint property investments that both breached and reinforced the color line in the larger political economy of the city.

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UHA Award Winners

The Urban History Association announced its 2015 award winners this fall.

N.D.B. Connolly and Marta Gutman share the Kenneth Jackson Award for best book in North American history.

A.K. Sandoval-Strauss won the Arnold Hirsch Award for best urban history article published in a scholarly journal.

Chloe Taft won the Michael Katz Award for best dissertation in urban history.

Alexander Martin and Ato Quayson share the award for the best book on a subject outside of North America.


Urban History Association 2016 CFP

The Eighth Biennial Conference of the Urban History Association

“The Working Urban”

Chicago, Illinois

October 13-16, 2016

The Urban History Association Program Committee seeks submissions for sessions on all aspects of urban, suburban, and metropolitan history. We welcome proposals for panels, roundtable discussions, and individual papers. We are also receptive to alternative session formats that foster audience participation in the proceedings.

The Program Committee is pleased to announce that Loyola University Chicago will serve as the local host for the October 2016 conference.

The conference theme – The Working Urban – highlights the importance of labor and of historians’ working definitions of “urban history.” We therefore encourage submissions that explore the scales at which historians work (i.e. local, national, regional) as well as those that interrogate the racial and gendered aspects of work in relation to the built environment. “Working” also refers to workshops. For the first time ever, the UHA conference will include professional workshops built specifically around interpreting primary sources and exploring problems of evidence in the field. Innovative workshop ideas are especially encouraged.

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In Memoriam: Raymond Mohl

In memoriam: Raymond A. Mohl, past president of the Urban History Association and distinguished professor of history emeritus at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Ray Mohl was educated at Hamilton College, Yale, and NYU, where he earned his Ph.D. in History in 1967. He began as an early American historian and published his first book, a study of poverty and social welfare in early national New York City, in 1971. With it, Ray established his reputation as pioneering urban social historian. His interests in urban history broadened geographically and chronologically when he took his first tenure-track job, at Indiana University Northwest. There he delved into the history of the Rustbelt and retooled himself as a twentieth-century U.S. historian. He published two books on race and ethnicity in Gary.

After moving southward, first to Florida Atlantic University for twenty-six years, then to the University of Alabama, Birmingham, for nineteen years, Ray established himself as one of the leading historians of the Sunbelt.
He published a book and several articles about civil rights, immigration, and race relations in Miami. He wrote about Florida’s red scare, about black-Jewish relations in the region, and Miami’s peace and civil rights movement. His most recent work concerned Latino migration to Alabama and the American South.

Ray also bridged history and public policy. When the US Commission on Civil Rights came to Miami in 1995, it sought his testimony on the state of race relations in the city. He served as an expert witness in important housing and election litigation in Dade County, Florida. He reached out to an audience well beyond the academy by writing more than two dozen articles on Miami’s black history for the city’s African American newspaper, The Miami Times. And drawing from his extensive research on the history of American highways, he joined the Re-think 20/59 organization in Birmingham to challenge the Alabama Department of Transportation’s plan for rebuilding a bigger, taller, and wider elevated expressway through downtown Birmingham.

Few historians were more prolific than Ray. He wrote or edited 165 articles, and 113 book reviews, and presented his work worldwide. He received Fulbright professorships in Israel, Australia and Germany, the Frederick W. Connor Prize in the History of Ideas, the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction, the Graduate School Mentor Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Florida Historical Society.

The Urban History Association honors Ray’s lifetime of engaged, urban scholarship, his teaching, mentorship, and friendship.

Urban History Podcast #4, Elaine Lewinnek

Andrew Needham and Lily Geismer talk Chicago and suburbanization with Elaine Lewinnek, a professor of American Studies at Cal State Fullerton Her new book, The Working Man’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl, came out in the spring from Oxford University Press. (OUP, Amazon).  Looking at gendered notions of urban development and industrial labor, she traces key episodes in Chicago history including the Great Fire and its policy aftermath, uses literature like The Jungle as a lens for examining real estate, and traces a history of race and space before the 1919 race riot.

