Top Young Historians: 105 – Charlotte Brooks, 38

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

105: Charlotte Brooks, 5-31-10

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor, Department of History, Co-Chair, Program in Asian and Asian American Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York.
Area of Research: Twentieth-century U.S. history, particularly urban history, politics and policy, race, immigration, and Asian American history.
Education: 2002 Ph.D. U.S. History, Northwestern University.
Major Publications: Brooks is the author of Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Charlotte Brooks JPG
Brooks is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “The War on Grant Avenue: Business Competition and Ethnic Rivalry in San Francisco’s Chinatown, 1937-1942,” Journal of Urban History, forthcoming (March 2011); “Sing Sheng vs. Southwood: Housing, Race, and the Cold War in 1950s California,” Pacific Historical Review 73:3 (August 2004). [Reprinted in The Best American History Essays 2006, edited by Joyce Appleby (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)]; “In the Twilight Zone Between Black and White: Japanese American Resettlement and Community in Chicago, 1942-1945,” Journal of American History 86:4 (March 2000).
She is currently doing research for her second book, Between Mao and McCarthy: Chinese American Political Culture in Cold War America (under contract with the University of Chicago Press). This book will examine the contours of Chinese American political activism after World War Two and the way it intersected with U.S. foreign policy, larger Asian American struggles for access to equal citizenship, the growth of Great Society programs, and the postwar black civil rights movement.
Awards: Brooks is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Brooks is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Honorable Mention, 2010 Frederick Jackson Turner Award (for an author’s first book on some significant phase of American history), Organization of American Historians, 2010;
Eugene M. Lang Junior Faculty Research Program Fellowship, Baruch College, 2009-2010;
Professional Staff Congress-City University of New York Grant, Baruch College, 2009;
Baruch College, Weissman School Dean’s Office Summer Research Grant, 2008;
Professional Staff Congress-City University of New York Grant, Baruch College, 2008;
Individual Development Award, State University of New York Joint Labor-Management Committee; 2006;
Louis Knott Koontz Memorial Award (for best article in the previous volume of the Pacific Historical Review), Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association, 2005;
Faculty Research Assistance Program B Grant, University at Albany, 2004-2005;
Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, Barnard College (declined), 2003;
Northwestern University Graduate School Dissertation Year Fellowship, 2001-2002;
Social Science Research Council International Migration Dissertation Fellowship, 2000-2001;
Harry S Truman Library Foundation Research Grant, 2000;
Haynes Foundation Southern California History Research Grant, 2000;
Northwestern University Graduate School Research Grant, 2000;
Teaching Assistant Fellow, Searle Center for Teaching Excellence, 1999-2000.
Additional Info:
Formerly Assistant Professor, Department of History, Faculty Affiliate, Department of Public Administration and Policy, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York.

Personal Anecdote

Although born in Los Angeles, I grew up in Auburn, a small town about forty-five minutes outside of Sacramento. At the time, Auburn’s boosters played up its status as an old Gold Rush hub to lure tourists; as I grew older, however, I realized that the town also possessed what in those days was a largely unexplored Asian American past. I caught an occasional glimpse in the Shanghai Bar in Old Town, the tumbledown shacks that longtime residents still referred to as the “Chinese section,” or a stack of the town’s old high school yearbooks, where I discovered that until 1942, one-third of the student body of the now almost all-white school had been Japanese American.

Yet it took me many years to explore this past any further. Our high school textbooks didn’t discuss Asian American history, nor did Yale offer any courses in the subject when I was a student there. During my undergrad years I tried to remedy what I felt was my general provinciality and weak educational background by taking courses on every area of the world except the US. In the process, I became particularly fascinated with modern China, studying everything from Chinese history to Chinese literature to the Chinese language itself. Desperate to actually visit China, I signed up with a program to teach English there after college, only to find myself placed at the last minute in a xenophobic town in Hubei Province. As the only white person and the only obvious foreigner in the city, I faced not only constant stares but actual harassment on a daily basis. People routinely came up to me and clapped in my face to see how I would react, children threw firecrackers and debris at me with the encouragement of adults, and even students from other departments in my college taunted me on campus. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but at the same time, one of the most important. While I could never escape for a moment my status as an outsider, I had the opportunity to watch China in the midst of a wrenching industrial revolution.

