We hope this letter finds you well and enjoying the New Year.
As your new president and president-elect, effective January 1, 2022, we are writing to thank you for your membership and contributions to the work of the Urban History Association (UHA), bring you up-to-date on the status of the organization, and highlight a few upcoming plans moving forward.
First and foremost, we thank outgoing UHA president Heather Ann Thompson, whose term ended on December 31, and executive director Hope Shannon for their stellar and steady leadership during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Due to their energetic and creative work, we are happy to report that the UHA is on a sound footing, financially and programmatically.
Under the impact of the global health crisis, the UHA took a number of difficult but necessary steps to sustain its service to its membership and the wider public. Specifically, we cancelled our in-person biennial conference; launched a series of innovative online events, programs, and services; and instituted a short-term reduction in membership dues. These actions posed significant financial challenges to the operating budget, but also greatly accelerated one of the organization’s primary goals, set about three years ago, to diversify its membership, enhance the benefits of UHA membership, and better promote the work of its members both within the discipline and to the more general public.
Perhaps most important, during the pandemic, the UHA’s popular blog, The Metropole, emerged at the center of the organization’s efforts to sustain and strengthen connections between members, build community, and advance scholarship. Launched in 2017 under the leadership of Avigail Oren and Ryan Reft, The Metropole is helping to bridge the discipline and the larger public through its innovative and timely publications. The Metropole's activities have also included important online discussions about race and policing, which took place in the wake of the widespread protests following the murder of George Floyd.
The UHA has also deepened its online initiatives in an effort to offset the pandemic’s impact on in-person gatherings. In April 2021, we organized a special online roundtable, "Urban Public Health and the Fight Against Lead Poisoning: Implications for the Age of the Coronavirus,” in partnership with the American Society of Environmental History. Then, in October, we launched Urban History Month, a month-long series of (mostly) online events organized and hosted by urban historians interested in exploring topics of relevance to urban history. Urban History Month events attracted more than 400 attendees to a wide variety of programs, panels, and outstanding plenary sessions, most notably “The State of the American City: Problems and Possibilities” and “The State of the Global City: Problems and Possibilities.” A select number of these events were recorded and can be accessed on the UHA’s YouTube channel.
The UHA has also been working to address the issue of volunteerism, labor, and pay for the key personnel charged with implementing the work of the organization. Consequently, over the past few years the UHA approved small stipends for the executive director, The Metropole blog’s senior co-editors, and an operations assistant (supported by a special grant), all heretofore unpaid positions. Still, existing compensation for the staff remains insufficient to sustain the organization’s rising level of commitments to its membership and the wider public, which brings us to the question of next steps for the UHA in the years ahead.
Four issues loom large in the work of the UHA as the New Year gets underway. First, the organization has submitted a proposal to the AHA-NEH grants program “to sustain and advance the work of historical organizations” with annual budgets under $750,000. If awarded, the UHA will use the grant to fund the executive director, The Metropole’s large editorial team, and operations assistant at levels commensurate with the work of each.
Second, with or without AHA-NEH support, we plan to launch a vigorous fund-raising campaign to increase and sustain the stipends/salaries of our staff moving forward. UHA staff and officers are currently exploring a variety of ideas for advancing this financial initiative, including legacy gifts, special annual appeals for support, and UHA merchandise sales.
Third and finally, the UHA is hard at work planning our next biennial conference for Pittsburgh in October 2023 (precise dates to be determined). This will be our first onsite meeting since the 2018 gathering in Columbia, South Carolina, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of our planned 2020 conference in Detroit.
The Pittsburgh conference will coincide closely with ongoing debates about the future of democracy and social justice in the United States and around the world; the impending 2024 presidential campaign; and the 21st anniversary of the Pittsburgh launch of the UHA’s Biennial Conference in 2002. The 2023 Biennial Meeting will also give us an opportunity to showcase the achievements of the organization, the city of Pittsburgh, and, among other things, highlight the distinguished careers of some of our most esteemed members and colleagues, including Joel Tarr, Richard S. Caliguiri University Professor of History and Policy and a past president of the organization, who will retire from Carnegie Mellon University in 2022. Equally and perhaps most important, this convention will enable us to bring forward a fresh new generation of urban historians, urbanists, social service providers, activists, city planners, and policy makers to the attention of the broader public. We will be calling upon all our members to help make this biennial event a success.
In the meantime, thank you again for your membership and ongoing support of the UHA. We are looking forward to working with you over the next several years.
Joe William Trotter, Jr., UHA President
Andrew Sandoval-Strausz, UHA President Elect