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UHA Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book (North American), 2013

 Gail Radford, The Rise of the Public Authority: Statebuilding and Economic Development in Twentieth Century America  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

 The 2014 Kenneth T. Jackson Prize for Best Book in American history goes to Gail Radford for The Rise of the Public Authority:  Statebuilding and Economic Development in Twentieth-Century America, published by the University of Chicago Press. Radford questions the common perception that public authorities are undemocratic, insulated from public oversight, and responsive only to market forces, and challenges the conclusion of many scholars that this state of affairs is intentional.   Meanwhile her elegant account of these agencies contributes to an important debate among scholars about the role of public institutions in shaping the modern metropolitan form.

Radford’s study is a painstaking historical reconstruction of the development of the authority as a governing structure. The public authorities that proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she demonstrates, were earnest efforts to achieve public purposes and meet public need in the nation’s rapidly urbanizing regions. The designers of these metropolitan experiments were limited by the legal structures of American federalism and state constitutional limits on municipal powers, and the forms that took shape represented those designers’ best efforts to create public capacity, given those constraints. Any discussions of the these agencies’ operations and of the potential for improving them, Radford persuasively shows, must be understood in this context.

By scrutinizing these seldom-examined pre-World War II government corporations, Radford breaks new ground. She challenges the historiography of the Progressive Era by demonstrating that the Progressives who created these corporations sought to make them more democratic and not solely instruments of a top-down de-politicized administrative state. Radford demonstrates how the early ideas of Progressives, such as William Gibbs McAdoo, might lead states and the Federal government to democratize the investment of public capital and vindicate the initial promise of public corporate forms, starting an important conversation among scholars about the trajectory of public authorities in the modern era and efforts to both sustain and improve them.  Finally, Radford’s meticulous reconstruction of these mundane and, to most Americans, invisible manifestations of state power will help historians grapple with a defining characteristic of American political culture: the disconnect between, on the one hand, popular indifference or hostility to state-building and, on the other, widespread reliance upon an ever-expanding public infrastructure.

 

 

UHA Arnold Hirsch Award for Best Article, 2013

Patricia Acerbi, “’A Long Poem of Walking’: Flaneurs, Vendors, and Chronicles of Post-abolition Rio de Janerio,” The Journal of Urban History 40 (January 2014 – published on-line 2013): 97-115.

 Patricia Acerbi's essay, "’A Long Poem of Walking’: Flaneurs, Vendors, and Chronicles of Post-abolition Rio de Janerio," brings together social and cultural analysis to discuss the emergence of citizenship and modernity in Rio de Janeiro following the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the establishment of the first republic in 1889.   Specifically, her essay provides a creatively fresh take on the concept of the flaneur -- not as a product of European bourgeois anomie but as an engaged observer and translator of the emerging republican cityscape captured on daily walks through the city.   In Acerbi's account, the peddler -- often a former slave or new immigrant -- and the chronicler -- the middle-class urban writer or literary journalist -- embodied a new urban modern identity that was constantly in motion and formed through the quotidian encounters with the city as they moved between the center and margins of urban life.   Rather than seeing these two figures as inhabiting worlds separated by distance, race, and class, Acerbi identifies them as Henri Lefebvre's citadin -- as citizens formed by their shared urban inhabitance. Republic officials did not regard these figures equally, however, as the vendor evoked the recent memory and history of slavery and was conceptually linked to urban problems that officials wished to contain or eradicate.  As Acerbi points out, the chroniclers, whose literary and journalistic accounts of these urban denizens embraced their lives and work as a welcome adaptation of the traditional to the productive needs of the city, played a crucial mediating force in legitimizing them as urban laborers critical to the commercial and social life of the modern cityscape.  By emphasizing these points, Acerbi's article sheds light on and contributes to a better understanding of the emergence of alternative notions of urban citizenship in Latin America.

 

UHA Best Dissertation Award, 2013

 David H. Schley, "Making the Capitalist City: The B & O Railroad and Urban Space in Baltimore, 1827-1877," completed at Johns Hopkins University, 2013.

 In "Making the Capitalist City: The B & O Railroad and Urban Space in Baltimore, 1827-1877," David H. Schley eloquently outlines the complicated relationship between the country’s first railroad and its terminal city. This well-written and thoroughly researched dissertation captivates as it examines the clashes and negotiations between the nations first railroad, use of city streets, and public space in the 19th-century built environment. He argues that “rather than simply ‘annihilating’ space, the transformative powers of the railroad developed amidst political conflicts over the use of city streets.”  Congratulations to David Schley on an excellent dissertation.