It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

It was one year ago that my wife took her last breath, soundlessly, as I changed for bed in her hospital room. There was no gasp or moan or soft closing of the eyes. Simply a silence that I did not notice until I finished changing and turned to gaze upon the love of my life and realized she had slipped from this world.

Marrying Kathryn Bosher was the most meaningful event of my life. Even the birth of our son flowed from the energy and drive and meaning that she gave to every moment of our time together. The contrast between life’s beginning and life’s beginning could not be more stark. After my son’s birth I remember so clearly the buzz of the delivery room and the nursery and the activity and support on the neonatal floor. I remember walking triumphantly from the Penn Hospital, strutting down Spruce Avenue at about 1am with visions of the future before me as I headed home. All was promise and congratulations. Sitting in the room with Kate’s body as the nurse came in and out, then the doctor, then the family, all was silence and all was past. I chose not to witness the indignity of being zipped into a body bag. Her spirit had left already.

Grad Degrees and History Pedagogy

The Tenured Radical had an interesting post today about the History PhD. Her take: joint programs and digital scholarship.

Here is my proposal: that we stop discouraging students from taking graduate degrees in history and start pushing them towards programs that will actually give them a career; and that, while we must keep the pressure on to create and preserve full-time, university-based positions in history, we begin to imagine that some of those positions will be aimed at teaching and practicing digital preservation. This would involve the following:

Discouraging colleagues and students from elaborating further on the romance of classroom teaching.

That we begin to incorporate these new cadres [of digital specialists] into history departments even in the absence of a center for new media.

Go public about the fact that many of the people who are graduate school stars, and get a tenure track job, find out to their dismay that they don’t really like what they are doing.

Stop talking about what “counts” for tenure and start talking about what counts.

I commented that this should not really be an innovation at the PhD level, but at the undergrad and MA levels.* This gets to my larger point that we need to rethink the role of skills in the whole discipline of history. We can read; we can think critically, and we can write clearly — this is how I would sum up our abilities (or at least our ambition for our students). While these are pretty solid and central skills, we have really focused on textual communication (especially in the long form), which is now only one of many ways to communicate ideas. Historians have little training in visual culture (but sometimes if they’re interested in art history) and no skills in visual production. Same for aural communication — we can take oral histories but we can’t really put them together concisely unless you’ve been through a documentary program.

Potter is right that historians have been slow to embrace the digital and adapt our disciplinary work to the job market. But historians have been pretty slow to adapt to most of the recent technological and communications innovations even in teaching or doing our traditional research. This frustrated me a great deal once I moved out of a grad program in history because I saw what opportunities for non-academic service and new lines of inquiry and presentation there were when I was surrounded by a more technologically savvy cohort. (This certainly strengthens Potter’s argument for joint programs). However, rather than making or allowing grad students to play catch-up on programming or GIS or video editing, we need to ask what skills historians are providing to undergrads, to MA students, and to PhDs — every level. Then an MA student who has had a programming class in undergrad or one in database design can take those tools out of their toolbox and go to work on whatever raw historical material interests them. Within the walls of academia (as generally Potter bounds her discussion), it is also useful to have some inkling of what other disciplines and departments are all about, because then historians (and grad students) are able to help shape the way that discipline treats history. In so many cases history and historians are simply inputs into a project, rather than agents of change within a project, because we don’t understand the language of technologists or the underlying assumptions of the data managers. Driving this exposure earlier in the history education can also result in more active and effective engagement (interdisciplinary or otherwise) in later stages.

I should offer the meta note that, in arguing for a greater emphasis on skill-building, I am not in the least proposing a careerist or vocational set of goals. The increasing job orientation of higher education is highly annoying to me and, as it is often operationalized, counter-productive, and seems to end up giving us ever more business majors who want comfortable salaries. I am really a booster of the possibilities of capitalism (adequately restrained and guided) and emphasize that one is better served developing a core set of competencies and a set of values that informs a broad view of the world. At a conference on architecture a few years ago, I heard a speaker on the challenges of mega-urbanism say that designers needed to develop their design and planning skills to a fine edge so that whenever they had the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful project, they did not lack for expertise or experience — he basically said, you’ve got to be a damn good architect who’s got a bigger vision about your agency and effect in order to make a small contribution to the big problems of urbanism. I want historians to have these sets of skills in order to make contributions in urbanism, in politics, in communications, etc., AND to create more effective modes of communication for higher-level scholarship. Building some of these skills early on will make sure students are valuable to any kind of organization–private, public, non-profit, for-profit, whatever, and not have to worry about snatching up lucrative opportunities because they worry about getting a living.

*Note, I think it’s often a great idea to do a joint program at the PhD level, but this is not the best solution to the problems of interdisciplinarity, public engagement, or the job issue.

**See also.

Richwood, West Virginia

While I was trawling through the Library of Congress’ FSA/OWI collections (that’s how I roll on Wednesdays at midnight), I just came across an interesting digital humanities project. John Collier Jr was an OWI photographer who learned the art from Dorothea Lange and Paul Strand. He spent much of his life in New Mexico, so UNM has his photos and created a website with a few student-oriented activities to reinvigorate his work. Some of the coding they have is pretty interesting, but this is a rather basic digitization and presentation project. The interpretation is pretty limited (and Collier’s biography could use some work). They just have a terrific set of materials to work with, which may be the most important factor in a good digital project.

