UTSA researcher Andrew Highsmith named Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow

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Andrew Highsmith

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(Aug. 20, 2012) -- Assistant Professor Andrew Highsmith in The University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Public Administration has been named a 2012-2013 Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow by the National Academy of Education. The honor includes a $55,000 award to support Highsmith while he completes his book, "Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis."

"The story of Flint, Mich., presents an excellent case study of race, political economy and urban development in the 20th century," said Highsmith. "Unfortunately, academics haven't written a lot about Flint, and most of what people know is from Michael Moore's first film, Roger and Me. But Flint's history is about so much more than the decline of the American automobile industry. At its core, the Flint story is an American story, and the persistence of city dwellers in the face of economic catastrophe is a central theme in the book. It;s fundamentally about the numerous attempts to renew a city perceived to be in decline and the social, political and economic implications, many of them unforeseen, of those efforts."

Highsmith was a doctoral student in history at the University of Michigan, when he landed the project. Since that time, he has poured through oral histories, archival manuscripts, government documents, court records, public school files and other items to piece together Flint's past. His research has taken him to more than a dozen libraries and archives.

In addition to learning about the decisive role that General Motors played in Flint's 20th century development, Highsmith found that civil rights activists, municipal officials, trade unionists and white homeowners, many of them suburbanites, played an important role in the city's evolution. Over the years, Flint evolved from a segregated industrial city into a hypersegregated, postindustrial town.

"In Flint, different groups competed over how to improve the city, and that created an extraordinary amount of social conflict," said Highsmith. "Whether these quests for renewal were successful, in the end, is dependent on who you're asking. Flint's story is a completely different story from what I expected and from what other scholars have found. My work is not really about urban decline. Instead, it is about cycles of urban reinvention and their effects on metropolitan regions like Flint and Genesee County."

"Demolition Means Progress" will explore the spatial and structural barriers to racial equality and economic opportunity in Flint from the Great Depression to the present. The book will address topics such as school segregation, the residential color line, employment discrimination, suburban development, urban renewal and deindustrialization. It also will describe how Flint's public schools formed the core of an unsuccessful postwar urban development paradigm that reflected the limits of the American dream.

Highsmith joined the UTSA College of Public Policy in 2010 following receipt of his doctoral degree at the University of Michigan. The dissertation he wrote at Michigan won two national prizes. He researches topics at the intersection of urban history and public policy. His expected book is currently under contract with the University of Chicago Press and part of its Historical Studies of Urban America series.

Since 1986, the NAEd has administered the postdoctoral fellowship program with generous funding from the Spencer Foundation. Since the program's inception, more than 700 current and former fellows, including many of today's strongest education researchers, have been awarded the fellowship. Highsmith is one of 20 fellows who were selected from a competitive pool of 170 applicants.