The Chicago team continued to work on Bronzeville with a focus on the different states and perceptions of progress throughout the city in between the two World Wars. Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition is proof that the city—or at least its elites—were particularly concerned with appearing progressive. In our first few team meetings we found many pillars of progress to back this world exposition theme—my primary finding being the creation of the country’s first African American art museum, the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC)—and then we transitioned to focus on the evidence of oppression that was hiding behind them—the lack of institutional support for the founding and maintenance of the SSCAC. We ultimately split this progress research into “community” (how Bronzeville’s built environment affected socialization), “conflict” (internal narratives that juxtaposed progress in Bronzeville), and “context” (success in Bronzeville that can be applied to current built environments).
The syllabus presentations and guest lecture in full lab sessions taught me attribute-oriented conceptualizations of cities. The most notable to me were treating cities as primary source documents and understanding built environments as functions of the interests of city elites. These sessions would at the very least reaffirm the themes we discussed in teams and at best inspire new directions to take our Chicago research. The Cairo guest lecture was my favorite because it was the least familiar city to me. Being Duke students and VCL fellows, we naturally pick up information on Durham, the active city teams (Chicago and Tokyo), and the city that we are taking a class on (a Duke Art History department staple that many fellows partake in). The Western bias in academia also contributes to this by isolating attention to white built environments. This is to say learning about efforts to digitalize Cairo’s urban history was a unique perk of working in the VCL.
In team settings, I worked with content-oriented conceptualizations of cities, for example, studying Bronzeville with the guiding question, “what lessons can we learn from their urban history?” I was in Dr. Jaskot’s Chicago class this semester (ARTHIST 339), so the back-and-forth feedback between class discussions and team meetings created an immersive learning experience like no other I have had. This dynamic created opportunities to revisit texts or concepts I had difficulty with, implement my lab findings in my classwork, and extend the duration of both lab and class because working on one inevitably bled into the other. A great example of this is the lessons learned question of Chicago’s “Context” sub-team inspiring my final paper for the Chicago class to compare material and intangible legacies of community spaces.
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