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 co-directs the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, and is a Faculty Associate at the Woodrow Wilson School. She co-directed the Urban Studies Program from 2012-2014, and currently serves on its Executive Committee. An Affiliated Faculty member in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, she is also on the Executive Committee of the American Studies Program. During 2015-2016 she held an Old Dominion Fellowship, awarded by the Princeton Humanities Council.
Professor Isenberg 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. 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. She recently joined the Hagley Center Advisory Committee. Before moving to 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 (Spring 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 (Fall 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 pursuing a Ph.D., Isenberg worked in affordable housing, parks planning, and historic preservation in New York City.
Books and Projects 2016-2017
Professor Isenberg has just finished Designing San Francisco, which will be published by Princeton University Press in Spring 2017. She is currently completing the final chapters of Second-Hand Cities: Race and Region in the Antique Americana Trade, from the Civil War to Urban Renewal. Her newest research focuses on the unrest in Trenton, New Jersey in the 1960s. In addition to writing a book, Isenberg is working with documentary filmmaker Purcell Carson (and the students of URB202/HIS202) to produce a film on this topic. The collaborative project is supported by the 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education; the Community-Based Learning Initiative, the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities; and the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. The archive of primary sources and interviews created by URB202/HIS202 will also be used by a Spring 2017 Freshman Seminar, Re-Mapping Princeton, taught with playwright Aaron Landsman. Re-Mapping Princeton is one of Whitman College’s new Freshman Seminars in Service and Civic Engagement.
Recent and upcoming courses:
- URB 202/HIS 202 Documentary Film and the City: The Trenton Project (Fall 2016, with Purcell Carson)
- Freshman Seminar Re-Mapping Princeton (Spring 2017, with Aaron Landsman)
- HIS 388/URB 388 Cities and Suburbs in American History (lecture, Fall 2017)
- HIS 451/URB 451 Writing about Cities (seminar)
- WWS 404 U.S. Cities: New Policy for Old Places (Research Seminar)
- WWS 402 Second-Hand Cities: New Policy for Old Places (Task Force Seminar)
- HIS 500 Introduction to the Professional Study of History (graduate)
- HIS 584 Topics in Urban History (graduate, Spring 2017)
- 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 adviser), and a B.A. in History from Yale University (1984, William Cronon, thesis adviser).
Image credit: © 2017 Princeton University / Graham Bessellieu