New York City hosted the largest-ever meeting of the Urban History Association this week, managing to get four days of talks and events in before Hurricane Sandy descended upon the metropolis. The conference kicked off in the Municipal Archives Thursday night, where attendees got to see Dutch colonial records and Calvert Vaux designs for Central Park among the many treasures of the archives.
Friday, the conference moved up to Columbia University, where I participated in a panel on the life and legacy of Robert Moses. In some respects, this panel was a continuation of the re-examination of Moses that started in 2007 with a series of exhibitions at Columbia, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Queens Museum of Art and the book Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York published by Hillary Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson. While our panel conflicted with several concurrent urban environmental panels, the spirited discussion (whose participants included American Planning Association editor Tim Mennel, NYU doctoral student Marcio Siwi, NYC planner Ralph Blessing, and veteran planner/onetime Pratt adjunct Floyd Lapp) used Robert Moses as a lens for planning throughout his life, as well as beyond the borders of New York City to Brazil.
Saturday, my erstwhile Roosevelt University College of Professional Studies colleague and National Public Housing Museum board member Brad Hunt participated in a terrific roundtable on museums and public history that grappled with questions of how professional historians interact with the public.
The conference featured many panels with new research by graduate students, but one of the more striking panels was an appraisal of the half-century of urban scholarship by Sam Bass Warner, with comments by Carl Abbott, Susan Hirsch, and Howard Chudacoff on how Warner’s mentorship, political activism, and catholic appetite for sources and methodology not only shaped his past work, but set examples for scholarship in the future.
Many of us will — weather permitting — meet again in Vancouver later in the week for the Social Science History Association meeting and take up strands of these discussions. For now, I hope all who needed to get out of New York ahead of the hurricane have done so, and I am grateful for a highly successful conference.