I just stumbled across Backstory with the American History Guys on WHYY today. This is an NPR show featuring Peter Onuf, Ed Ayres, and Brian Balogh animatedly discussing topics with resonance throughout U.S. history. They draw on scholarly knowledge, but it is definitely an accessible show for the public. Worth a listen (or an iTunes podcast subscription).

University of Chicago Sit-In, 1962

I thought it worth re-visiting this find from a while back at the request of Angus Johnston.

In my dissertation, “Building the Ivory Tower: Campus Planning, University Development, and the Politics of Urban Space,” I research the development of American universities over the course of the 20th century, using the built environment as a lens for examining urban politics, student life, and academic culture in the process of urbanization. In short, I argue that universities are integral to urbanization, in contrast to previous scholarship that characterizes them as inherently suburban or anti-urban.

In the process of researching one of my cases, the University of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s, I came across an interesting student sit-in during January of 1962. Students in a chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) realized that the university had bought up a large number of private apartment buildings in Hyde Park and hired a real estate management company to steer and segregate tenants as part of a larger neighborhood management process to insulate the university from the expanding Black Belt (Arnold Hirsch touches on this in a chapter of Making the Second Ghetto). After some paired applicant testing to establish discrimination, CORE arranged a sit-in (pdf) at the UofC administration building and the real estate management company offices that lasted for two weeks. I was surprised to find out how lines of support and opposition were drawn. It turns out one of the leaders of CORE was Bernie Sanders, an undergrad from New York who had transferred to Chicago for his degree (he mentions this in his political autobiography, Outsider in the House). Students were split on the issue. The faculty was largely opposed to the students’ action, preferring discussion and research on the topic of segregation and housing. And there were some other surprising discoveries I won’t go into here.

One of the items I found in the archive was this image of the sit-in, including Bernie Sanders (standing). Since I am a big supporter of the Senator, and am in DC on a research fellowship, I got two prints of the image and went down to his office on Capitol Hill. I left them with his staff with an explanatory note and a request for a signature on one (the other for him to keep in his papers if he wanted). Today I went and picked this up — his staff reported he was pleased with my gift.

Thanks for the signature, Senator Sanders. I defend my dissertation May 4th at the University of Michigan.

Journalism and the Web

For some reason I missed Whet Moser’s recap and explanation of the Chicago Journalism Town Hall way back in the Febs. But I just read it tonight — maybe you should, too.

My favorite idea that came out of the Chicago Journalism Town Hall–beautiful in its simplicity, and I am ashamed that I cannot recall who said it–was this:

It would be stupid to buy a newspaper. The Trib? The Sun-Times? Hell, the Reader and its fellow papers?

Do the math. If you buy the Creative Loafing chain, you get Rolodexes, a bunch of dated computers, dated software, and a name. Essentially you’re buying a logo, a URL, some archived content, and a giant fucking IOU.

So, sayeth this smart person: it’s much cheaper to let them die and hire the people, who have the knowledge and the contacts and who actually represent the name. (If you want to be all Web 2.0 about it, call the new thing the Rdr or the Twib, though I guess you won’t have to italicize it. We do not put on airs in the glorious future.)

People seem to be coalescing around the realization that journalism will always be with us in some fashion. If you abstract that a bit, it’s obvious — content will always be with us, whatever the medium. People will seek content and likely pay for it. The issue is, since the barriers to journalism and commentary have decreased, the compensation is declining–the local monopoly or oligopoly of newspapers kept revenues and profits high and those are largely out the window, so now the marginal price of a newspaper story or a blog post should approach the marginal cost — whatever it takes to produce one more.

MORE: Carrying out the implications of that, with any luck there will be fewer big-money reporters and commentators but the same (or more) straight middle-class types of positions. But who knows — Exhibit A in the future of newspapers, the Ann Arbor News Ann doesn’t look too good, even though many of the people they hired came from the News. Exhibit B, the Ann Arbor Chronicle, looks better, but the effort Mary Morgan and Dave Askins are putting into it probably means they’re not getting too great a level of monetary compensation if you do the math. You can probably fill in other examples from your community.


Evanston Map

The story of this Evanston map restoration is interesting on two counts. First, for the really great restoration process — taken from a curator’s experience with Japanese screen restoration. Second, for indicating how central Northwestern University was to the development of Evanston — in fact, they were major landlords and real estate players in their early years in the 19th century. The map itself is pretty great, as well.

Slow Photography


Fast is fine, but slow can be much better.

Digital photography and the ascent of the Web have quickened our jobs. Instead of one deadline a day, we now have continual deadlines, bringing exponentially increasing speed to what we do at The Times.

One advantage of using larger formats is that the process is slower. It takes time to set up the camera. It takes time to visualize what you want.

