Alison Isenberg writes and teaches about nineteenth and twentieth century American society, with particular attention to the transformation of cities, and to the intersections of culture, the economy, and place. Professor Isenberg's book Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (University of Chicago Press, 2004) received several awards: the Ellis Hawley prize from the Organization of American Historians; Historic Preservation Book Prize from Mary Washington University; Lewis Mumford Prize from the Society for American City and Regional Planning History; and an Honor Book award from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. At Princeton, Isenberg is a Faculty Associate at the Woodrow Wilson School and has co-directed the Urban Studies Program since Fall 2012. (http://urbanstudies.princeton.edu/home.html) She serves on the Executive Committee of the American Studies Program, and is an Affiliated Faculty member in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Professor Isenberg recently served two years as president of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, a multidisciplinary organization bringing together scholars and practitioners from history, design and planning, American studies, geography, environmental history, art history, sociology, preservation, and policy. (http://www.sacrph.org/) Isenberg has worked on the boards of the Urban History Association and H-Urban, and was founding review editor for the Journal of Planning History. Before joining Princeton in 2010, Professor Isenberg taught at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (2001-2010), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1997-2001) and Florida International University (1994-1997). Her scholarship has been supported by visiting fellowships at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture (2010), the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University (2006-7), the Institute for the Arts & Humanities at the University of North Carolina (2000), and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe (1998-9). Shorter term fellowships from the Graham Foundation, James Marston Fitch Foundation, Hagley Museum and Library, Rockefeller Archive Center, Winterthur Library, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation have provided generous research resources. Before the Ph.D., Isenberg worked in the fields of affordable housing, parks planning, and historic preservation in New York City.
Professor Isenberg is completing two books. Land v. Landscape examines the experimentations in 1950s and 1960s urban redevelopment that were overshadowed by the publication of Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book Death and Life of Great American Cities. This story draws attention to the question of why and how certain frameworks have become amplified in both the historical imagination and the policy world, and why other frameworks were marginalized. Answers to such questions deepen our understanding of where new ideas originated in urban redevelopment, and cast a fresh light on the 1960s. Redevelopment was energized by allied fields working closely with professional architects, landscape architects, and planners--by the interactions of property managers, publicists, graphic artists, architectural model makers and renderers, photographers, sculptors, political cartoonists, lawyers, critics, foundations, engineers, and plaintiffs. The professional periphery reveals conflicts and differences that were less evident within the design and planning fields alone. The book’s focus on the San Francisco Bay Area recasts some familiar dichotomies of 1960s redevelopment, such as preservation v. urban renewal, Jane Jacobs v. Robert Moses.
In Second-Hand Cities: Antiques, Inheritance, and Preservation from the Civil War to Urban Renewal, the antique and second-hand trades serve as a lens for analyzing the reconfiguration of cities and their regions during this era. Key social and demographic upheavals—the Civil War; intensive immigration and urbanization of the late 19th century; the Great Migration; the depression; urban renewal; suburbanization and “white flight”—have resulted in the massive recirculation of used goods at every scale, from old furniture to old neighborhoods. Uncovering such stories identifies recycling as the core dynamic of regional change, and sheds new light on the racialized dimensions of urban inheritance. Second-Hand Cities establishes a narrative that elevates and centers the role of redistribution and material goods (whether home furnishings, buildings, or land), within the telling of American history.
HIS 388/URB 388 Cities and Suburbs in American History (lecture)
HIS 451/URB 451 Writing about Cities (seminar)
WWS 402g Task Force Second-Hand Cities: New Policy for Old Places (seminar)
HIS 500 Introduction to the Professional Study of History (graduate)
HIS 584 Topics in Urban History: City, Region, Nation, Place (graduate)
HIS 589 Readings in American History, Reconstruction to World War I (graduate)
Isenberg received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania (1995, Michael Katz, dissertation advisor), and a B.A. in History from Yale University (1984, William Cronon, thesis advisor).
1. Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It