Urban History and Theory Reading Group
Wednesday evening marked the first meeting of the newly-formed Urban History and Theory Reading Group. Thirteen graduate students and faculty from the History Department met over wine and snacks to talk about the influence of urban theory on their research and the field of history more broadly. The conversation was structured around a sci-fi mystery novel by China Miéville, The City and the City, which the History Department had supplied to those who attended. The lively, free-flowing conversation spilled late into the evening, and participants left feeling invigorated. “My hope is that this mode of intellectual community—which seeks to break down our traditional boundaries among geography, chronology, and genre, while representing genuine joint initiative among graduate students and faculty—can become a regular and core feature of departmental life,” said Phil Stern, Director of Graduate Studies. “If this meeting was any indication, I have no doubt it will.”
Too often historians define their work by time period and geographic region (19th century American; Colonial Latin America). Some historians find this kind of intellectual identity limiting because it can pre-determine the methods we use and the scholarly conversations we contribute to. The goal of Wednesday's meeting was to bring historians together around a theme that expands beyond specific historical contexts and think about themselves and their department community in a new way. Some of faculty and students who work in different fields had never encountered each other before the meeting. "It was great to think about boundaries and cities through such a creative book," remarked Alisha Hines, a fifth-year. "I'm really excited about the possibilities the space can provide for exploring urban history and theory as a department!"