Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bob's Dissertation Proposal

Hi folks,

Over a month after I promised it, here is the first exceprt from my own dissertation proposal. Although Dave and I have been working together on Hampden archaeology for three years, our dissertations are going to be very different, for a variety of reasons (but mostly due to the different Ph.D. programs we're in, as well as the fact that we need to be able to distinguish ourselves as scholars in order to get jobs). I'll skip the historical background section and begin with an excerpt that explains my general approach to interpreting Hampden history. Any comments are more than welcome.

I believe that a common thread can be found running throughout each of the major periods of Hampden-Woodberry’s past: the theme of “insiders” versus “outsiders.” Specifically, working-class residents of the neighborhood have expressed, both verbally and through their actions, a consistent will to keep “outsiders” away, or at least to diminish their influence within the community. During the late 19th century the outsiders were ethnic and racial minorities, whereas by World War I the Mt. Vernon-Woodberry Mills Co., owned by a New York-based conglomerate, had taken over that role. After the mills began heading south, the newly independent petit bourgeois initiated a sustained effort to rewrite the community’s history, erasing the working class and nearly erasing the mills from the scene in an attempt to fill the power vacuum left by the mills’ departure. By the 1980s, the local working class community began fighting back, but once again against racial and ethnic outsiders rather than the local middle class. With the onset of gentrification, an outside middle class gained ascendancy but not without protest by working-class community “insiders.”

Furthermore, these localized actions (by both working-class community members and outsiders) represent instances of what anthropologist James Holston has called “insurgent citizenship.” According to Holston, insurgent citizenship consists of both grassroots mobilizations and practices of everyday life that work to subvert dominant agendas and contest the form of substantive citizenship (defined as the array of civil, political and social rights that are available to individuals within a polity or local community in varying degrees). Some individuals try to expand their claims to substantive membership in a given community, while others try to erode these claims. Insurgent citizenship is at “the intersection of these processes of expansion and erosion;” it is an activity in which both elite and subaltern groups engage. Thus, insurgent movements “create new kinds of rights, based on the exigencies of lived experience, outside the normative and institutional definitions of the state and its legal codes.”[1] The history of Hampden-Woodberry, then, can be seen as a history of insurgent citizenship in which the local working-class, which traces a cohesive and homogenous community identity to the late 1800s, has battled with a series of outsiders over the rights, duties, and values associated with local citizenship.

Hampden-Woodberry presents both advantages and obstacles as a case study in American working-class history. The local working community has maintained a closed, homogenous identity for well over 100 years, managing to retain a racially white, ethnically Anglo-Saxon character while most other industrial communities across the nation were continually reshaped by successive wages of immigration and internal migration. In this sense, Hampden-Woodberry is somewhat unique. On the other hand, local workers have been affected by and engaged with many historical developments that had similar impacts in other industrial communities: the shift from paternalistic industrial capitalism to corporate monopoly capitalism; the movement for industrial democracy; deindustrialization; desegregation; and gentrification. By examining the interaction of local struggles with these broader developments while simultaneously understanding the unique aspects of Hampden-Woodberry’s history, I hope to make a significant contribution to the study of localized forms of community identity and belonging in American working-class communities.

[1] James Holston, “Spaces of Insurgent Citizenship,” in James Holston, editor, Cities and Citizenship (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 167-170.


Blogger The Daily Breather said...

This is one of the most interesting things I've rad in a long time. I just moved to Hampden a year ago this week and am fascinated with the area and history. Working class history, especially the erasing of working class history, is fascinating. Good luck with the dissrtation

5:44 PM  

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