Distinguished Lecturers
Lizabeth Cohen

Lizabeth Cohen

Lizabeth Cohen is the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies and  Distinguished Service Professor in Harvard University’s History Department. Her scholarly interests range widely across the 20th century, including urban history, the built environment, material culture, consumerism, racial and ethnic experience, and the connections between culture and politics. Cohen's most recent book is Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age (2019), which won the Bancroft Prize. Cohen’s previous books include Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 (1990), also winner of the Bancroft Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer, and A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003). She is co-author with David Kennedy and Margaret O’Mara of a widely used college and AP US history textbook, The American Pageant. Her current work is a comparative study of individuals’ and communities’ experience coping with deindustrialization in the US and France. Her writings have appeared in edited volumes, academic journals, and popular venues, including the New York Times, Washington PostAtlantic, and American Prospect. From 2011-18, Cohen was dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, NEH, ACLS, and the Radcliffe Institute. Cohen is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Society of American Historians. She has been the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford and is a former president of the Urban History Association. 

OAH Lectures by Lizabeth Cohen

As the nation copes with urban challenges ranging from unaffordable housing and increasingly empty downtowns, there are important insights to be gained from revisiting the urban renewal strategies as they evolved from the 1940s to the 1970s as part of the effort to combat the exit of residents, retail, and capital with mass suburbanization. A deep dive into the career of an urban redeveloper like Edward J. Logue, who worked in New Haven, Boston, and New York State from the 1950s to 2000, and the shifting strategies he employed at different times, reveals urban renewal as a process that was not at all static. Rather, it continued to change over time, to experiment with different approaches in response to its own, often admitted failures as well as changing national policies and politics, and to implement some surprisingly progressive ideas. This lecture will argue that, in dismissing all efforts at urban redevelopment as disastrous urban renewal, we have missed how policy and strategies changed over time, the impact of the federal government's investment in subsidized housing, and how, faced with poor urban renewal approaches, communities rallied to demand greater responsiveness from cities, states, and Washington and a larger voice in decision-making.

The second half of the 20th century saw a major shift from the so-called Golden Era of America prosperity following World War II to the dismantling of the nation's manufacturing economy with deindustrialization beginning in the 1970s. This reorientation of the American economy had significant impact on individuals and communities that had flourished with industrialization and now faced increasing devastation. How people and places coped with the crisis and rebuilt lives and places is the subject of Cohen's current research and the topic of this lecture.

More Distinguished Lectureship Program Resources