My time in Hubei and a subsequent stint in Hong Kong made me think about issues such as race, class, environmental degradation, and economic development in ways I had never considered before. They also inspired to me to apply to graduate school to study U.S. history while further exploring the Chinese past.

The question I hear most often from students, friends, and family members is, “Why do you study that?” They’re not referring to urban history or 20th century America, but to Asian American history. It’s a question I’ve always struggled to answer satisfactorily, mostly because its racial subtext makes me self-conscious. I know, too, that historians often decide to study their own communities when they focus on fields such as gay and lesbian history, women’s history, African American history, or similar subjects. I can’t claim to be doing the same in my work, but I do think that my background is the reason I study Asian American history. And I believe that the importance of this field to the larger American story means that while I am not Asian American, Asian American history is my history too.

Quotes

By Charlotte Brooks

  • “California’s postwar racial transformation did not result mainly from growing white acceptance of Asian American citizenship. Nor did it take place simply because of the repeal of prewar anti-Asian laws, although
    Asian Americans welcomed and benefited from such changes. Rather, it occurred largely because the meaning of Asian American ‘foreignness’ itself shifted with changing American interests in Asia. As the cold war deepened, a growing number of white Californians saw Asian American housing integration as a necessary price to pay for victory in the struggle. And as thousands of Asian Americans began moving to neighborhoods where blacks could not follow, the racial geography of urban and suburban California in the late 1950s because the most obvious barometer of the state’s racial transformation.” — Charlott Brooks in “Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California”

Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California

About Charlotte Brooks

  • “The Turner Award Committee identified three studies for honorable mention, each of which reflects innovative as well as rigorous methodological inquiry. Each of these studies merits honorable recognition… Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (The University of Chicago Press) broadens the history of U.S. Cold War foreign policy to consider the rapidly changing place of Asian Americans within American society. Its focus on housing patterns highlights how California’s most persecuted minority communities before and especially during World War II became representatives of new but nonetheless limited forms of American liberalism after the war.” — OAH’s Frederick Jackson Turner Committee for “Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California”, which received an honorable mention
  • “A nuanced exploration of multiracial race relations and the complexities attending Asian Americans’ shifting social status in California’s cities, this book is an important contribution to urban and Asian American history. Charlotte Brooks’s discussions about the exclusion of Asian Americans from New Deal programs and the undoing of racial covenants in the cold war era are original, well researched, and subtly argued. She compellingly illuminates the limits of postwar racial liberalism.” — Mae Ngai, Columbia University, author of “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America”
  • “A fascinating study, beautifully accomplished. Comparing the experience of Japanese and Chinese Americans in two California cities, Brooks illuminates the complex texture of discrimination, and the role of citizenship and international affairs in the evolution of equality. This book illustrates the way focused studies of particular communities contribute important insights to our understanding of the intersection of U.S. foreign affairs and civil rights history.” — Mary L. Dudziak, USC Law School, author of “Exporting American Dreams; Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey”
  • “Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends takes a direct and compelling approach to its investigation of how the most viciously racialized groups in pre-World War II California became, in the decades after the war, the state’s most praised non-whites. This book is especially important for its intervention in the black-white binaries of recent urban historiography on racial segregation, the urban crisis, and civil rights politics. It is a book unlike almost anything else in the literature, and as such it significantly broadens our understanding of how race has shaped American cities.” — Robert Self, Brown University, author of “American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland”
  • “Professor Brooks is a highly qualified professor. She is so passionate about history which you can tell through her lectures.”…
    “One of the best professors at Baruch. I took her for History which isn’t even my focus, but I learned the most in this class out of the whole semester. She keeps all the lessons interesting. Coming to class was a pleasure for me.”…
    “She is a great teacher!!! I learned a lot in her history class. I strongly recommend her..awesome!!!”…
    “Love her!Amazing professor!!! extremly helpful and crystal clear. Makes lectures interesting. “…
    “Great professor, really cares about students succeeding in her class, very enthusiatic and knowledgeable about subject.”…
    “Excellent teacher. Really cares about students’ learning the material and makes herself available for extra help.”…
    “You couldnt ask for a better professor. Great person,passionate, interesting lectures, cool sense of humor. ” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 8:45 AM

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