Mission & Goals
RCUCH Mission Statement
The Research Center for Urban Cultural History premises its work on the multi-disciplinary study of cities as dynamic sites where cultures are generated, renegotiated and transmitted. Urban cultural history is a field well-suited to UMass Boston as an institution of higher learning with a commitment to an urban mission, an exceptionally diverse student body, and located in a city richly endowed with intellectual resources. This allows for a wide array of possible links between studies of cities in the U.S. and throughout the world, encompassing both contemporary and historical topics. The Center's educational, scholarly, and outreach activities will be directed toward achieving a flexible, comprehensive and innovative approach to urban cultural history in a global context.
Goals of the Research Center for Urban Cultural History
The Research Center for Urban Cultural History encourages multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, both of which are fundamental to urban cultural history and to the Center’s academic identity. The terms “urban,” “history,” and “culture” resonate across disciplines, often understood in different but related ways, and their intersections and distinctions should foreground the activities the Center engages and promotes. The broader goals of the Center are to provide ways in which social scientists and humanists and specialists in the fine arts can clarify different methodologies and assumptions in order to foster deeper conversations and research into how cultures develop, change and interact within and across cities.
Urban cultural history engages elements drawn from the social sciences and humanities and fine arts such as spatial definition, demographic change, economic development, dynamic change across time, cultural transformation, and signifying systems. At the Center, there is an explicit assumption that those working in different disciplines will engage various combinations of such elements as these, each understood according to the languages and practices of their individual disciplines, but approaching their projects with the goal of communicating their understanding and methodologies with those in other applicable disciplines.
Urban cultural history, as the Center will foster its study, takes into account some or all of the following six elements drawn from the social sciences and humanities in addition to other project and discipline-driven foci: the specificity of the urban setting and its environs; spatial definition; demographic and economic shifts; temporal change; cultural exchange and cultural transformation ; and discursive and signifying networks created by the production of meaning between groups and populations. Together, these six elements stress culture a dynamic process in both sense of “culture” and its history, allowing for a study of cultural differences in terms of conversations, interactions and mutual accommodations and resistances, in order to avoid simple binarisms or static models. While spatial considerations are integral to urban life—where to develop housing or businesses, where to locate a symbolic structure—the temporal or historical considerations arising from traditions, cultural inheritances, and theories of public policy (often influenced by beliefs about high versus low culture) are also key.
The emphasis on urban cultural history is intended to take advantage of the opportunities stemming from UMass Boston’s status as a public university located in Boston, with an especially diverse student population, including many recent immigrants experiencing life in an American city. UMass Boston is a research university with a faculty actively committed to maintaining high standards of teaching and scholarship across the full range of disciplines, many of whose Liberal Arts faculty members already teach courses and conduct research in urban cultural history. The Center encourages further crossing of traditional disciplinary boundaries in research projects, course design, exchanges, colloquia, and study groups, as well as in collaborative projects with other institutions within and outside the university.
Center activities might range from a project comparing the role of the slave trade in creating wealthy, powerful urban centers in Europe and the Americas, to a team-taught course on immigration and ethnic identity in Boston and New York neighborhoods, to a research database of the visual history of Boston compiled through alliances with several area institutions. Our strategy overall is to make the question of how cultures develop and interact within cities a central focal point for scholarship and teaching to address linkages between applied urban research and more traditional humanistic scholarship, as well as those between a liberal arts curriculum and our students’ urban experience. To create both direction and institutional flexibility, the Center combines the facilitation of tightly defined annual research and conference rubrics with a much looser and more exploratory program of encouraging collaborative teaching and curriculum development.