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An Ongoing Conversation: Historical Inspirations for Urban Action

Sat, April 13, 8:30 to 10:00am, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Fairfield

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


As environmental historians we are struck by the applicability of older practices to contemporary dilemmas - if only the wider public were more aware of the past. To move from lament to action, this session will consider how nineteenth-century urban environmental history can shape contemporary cities in intellectual and material ways.

We are especially intrigued by historical forks in the road and paths not taken. What possibilities did people identify to deal with nineteenth-century urban challenges? What were the consequences of abandoning some practices and embracing others?

We also want to experiment with the possibilities of a scholarly network, with a hybrid session that brings the audience into what has been an ongoing (virtual) discussion between us. We thus hope to model how the dynamic, organic energy of a roundtable can give momentum to smaller groups of scholars.

Each panelist will begin with a snapshot of his/her current project, focusing on one issue in a particular nineteenth-century city (beekeeping, Toronto; shoreline, Halifax; suburban tributaries, Boston; livestock, San Francisco). Most of the session, however, will be framed by questions from our “ongoing conversation”:

1. What is one specific and relevant decision by our historical actors that had a significant impact on their city?
2. How do we work with (and around) the intrigue and limitations of archival sources in reading urban change?
3. How do we engage the physicality and memory of the city in our teaching and research?
4. What are some examples of making big, complicated, archivally-informed stories accessible for policymakers and students?

We believe this session will be engaging, highly productive, and an illustration of how the scholarly network can work. We also feel this line of questioning – historical paths that might be revived – to be a profoundly optimistic and constructive approach to scholarship.

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