Damn, this image of Richwood, West Virginia, is particularly good. I’d almost guess the style was Ansel Adams if I didn’t know better.

Catholic church, hospital and school

For Posterity

Browsing the Michigan Daily in advance of the Michigan-Michigan State game, I came across this op-ed I wrote in 2006 for the Daily on the Ann Arbor housing market. It was paired with a piece by Alan Levy, a University housing official. I reproduce it here in its entirety.

What city are you from? The answer to this question correlates pretty strongly with peoples’ feelings on the housing problem in Ann Arbor. Undergrads, grad students and young professionals who move to this city from Kalamazoo, Bloomington, Chicago, or any other Midwestern city or town blanch at the rents people are expected to pay in Tree Town. Arrivals from Boston or San Francisco think they’re getting a great deal for living in a cute downtown with amenities like museums and music venues within walking distance. Count me in the former camp; I comment on Ann Arbor is Overrated and curse under my breath every time I write a rent check that doubles what I was paying (with less space) as a student at Western Michigan University.

According to the 2000 census, in 1999 more than 45 percent of Ann Arbor renters paid more than 30 percent of their income for rent, the federal standard for affordable housing. In that same period, of course, homeowners and landlords saw double-digit appreciation on their houses.

Objective measures aside, there are political ramifications to the debate. The eternal town-gown conflict (in Ann Arbor and elsewhere) is exacerbated by, if not fueled by, the student housing issue. Longtime residents and historic preservationists see single-family residences and grand old mansions being turned into apartment houses predominantly occupied by students, and point the finger at the consumers rather than criticizing the economic structures that create the markets. A political opportunist, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje criticizes the University for not building more dormitories and votes for anti-student measures like residential parking permit programs. Students grow even more annoyed at the whole situation and the city of Ann Arbor.

How can the rampant rents be reined? Sensible urban planning enabled by students’ political participation. In simple economic terms, there is not enough housing for the demand. Students generally want to live near campus, which more or less means low-rise apartment buildings, houses, or converted apartment houses. The University is expanding almost without pause, meaning more housing consumers for a more or less finite number of units (keep in mind that the population of the city as a whole is slowly growing, too). If the housing market were functioning normally, real estate developers would be building new units to satisfy that demand. Ann Arbor, however, is not a normally functioning market. Developers who want to build new units in a number of price ranges are stymied and smacked down by preservationists and neighborhood associations. Even when they put together a proposal that makes economic sense, satisfies Ann Arbor’s values on affordable housing and combines retail with commercial and residential uses, people who are afraid of tall buildings flex their political muscle and drive off proposals that would increase the city’s housing supply. Next time you’re at Angelo’s Restaurant, take a look at the defunct gas station on Glen Street. Thanks to the Historic District Commission, that will remain an eyesore rather than a mixed-use ten-story building for the foreseeable future.

The city has to continue to develop new housing units, not just for students but as part of a broad effort to provide housing to the poor, the working class, students, young professionals, baby boomers and empty nesters. Market studies show people want to live downtown, people want to live in more affordable units, and people want to live in areas of higher density with a vibrant local economy and active street life. Main Street doesn’t have to be deserted Sunday through Thursday after 10 p.m. Given some simple urban design guidelines, new construction can satisfy demand for living downtown without sacrificing the streetscape many people love about downtown Ann Arbor.

A thread followed at Ann Arbor is Overrated. Now that I think about it, AAiO and Arbor Update were really central to my grad school experience.

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).
Continue reading

I Have a Blog?

Oh, yeah…

Just got done grading, now resubmitting my writing sample for dream job, applying to other jobs, getting draft of another chapter out, writing grant application. All the hallmarks of a frantic finisher — you name it and I’ve got it covered.

Rewriting the history of photography

A terrific exhibit on the history of photography came to the UMMA in 2006, including many of the most significant works of the last 150 years. A few of the earliest images were experiments by William Fox Talbot, who developed the calotype, the first photographic system that could make multiple positive prints from a negative. One of my Talbot favorites is “Scene from a Library.”

Sotheby’s had put up for auction a photographic print of a leaf that was believed to have been done by Talbot. Some of his early work, like the one pictured, essentially consisted of contact printing a leaf or other plant part by setting it on light sensitive paper and exposing it. Now they’ve pulled it from the auction block (where they anticipated a 100-150k selling price) because they think it might have been created even earlier by one of the less renowned Talbot predecessors.

Global Suburbs — New Poster

Global Suburbs Poster (b), originally uploaded by urbanoasis.

Seriously — you should go to this conference. Look at the punchy sessions and the awesome commenters. Don’t get me started on how great the keynote is going to be.

Um, d’oh?

The Census Bureau indicates that 40% of international immigrants who come to the U.S. don’t settle within cities anymore, they start out in the suburbs.

Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said traditional gateway cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were still magnets for immigrants who move to join friends and relatives. But particularly in the South and West, where central cities were less likely to develop dense cores, immigrants are following jobs to the suburbs and settling there first.

“It’s a really important shift,” Ms. Singer said.

Robert Fishman wrote of a “Fifth Migration,” the current process of reurbanization led in large part by the growth of international immigration after repeal of the restrictive quotas of the twenties. Much of the urban crisis and difficulties of black/white urban racial tension might be attributed to the basic and oppositional binary of race at mid-century, which was exacerbated by a lack of other minority groups in American cities. If that multinational immigration pattern bypasses the city in most cases, we might miss opportunities for re-urbanization for the next 20 years.