History of Urban Problems
(Hist 927/Urban Studies 971)

Amanda I. Seligman
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Spring Semester 2002
Comments on Teaching This Course

Course Description | Books | Grading | Class Schedule and Assignments

This course examines how historians understand urban problems.  Cities have been described as consisting of “clusters of problems,” and this course aims to unpack some of those specific problems with an eye toward understanding the history of cities themselves.  By reading and discussing several examples of historical scholarship, students will prepare to write research papers and present their findings to others in the class.  The assigned readings focus on the United States in the 19th century, but students are by no means obligated to confine their research to that time and place.  Urban Studies students enrolled in this course should plan to present their papers at the USP Student Forum in the spring of 2003.

The required books for the course are available for purchase in the UWM bookstore. Several assigned readings are available on electronic reserve.All required readings have been placed on some form of reserve at the UWM Golda Meir library. The books ordered for the class are:

Paul Boyer
Urban Masses and the Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978)
Judith Walzer Leavitt
The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996)
Charles E. Rosenberg
The Cholera Years, The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866, with a new afterword (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, 1987)
Karen Sawislak
Chicagoans and the Great Fire, 1871-1874 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995)

The major written work for this course is a 20-page research paper based on primary sources and addressing historiographic questions raised in relevant secondary literature.  A successful graduate-level paper depends on careful attention to the many facets of the research process, so several intermediate assignments are required on the way to completion of the final paper.  These assignments are described in the “schedule” section of this syllabus; they are required and will be scrutinized, but they will not be graded.  During the last several class meetings, students will present the results of their projects to the group as a whole.   In addition to these formal benchmarks, students are encouraged to consult individually as the need arises with the instructor, either during office hours or by appointment.

Course grades will be allocated according to the following distribution:

Class Participation:   20%

Historiography paper, due April 1:   20%

Class Presentation:   10%

Final research paper, due May 13:   50%

Please be aware that no formal writing is required until the second part of the term.  I am happy to talk with you about your writing anytime that would be useful to you.  The best book I can recommend to help you think about producing excellent prose with a minimum of pain is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (Golda Meir call number:  PN147 .L315 1994).  Other useful books geared specifically to student writing include Richard Marius, A Short Guide to Writing about History (Gold Meir call number:  D13 .M294 1999), and Bronwyn T. Williams and Mary Brydon-Miller, Concept to Completion:  Writing Well in the Social Sciences (not held by UWM’s library).

* Failure to complete any required components of the course may result in an F for the entire course grade.

* If you need special accommodations in order to meet any of the requirements of this course, please contact me as soon as possible.

* All students are expected to observe University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee standards of academic honesty. UWM’s policies regarding academic integrity are available at http://www.uwm.edu/SAHP//administrationinfo/acadmisc.html. For an excellent guide to understanding plagiarism, see http://www.northwestern.edu/uacc/plagiar.html.

* If you have any concerns about the course, want to talk about your academic progress, or are interested in knowing more about history, please come and see me in my office hours or send me email. I am also available for appointments at times other than my scheduled office hours.

Note:  Items marked with * are on electronic reserve.




Library Visit:
Class meets at 4:30 in the Golda Meir Library, Room E 159 from 4:30-6.  Then we will return to the regular classroom in Holton.

Rosenberg, The Cholera Years, Introduction, Parts I & II


Library Visit:  Class meets at 4:30 in Special Collections, 4th floor, Golda Meir library, then in Archives, 2nd floor.

Rosenberg, The Cholera Years, 1987 afterword

*David J. Rothman and Stanton Wheeler, “Introduction,” in Social History and Public Policy (New York:  Academic Press, 1981)


Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, Parts I & II

Tentative statement of research topic. Write approximately one page describing the subject you intend to research, the questions you think such a subject will raise, and the ideas around which you think you might structure your research paper.


Rosenberg, The Cholera Years, Part III


Sawislak, Smoldering City, introduction, chapters 1-3

Annotated bibliography of secondary sources.
  Using formal bibliographic citations, as detailed in Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, list the scholarly books and articles that you have identified as relevant to your research topic.  For each item, provide a short description of its subject and salience to your project.

MARCH 11  

Sawislak, Smoldering City, chapters 4-5, epilogue

Primary source discussion. Write a page about the body of primary sources that you will use as the basis for your research paper.  You should identify the sources and their locations (i.e., which library or archive contains them), and generally discuss their character, strengths, and weaknesses.  What questions can you answer with these sources?  What questions are they incapable of answering?  In order to complete this assignment, you will need to have spent some time in the source material and begun to think about their contents and significance.  Simply identifying your sources is insufficient.

MARCH 18  

No class (spring recess)

MARCH 25  

Leavitt, The Healthiest City, introduction, chapters 1-4


*Peter C. Baldwin, Domesticating the Street: The Reform of Public Space in Hartford, 1850-1930 (Columbus:  Ohio State University Press, 1999), chapter 8, “Creating a Traffic System.”

*Paul Barrett, The Automobile and Urban Transit:  The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago, 1900-1930 (Philadelphia:  Temple University Press, 1983), pages 53-66, 129-139, and 154-163.

For these readings, it is important that you read the footnotes as well as the assigned text. Please note that the library reserve department has created separate textfiles for each article and the relevant notes, so you will have more than two print jobs. What kinds of sources do these authors use, and how well do they use them?

Short historiography paper. Write a formal, 4-5 page paper about the major questions discussed in the secondary scholarship relevant to your research project.  The paper should identify the major questions raised by the scholarship and discuss how the authors answer those questions.  Are there significant gaps or misinterpretations that need correction?


Leavitt, The Healthiest City, chapter 5-8

APRIL 15  

Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, parts 3 & 4


Intermediate Statement of Ideas.
  Write a paper based on your primary source research.  Depending on your personal proclivities, this may be a formal paper that will constitute a chunk of your final essay or an informal “think piece” in which you work through some of the most important ideas and questions about your research.  The purposes of this exercise are

  • to help you prepare some specific materials for your upcoming presentation to the class, and
  • to provide a forum for feedback from the instructor about the content of your work.

Saturday, APRIL 20  

Urban Studies Programs Student Forum, Hefter Center.
All students must attend at least one panel.  Attendance at the entire forum and Rose lectures is strongly encouraged (and is free). Pay particular attention to what works and what does not work in a public presentation of a research project.

APRIL 22, 29, MAY 6  


MAY 13  

Papers due 4:30, Amanda Seligman’s history department office or mailbox

Syllabus prepared for archive 26 April 2002.