Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book in North American Urban History
The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City
(University of Chicago Press, 2021)
Jenkins relocates the heart of the urban crisis by focusing on the lifeblood of cities: money. Through a deep and sophisticated dive into the history of the municipal bond market, he offers new insights on San Francisco’s urban development and politics, as well as on urban manifestations of neoliberalism more broadly. While the constraints that creditors placed on city budgets in the 1970s and 1980s are well known, Jenkins reveals how a small fraternity of bankers came to play such a major role in urban governance in the first place, ingraining their particular biases and political preferences. From the Great Depression through the 1960s, a reliance on municipal bonds created cities built to benefit white, middle class office workers and consumers, while simultaneously fostering disinvestment in African American communities. With late 1960s urban uprisings and the rise of Black political power, credit rating agencies made it more expensive for cities to borrow, and California voters rejected taxation and bond issues amid rising 1970s interest rates.
Bonds of Inequality is a Visible Hand for future scholars, exposing the role of racial capitalism in shaping the built environment. For Jenkins, bond markets, credit ratings, insurance, and banking are not boring but rather were crucial tools used to defang and defund radical politics based in intersecting LGBTQ+, Black, Asian, and feminist communities of activism that elected Harvey Milk, Gordan J. Lau, and Diane Feinstein to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Ron Dellums to office at the state level. We owe Jenkins a debt of gratitude for bringing this history to light, and for making connections between factors that urban historians have previously considered in isolation, if at all.
Best Book in Non-North American Urban History
DIANA J. MONTAÑO
Electrifying Mexico: Technology and the Transformation of a Modern City (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2021)
Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860–1960
(Columbia University Press, 2021)
Electrifying Mexico is a beautifully written and deeply researched account of the ways residents of Mexico City adapted, manipulated, and negotiated over electricity, helping to produce, in this process, the urban electrical landscape (“electricscape”). By employing the social construction of technology (SCOT) approach, Montaño decenters conventional emphases on elite actors and technicians and moves us away from incomplete Eurocentric narratives of inexorable technological imposition. Instead, she privileges what she calls “electrifying agents”–the wide array of urban actors who used and ascribed meanings to electricity and who played a key role in how this new technology shaped life in the city. Urban inhabitants contested and made the “electricscape” as much as, if not more than, the utility companies and political elites with their blueprints. In sum, Electrifying Mexico seamlessly melds urban history, cultural history, and the history of technology to give us an innovative account of how a key technology of modernity shaped a city and the quotidian practices of its inhabitants. It not only adds to our knowledge of Mexico but also proposes a fresh, less Elitist and Eurocentric approach to urban history that will serve as an inspiration to the field as a whole.
Dwelling in the World considers family, house, and home in Tianjin to explore how tempos and structures of everyday life changed with the fall of the Qing Empire and the rise of a colonized city. Elizabeth LaCouture argues that the intimate ideas and practices of the modern home were more important in shaping the gender and status identities of Tianjin’s urban elites than the new public ideology of the nation. Placing the Chinese home in a global context, she challenges Euro-American historical notions that the private sphere emerged from industrialization. She argues that concepts of individual property rights that emerged during the Republican era became foundational to state-society relations in early Communist housing reforms and in today’s middle-class real estate boom. Drawing on diverse sources from municipal archives, women’s magazines, and architectural field work to social surveys and colonial records, Dwelling in the World recasts Chinese social and cultural history, offering new perspectives on gender and class, colonialism and empire, visual and material culture, and technology and everyday life. (From Columbia University Press)
Arnold Hirsch Award for Best Article in a Scholarly Journal
"Mao’s Steeltown: Industrial City, Colonial Legacies, and Local Political Economy in Early Communist China"
Journal of Urban History 1:26 (2021): 26 pp. (1-26).
Koji Hirata’s article about Anshan traces the history of this Chinese city from its emergence as a Japanese colonial-industrial center to its transformation into a socialist steel town vital to the industrial development of early Communist China. Hirata makes deft use of the limited sources available to write the history of this Manchurian city, exploring in his article top-down planning policies as well as practices on the ground. The article impressed the committee for its clarity and focus on the influence of earlier Japanese occupation on city building in the PRC.
"Dismantling the Safety-Net Hospital: The Construction of ‘Underutilization’ and Scarce Public Hospital Care"
Journal of Urban History, (November 2021), 28pp. (1-28).
Michael Katz Award for Best Dissertation in Urban History
DIVYA SETHI SUBRAMANIAN
"Global Townscape: The Rediscovery of Urban Life in the Twentieth Century"
The award committee celebrates Divya Sethi Subramanian’s superbly written and thought-out dissertation, “Global Townscape: The Rediscovery of Urban Life in the Twentieth Century.” This original work traces the history of the Townscape movement that emerged in the 1940s in Britain and takes the reader on a journey to multiple urban sites of influence, formation, and colonization—from London to Delhi to Kolkata to Glasgow. In mining the recently opened archives of architect Gordon Cullen, Subramanian challenges the oft-cited and U.S.-centric influence of Jane Jacobs in the post-war rise of urban design and renewed growth of cities by shifting attention to the Townscape movement’s emphasis on mixed-use planning and the life of street. This smartly and cogently argued dissertation accomplishes much more than a history of the Townscape movement, however. It offers new and important directions for scholars to link urban histories to postcolonial thoughts and designs. Indeed, as Subramanian argues, Townscape also reflected urban designs as representations and expressions of empire. In this way, Subramanian has offered several fields of study an important blueprint in the growing subfields of global urban studies and transnational urban history.
"Escaping Gotham: Working People and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle over Urban Nature"
The award committee commends Marika (Mars) Plater for their outstanding dissertation “Escaping Gotham: Working People and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle over Urban Nature.” This deeply original, compelling richly-written project examines the vibrant strain of environmental activism by the working class in nineteenth century New York City. Shifting the focus from Central Park to downtown Manhattan, “Escaping Gotham” very convincingly challenges the dominant focus on environmentalism activism by upper class urban dwellers and instead reveals how parks served as a space for about and working class activism. The project draws on an impressive range of sources to uncover the voices and perspectives of working-class people and in doing so significantly expands understandings of the dimensions of working-class life in the 19th century, urban environmental activism, the fields of environmental, labor, and urban history and their connections to one another.
Sixth Annual UHA/The Metropole Grad Student Blogging Contest
“They Cleaned Me Out Entirely”: An Enslaved Woman’s Experience With General Sherman’s Army
We are proud to announce that our winner is Bridget Laramie Kelly of Washington University in St. Louis for “‘They Cleaned Me Out Entirely’: An Enslaved Woman’s Experience with General Sherman’s Army.” Kelly uses the story of Ms. Rose Goethe to show the material harm done by Union troops during emancipation; rich descriptions of Goethe’s “bushels and belongings” create a sense of intimacy between Goethe and the reader.
Judges Heather Ann Thompson, Richard Harris, and Tom Sugrue praised the piece for delivering on a difficult prompt. “Kelly does a fine job of setting the sensory scene,” they wrote, “not just visually, but also by evoking tactile sensations so that it becomes almost possible to smell the setting.”
To read the full announcement on The Metropole, click here.
Thank you to the members of our award committees, listed below, for their hard work selecting this year's winners.
Kenneth Jackson Award
Luther Adams - Free Man of Color
Best Book in Non-North American Urban History Award
Joseph Ben Prestel
Michael Katz Award
Julio Capó Jr.
Arnold Hirsch Award
Heather Ann Thompson