At the center of this week’s readings, we are introduced to the idea of the urban setting as a ground ripe with possibilities for histories to be unearthed. The sheer magnitude of the swift changes seen in large metropolis areas over time goes to show the possibilities that the power of place can have in using the environment as a larger classroom for conversation about the significance of space and location. Andrew Hurley’s Beyond Preservation explores these themes, tracing the history of “bottom-up” history and the history of federal legislation that transformed how historic preservation was conducted in the United States. The bulk of Hurley’s study looks at public history successes in Old North St. Louis in addition to other urban areas throughout the country, but Hurley warns that the failures of public history projects often happen, “because the interpretive schemes […] do not speak directly to the challenges contemporary residents face and to the kind of places they want to create” (Hurley 95).
Dolores Hayden similarly articulates in Urban Landscapes as Public History issues of identity, gender, race, etc. had been largely ignored in the understanding of urban environments. Hayden calls her readers to action by identifying the problem of the “entire urban landscape” needs to be studied, rather than exclusively focusing on remaining physical structures. Successfully including this in public history projects helps to create the urban environment as a vital part of American history (Hayden 11).
Placed together, Hayden and Hurley highlight the benefits and challenges on looking at the urban landscape as a powerful place to conduct history. Evidently, their studies provide important insights into how our class conducts our project with the residents of Mantua. Hurley writes that the history of the urban landscape offers an “inheritance” to its residents. One of my primary concerns lies in the issue of defining what place means to the informants of our oral histories. We are aware of the immediacy of the impact they want to make now, but what is the legacy they wish to leave behind? It may be worth discussing in future classes among us to see how we look to Mantua’s story as an American story. This may perhaps be a theme that we wish to tackle as we move forward. By thinking about the Mantua story as an American story, we can further work towards a “shared authority” with a larger audience.