Continue reading Urban History Podcast #4, Elaine Lewinnek

UHA 2014: Through the Haze of Jet Lag

Like Andrew, when I arrived in Philadelphia for the Urban History Conference in Philadelphia, I felt excited and overwhelmed. This feeling was not just due to my excitement at feeling rain after months of the California drought, but from the depth of the conference’s program. The exigencies of time, jet lag, and meetings constrained my panel attendance, but I was able to get snippets on a wide range of issues. Hearing a debate on gender the War on Poverty’s periodization, the legacy of Crabgrass Frontier, and even the mention of suburban sex dungeons, the conference was a testament to how dynamic the field is right now and the kind of dynamic scholars it has attracted.

One of the few complete panels I was able to attend was a roundtable entitled “Giving Gentrification a History” with Michael Carriere, Aaron Shkuda, Kwame Holmes, Alison Isenberg, Brian Goldstein and moderated by Suleiman Osman. It was one of several panels on gentrification featured on the program, which is a sign of how the issues of the issues of the present shape studies of the past. The members of the panel, each engaged with the interesting question of whether or not gentrification had a history from a different vantage ranging from punk rock to Henry George to Harlem USA. The panel did not just bring new perspective to a seemingly exhausted issue, but also showed how the topic of gentrification can serve as important place where scholars can help to weigh in and complicate the contemporary debate.

I was delighted and genuinely surprised  by the turnout to my own panel “New Perspectives on Business and the City,” given the slot very early on Sunday morning. This turnout showed the emerging interest in the intersections of history of capitalism, markets and business with urban issues. The comment for the panel was Julia Ott who brought an exciting and important perspective related to financial services and capitalism. Despite the important implications of her work and insight for scholars of urban history, however, Julia has not usually been part of the “urban history” conversation. It is my hope that the Urban History Conference will continue to have a focus on urban structures, but will increasingly be a meeting ground and open to scholars who might not necessarily consider themselves urban historians. In doing so, we can expand the temporal, geographic and disciplinary reach not just of the conference, but the field as a whole. Perhaps one small and easy way we can do so is to more actively encourage our colleagues outside of the subfield to submit panels and papers for the next conference and/or to design panels with this idea in mind.

Thanks to the conference organizers and I am already looking forward to Chicago in 2016!

Talking to Journalists about Urban History

A guest post by Elaine Lewinnek

Since my book came out last May, I have been stumblingly discovering how to talk to reporters about it. Chatting with one reporter researching African-American suburbanization, I explained that early Chicago was racially diverse; the lines of the Black Belt did not harden until the Great Migration. “Okay,” she replied, “What’s a Black Belt? And what’s the Great Migration?”

Her question made me pause because I did not realize that I had been speaking gobbledygook. A friend joked that it is good she asked, since, without that query, she might have ended up writing about avian martial arts. Of course, I would not use terms like “Black Belt” or “Great Migration” without any explanation if I were speaking to an introductory class of first-year college students – but I had forgotten that many reporters and their readers are also novice students of urban history. So many journalistic questions stem from amazingly attentive reading that it can be easy to forget that most journalists are the equivalent of first-year students, or at least their readers are.

Another reporter told me that one of the most fascinating things he learned from my book is that white people were not always white. That is indeed an important insight but, of course, it is not my original idea. Other terrific scholars buttress my argument that it was largely through notions of twentieth-century suburban-style property ownership that Chicago’s European immigrants consolidated their whiteness. Yet it feels slightly foolish to recommend numerous other books to reporters. Most reporters do not have the time to read a half-dozen book recommendations.

This may be a special challenge in an interdisciplinary field like urban studies. We build on others’ scholarship, from geography to history to sociology and race studies and economics. And, because of our space-based rootedness, we write things of interest to a general audience. I am curious to hear from other urban historians: how do you address a wider audience without overly simplifying your ideas?

While accommodating diverse levels of background knowledge is one challenge, another is the pressures of presentism. I can tell reporters that the patterns established in Chicago as early as 1920 lasted throughout the twentieth century, reinforced by new policies. I can also explain that many benefits of housing, from health to home-equity, linger for generations. I can refer reporters to other books that carry the story forward to the present — so I am particularly thankful that Mary Barr’s analysis of the contemporary racial politics of Evanston is coming out soon. Each of these is a partial solution, though. If you write about urban history before 1950, how do you explain to others how it matters? Even if you write about urban history before 2000, or before yesterday, I suspect this may be a problem. Journalists’ job is to explain today.

