Lewis Levin Wasn’t Nice

I present some of my research on Philadelphia in 1844 in Tablet Magazine:

Levin was a rabble-rouser, conspiracy theorist, bigot, and shanda fur di goyim. In an age of resurgent nativism and fake news, he is all too familiar. Yet he is also mysterious. As a newspaper editor and congressman, Levin spoke and wrote countless thousands of words against demon rum and the Catholic menace. But he offered hardly any account of his private life, leaving historians to wonder about both the facts of his biography and the sincerity of his tirades. Where did a nice Jewish boy learn so much hate?

Lewis Levin Wasn’t Nice,” Tablet Magazine, 22 October 2018.

Metro FAQ: Why doesn’t Metro have four-track routes?

Ten years ago, when Metro was still working well enough for people to wish for more, the more frequent question I got was about the lack of a Metro station in Georgetown. Now that the challenge is to keep the current system functioning, the question is why Metro has only two sets of tracks on each route, so that shutting one down for repairs causes slow service.

In my research, I found two documents that explained the decision particularly well.
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How Congress Undercut Its Own City’s Subway System

Published: “How Congress Undercut Its Own City’s Subway System,” POLITICO Magazine, 16 March 2016.

The most recent maintenance issues are just the latest consequences of a longer pattern of uncertain, interrupted federal financing that began while Metro was still just a paper proposal. Metro was born and built in financial jeopardy. Now, like so much of the nation’s infrastructure, it needs reinvestment, and that challenge may prove greater than the effort to build it in the first place.

Will the Federal Government Finally Deregulate Oral History?

Published:

“Will the Federal Government Finally Deregulate Oral History?,” American Historian, November 2015, 20-22.

On September 8, 2015, sixteen federal departments and agencies jointly released a notice of proposed rulemaking that would amend the federal regulations (known as the Common Rule) that govern IRBs. Among many other reforms the new rules would, the notice explains, “explicitly exclude oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholar- ship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information . . . is collected.” If enacted as written, the proposal would resolve the longstanding acrimony between IRBs and historians.

Ray Mohl

I suppose every human culture depends on elders who are willing not only to teach the young, but to listen to them. Back in graduate school, I was writing about freeway revolts with a methodology that consisted of figuring out which Ray Mohl article was most relevant to a given section. Yet when I met Ray in person, he treated me not as a receptacle of his wisdom and knowledge, but as someone from whom he himself could learn.

That may have been true at the edges; one of the pleasures of urban history is that each city has its particulars, so another detailed case study is always welcomed. But more than that, Ray was a fundamentally patient, gentle, and curious man. His was a face I always delighted to see at a conference, and I mourn that I won’t see it again. Ray, I miss you.

For more on Ray’s work, see In Memoriam: Raymond Mohl

You Can’t Ask That

Published: “You Can’t Ask That.” Washington Monthly, September/October 2014

Enacted a generation ago in response to real abuses by some notorious medical researchers, so-called institutional review boards have morphed into entities that are stifling and distorting important research throughout academia.