When doing portraits, it enables the photographer to talk and listen to subjects, to observe their behavior. A camera can trap a photographer sometimes. You can look so intently through a viewfinder that you are unaware of the picture in front of you. When I use an 8-by-10 camera for portraits, I will compose the picture and step back. Using a long cable release, I will look at the subject and wait for the moment. It’s very liberating.

According to the author of this blog post (and several terrific shots) at the Times’ new photography blog, Lens, the Times’ new headquarters does not have an actual darkroom. This seems stupid to me. But the Times is making a good choice in starting up this new blog and seems to be doing well in engaging new media on their site (hell, between this and Krugman’s blog I’ll probably read their blogs more than I read any of their articles).

But I don’t think it’s right to call film photography “slow” photography, like slow food. I think of it as just straight photography and the digital version as the modified, exception to regular photography.

New York Times

One of the most annoying things about the Times is their fealty to New York real estate. You can see the way it shapes their content in showing off working architects in Sketchpad, their profiles of architecture students, overpriced apartment features, and the highly annoying writing of Nicolai Ourosoff. Of course it is understandable not from a news standpoint but from an economic one — people in New York make money off real estate and the Times to a certain extent depends on those businesses, that clientele, and that part of the economy.

However, there is an exception that I regularly find interesting — Streetscapes, written by Christopher Gray. Just a good, regular set of features helping understand the built environment, from design to planning to real estate.

Bruegmann Whopper Watch

Way back in the day when I was a distance running coach and aficionado who paid attention to such things, running journalist Scott Douglas started a project called the Galloway Whopper Watch which documented the excessive claims of marathon success made by former elite runner and now walk-run advocate Jeff Galloway. It sadly seems to have gone by the wayside but it was a useful exercise in collecting these extravagant and rather easily falsifiable assertions.

In my mind, the time has come to apply such an effort to the claims of Robert Bruegmann, professor of Art History, Architecture, and Urban Planning at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I have written about Bruegmann’s work before, specifically his work on sprawl. His work of more traditional architectural history, such as a book on Holabird and Roche, is far less objectionable (even useful) and less subject to comment on this blog.

The catalyst for this was his appearance on the Chicago Public Radio local affairs program Eight Forty-Eight yesterday. In it, Bruegmann responded to the typically boosteristic claims of Richard Florida that the economic crisis will aid cities and harm suburbs. However, he launched into his stump speech on suburbs from his work on Sprawl and asserted the following in the course of the interview (my transcription).
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The Tuition Game

Doesn’t this make this seem pretty stupid? Moreso, really — raising tuition for the cachet of having a high sticker price was always pretty stupid.

How’s that working out for you now, Ursinus president John Strassburger? P.S. Dear New York Times — how about a follow-up on your story from two years ago? And how about leaving the education beat to your education writers?

The Utopian Ideal

Until his recent departure, the liberal blogosphere affirmed in unison that Bill Kristol was the New York Times’ crappiest op-ed columnist. They were wrong. For as long as he’s been writing there, that title has belonged to Stanley Fish. Again today, he shows why:

Last week we came to the section on academic freedom in my course on the law of higher education and I posed this hypothetical to the students: Suppose you were a member of a law firm or a mid-level executive in a corporation and you skipped meetings or came late, blew off assignments or altered them according to your whims, abused your colleagues and were habitually rude to clients. What would happen to you?

The chorus of answers cascaded immediately: “I’d be fired.” Now, I continued, imagine the same scenario and the same set of behaviors, but this time you’re a tenured professor in a North American university. What then?

I answered this one myself: “You’d be celebrated as a brave nonconformist, a tilter against orthodoxies, a pedagogical visionary and an exemplar of academic freedom.”

My assessment of the way in which some academics contrive to turn serial irresponsibility into a form of heroism under the banner of academic freedom has now been at once confirmed and challenged by events at the University of Ottawa, where the administration announced on Feb. 6 that it has “recommended to the Board of Governors the dismissal with cause of Professor Denis Rancourt from his faculty position.” Earlier, Rancourt, a tenured professor of physics, had been suspended from teaching and banned from campus. When he defied the ban he was taken away in handcuffs and charged with trespassing.

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On the Beeb

Desperate for a photo of the north end of the Monadnock Building, somebody from the BBC contacted me about using this photo on my flickr stream. I said “ok” and you can see a multimedia slideshow here. It takes an interesting spin, centering the interpretation development of the commercial skyscraper on the Monadnock and the Woolworth Building by Cass Gilbert in New York. Sort of an odd product but it is what it is.

There really aren’t that many good shots of the Monadnock on flickr — lots of images of the bays but few perspective shots with the whole building. Because of its context and position it is a difficult building to shoot on the exterior and on the interior the building management doesn’t allow any photographs (I’ve been hassled both times I’ve tried).