It is a terrific problem to have, I know. It is part of the welcome challenge of learning how to communicate ten years of research and 200 pages of dense prose to a wider audience. It is also one of the things I did not learn in graduate school, since, then, I did not have a book to promote. So I am learning it now, stumbling through, and curious to hear how others address these issues.

Elaine Lewinnek is an associate professor of American studies at California State University-Fullerton, and the author of the recent book The Working Man’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl.

Guest Post: Conference Buzz

Howard Gillette has been talking up the Philadelphia UHA meeting.  Cross-posted from WHYY’s Newsworks site:

Next month some 400 historians from around the country will converge on Philadelphia for the biannual meeting of the Urban History Association, Oct 9-12. The topics of their discussion will range widely, but framing the four days of exchange will be opportunities for participants to explore directly signs of new life in the region in the aftermath of post-industrial decline.

An opening tour on Thursday, Oct 9 will start at The Navy Yard, a 1,200 acre site well into the process of creating a mixed-use campus based on historic preservation, sustainability, and smart growth. After visiting Urban Outfitters, a home-grown business success story, the caravan will travel to North Philadelphia to examine the effects of new transit-oriented development before moving on to review sites of revitalization in Northern Liberties.

On the last day of the conference, participants will be able to tour Camden, still the nation’s poorest city. They will encounter signs of decay, no doubt. But the emphasis that day, as Mayor Dana Redd and Camden Redevelopment Agency director Saundra Ross Johnson will point out, is new investment: in the neighborhood around Cooper Hospital, at the Kroc recreational center in East Camden, due to open officially October 14th, and at Campbell Soup, where a revised master plan promises to connect the Fortune 500 company’s campus to the rest of the city.

The cumulative effect of these new investments may prove surprising, even to those living in the area. And they hold promise that the Philadelphia region may finally have turned a corner from the devastating effect of a generation’s worth of disinvestment.

Historians know that the fate of cities lie in a cumulative process of decision-making over time. Many of the actions now just taking form will have consequences for a long time to come. Parts of Philadelphia and Camden have much in common, in high levels of poverty and attendant social problems, including high levels of crime. New structures alone do not solve that problem. Investment must bring with it expanded opportunity.

Among the questions they will be asking is what the effect new investment might have on poverty rates in both cities? With regions increasingly seen as the engines of a modern economy, are Pennsylvania and New Jersey working effectively together to address the array of social issues that stem from such concentrated urban poverty?

The decision of the Philadelphia 76ers to locate their new practice facility in Camden is a good case in point. The team had all but decided to locate the new structure at the Navy Yard, literally a stone’s throw from where they play their home games. But the high level of incentives New Jersey offered proved more than the city could offer, and team officials chose Camden instead.

The decision may prove beneficial to the region over time if the 76ers prove good neighbors, not just by hiring locally, but establishing its own civic engagement with city residents. In short, the decision will be considered a good one, if the site has a positive multiplier effect.

Campbell Soup also extracted economic concessions from the state when it threatened to move from its corporate headquarters on Camden’s Admiral Wilson Boulevard. So far, the main result has been the demolition of the historic Sears Building, without any new benefit to the people living in Camden. Revisions in the plan of a stand-alone suburban style office park, promise something more in the way of city benefit, but details at this point remain sketchy.

At the Navy Yard, the process of investment is overseen by a semi-governmental entity, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation. In North Philadelphia, the actions highlighted on the urban history tour have been spurred by grass-roots community development corporations with support from outside investors. In Camden, the state has been emphasizing tax credits as a spur to investment.
Three different parts of the region highlight three different kinds of development. With the economic challenges at hand, none of the existing approaches need be emphasized to the exclusion of the other. Yet the tough questions should be the same for each site: what are the immediate and long-range effects of such development? And how can such efforts prove sustainable in the effort to return our cities to the magnets for building wealth they have been historically.
It will be up to future historians of the region to make that judgment.

Howard Gillette is author of Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City and is professor of history emeritus at Rutgers Camden.

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.