Places, Pasts, and Policies: The Role of History in Urban Studies
Urban History Association Conference
October 26-28, 2012
A story appeared in the satirical newspaper The Onion in September under the headline “Historians Politely Remind Nation to Check What’s Happened in Past Before Making any Big Decisions.” The joke may have particular resonance for urban historians who perceive their research as ignored not only by politicians and policymakers, but increasingly by the urban studies academics most likely to influence policy decisions.
In “What is Urban Studies,” William Bowen, Ronnie Dunn, and David Kasdan (Journal of Urban Affairs, 32(2), 2010) attempted a thorough mapping of the field and its interdisciplinary “commitment to engage in direct, two-way interaction with the complex realities that shape and determine the urban context.” However, urban history, which has aggressively reengaged with questions of policy, was largely excluded from the authors’ map of the field. Richard Harris and Michael Smith’s response (JUA 33(1), 2011) contended that historical texts have a central role in urban studies courses, and thus a central, if underappreciated, role in urban studies. Harris and Smith also demonstrated that historians are producing a high volume of urban research, though not necessarily that other urbanists are reading it or integrating historical methodologies into their practices.
This exchange raises difficult questions for urban historians. If historical scholarship is part of the urban studies canon, but seems increasingly marginal in contemporary urban studies research, it suggests two things. First, social science urbanists view history in a shallow capacity as a stable, settled “background” for contemporary debates rather than as a method of inquiry into dynamic and evolving material, institutional, or legal influences on policy choices and the desires, fears, and goals of the political subjects who make those choices and live with their consequences. Second, historians investigating policy, poverty, development, and other urban or metropolitan phenomena have been less than fully successful in demonstrating the vitality of their work to a multidisciplinary audience.
This panel seeks to push against this intellectual formation from both sides with historically grounded papers from multiple disciplines that:
•Apply historical methodologies to the domains of urban studies—planning, policy, services, development, or the nonprofit sector
•Demonstrate productive interdisciplinary syntheses in urban research that center historical research
•Challenge legal, social scientific, or policy thinking about urban or metropolitan area issues through historical analysis
•Provide critical intellectual histories of historians as participants in urban studies and urban policymaking
•Interrogate fundamental terms of urban studies, such as crisis, renewal, development, or political empowerment
•Explore how urban physicality, cultural formations, interest groups, and political institutions bring the influence of past urban or metropolitan moments to bear on later decisions
Please send contact information and a one-page abstract of the paper to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 10, 2012. Included panelists will be notified by email by February 17, 2012.
Michan Andrew Connor
School of Urban and Public Affairs
University of Texas at Arlington
Arlington, TX 76019-0419
(817) 272-3130 Email: email@example.com
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