Global War, Race, and the City:
How WWII Shaped Urbanism in New York, Berlin, and Tokyo
I am a historian of urbanism and architecture working on issues of war, race, and memory in cities in the 20th century, with a focus on the United States, Germany, and Japan during and after WWII. Currently, I am working on a book manuscript that expands on the research done for my dissertation, tentatively titled Global War, Race, and the City: How WWII Shaped Urbanism in New York, Berlin, and Tokyo. My project positions the global and racial nature of WWII as a shaping force of urbanism—with important consequences for the methodologies of urban history.
The war built vast infrastructures that became the foundation for civilian aviation, and it made the world seem a lot smaller and a lot more vulnerable. The war was also charged with strong racial discourses—the US presented itself as a bringer of global freedom while maintaining segregation at home, Germany’s aggressive quest for Lebensraum culminated in the Holocaust and the postwar struggle of dealing with this racial legacy, and the loss of Japan’s multi-ethnic empire in East Asia after WWII shaped the country’s reimagining as a monoethnic nation state. Based on evidence from urban policy, planning, architecture, and art, I investigate the urbanism of New York, Berlin, and Tokyo—the principal cities of three nations deeply implicated in the war—to challenge the notion that economic globalization alone made cities global. Instead, my work positions the postwar city as a response to war-driven global infrastructures and racial ideologies, and contributes to an understanding of the complex relationship between WWII and urbanism.
On the Horizon:
Cities Built of Violence:
Urban Space and Conflict in the US
For my next larger research project, I will build on my dissertation work on post-WWII urban history, and explore issues in the analysis and historicization of urban space and conflict. Focusing on examples from the United States, I will investigate questions such as ‘Who has the right to exercise violence in cities, under what circumstances? How are the politics of space enmeshed with the occurrence of conflict? Whose political claims become either reinforced or undermined by violence? And how do acts of violence become interpreted discursively—as acts of aggression, as appropriate countermeasures, as brave moments of civil disobedience, as desperate cries for help, as callous acts of terrorism? How are they responded to, and how are they remembered?’
Violence in cities is easily understood as the destruction of architecture caused by war, or as the escalation of protests and other conflicts. I argue that violence has a permanent presence in urban environments—not only in moments of physical harm and destruction inflicted on individuals and buildings, but in the ways in which history and memory are subject to constant renegotiation through spatial politics and the medium of architecture, and have real consequences for future developments in the city. This research will lead to a deepened understanding of the politics of the city that become played out through acts of violence.