I recently completed my Ph.D. in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University, specializing in 20th century U.S. urban history. My interests range from ethnic and race relations to Jewish studies to the history of how the public health and social welfare infrastructure of American cities was built over the past 100 years. Currently I am contemplating revisions to my dissertation and serving as co-editor of The Metropole, the blog of the Urban History Association.
When I am not buried in books and accidently staining all of my clothes with highlighter, I can most often be found in the yoga studio or knitting on the couch while watching TV with my best decision ever, Kevin.
My earliest memory of historical inquiry is from when I was in second or third grade. I had just finished reading a book about a group of girls immigrating from Europe to New York in the early twentieth century. After finishing this captivating narrative, I remember asking my mother where my Grandma came from.
At the time, I was pretty disappointed that I couldn't place a phone call to Boynton Beach and hear about Grandma's experience traveling in steerage. Looking back now, as I spend my days reading about twentieth century Jewish life in the Bronx and northern Manhattan, I realize that I've spent my early adulthood trying to understand my Grandma's life experience. Perhaps it's a more banal tale than a transatlantic voyage, but I'm consistently surprised at how mid-century American Jewish life came with its own anxieties and insecurities and challenges.
Between this episode and when I entered graduate school, I read all of the American Girl books (and pretty much any other young adult historical fiction I could get my hands on) and took all of the AP History courses my high school offered (in retrospect, it was an omen that the only top score I got on any of my AP tests was in U.S. History). Nonetheless, after reading Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia in the tenth grade, I became fascinated by magical realism and Latin American fiction.
I decided to attend Barnard College, because Cristina Garcia was an alumna and because I desperately wanted to go to school in New York City. I majored in Spanish and Latin American Studies and minored in history. My coursework taught me about the history and cultural production of Iberia and Spanish-speaking Latin American and the Caribbean from the Renaissance all the way up to the 1990s. In my free time, I helped run a youth radio program for city high school students, was active at the campus Hillel, and founded an on-campus newsletter and blog about collegiate health, fitness, and wellness. Over the course of four years, I found that I loved writing and editing. I learned a lot about my Jewish identity, about my sense of self as a woman and as an American citizen, and somehow managed to push my physical body to leg press 300 pounds.
Clueless with what to do with all this knowledge--I knew a little bit about a lot of things, but not much about how careers worked--I decided that I wanted to enter the field of public health. This led me to an internship with the Queens Library Healthlink Project, an NIH-funded study promoting cancer screenings among disadvantaged populations in the New York City borough of Queens. As a Healthlink intern, I conducted surveys in 20 neighborhoods in the borough. I randomly approached community members to find out how much they knew about cancer, their familiarity with cancer support services, and their personal screening habits. Through the course of these conversations, I also heard about how the diverse groups in their area related to one another and how individuals perceived their neighborhood's cohesion and sense of unity. The interviews I enjoyed most were those in which long-time residents of Queens shared with me the history of their neighborhoods and their experience of the borough’s evolution into the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. Having majored in Spanish and Latin American Cultures, these narratives of migration and assimilation resonated strongly with me.
After graduation, I was hired by the Principal Investigators on the Healthlink Project. At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, I spent two years providing administrative and grant support to a really inspiring team of community psychologists, medical sociologists, and social workers. The job taught me about how systems work--especially bureaucracies--and by the time I left the job I understood how federal grant mechanisms, private foundation grants, and university finances functioned. I also realized that I missed narratives! I wanted to know more about the diverse populations that our public health interventions--like the Healthlink Project-- targeted, and to tell their stories.
My interests in urban history, immigration and ethnicity, and the history of medicine and public health brought me to Carnegie Mellon University in August, 2011. Although my interests have evolved since beginning my PhD in History, I remain committed to three fundamental questions that I developed in my first job. HOW and WHY do people access urban public health and social welfare services? Does the ethnicity or race of an individual affect the decisions they make about where they go to find information and services related to their health and wellbeing? And, HOW has social service infrastructure created, maintained, or reduced health disparities among diverse American urban communities?