American cities and suburbs are independent political units and often very separate social spaces. Places in a metropolitan area can be starkly divided in terms of material resources; political and economic power; and even public image. They form polarized “communities of opportunity” that shape life chances and experiences profoundly. While it is easy to spot differences, boundaries, and separations among places and communities, those differences are shaped by political, economic, and cultural processes that operate at the metropolitan scale.
History encompasses the systematic study of processes of change and the way that choices decisions made, ideas embraced, and people mobilized at one moment open some possibilities and close others later on. Our communities are not abstract economic, social, or political systems but products of historical human action; our history is in fact the sum of past efforts to change or preserve the places we live in.
Why Metropolitan History?
Historical analysis that sheds useful light on metropolitan formation must break out of spatial frames established by urban and suburban history, building on knowledge of particular places to consider the relationships between them. This history must be aggressively interdisciplinary, recognizing the value of political, economic, and cultural analysis. Metropolitan history (as a blog and as this blogger sees the field) is unabashedly presentist and seeks to apply historical analysis to improve understanding of contemporary metropolitan areas, and perhaps even to help improve them.