AHA Member Spotlight: Michael B. Kahan

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

KahanMichael B. Kahan is associate director of the Program on Urban Studies at Stanford University. He is from Mountain View, California, and has been a member since 2001.

Alma maters: BA, Yale University; PhD, University of Pennsylvania

Fields of interest: urban history, social history, US history since 1865

When did you first develop an interest in history?

Probably in 6th grade, when I had an outstanding social studies teacher who made Greek and Roman history exciting. I remember acting out a gladiator battle in class!

What projects are you working on currently?

A book on the history of streets and street life in Philadelphia from the 1860s through the 1920s; an extended encyclopedia entry on cities in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era; and an article on urban renewal in East Palo Alto since the 1990s.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how? 

I enjoy studying and teaching about the places where I live, so since moving to the West Coast after graduate school I’ve gotten more interested in the cities of the West, especially the Bay Area.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

Elif Batuman’s graduate school memoir, The Possessed, is great fun; while it’s not about a history program, it will strike a chord with anyone who’s gotten a PhD. On a very different note, just about anyone can benefit from reading (or re-reading) Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities.

What do you value most about the history profession?

Its commitment to reaching a broad public, its methodological and theoretical flexibility, and its ability to help us imagine a different future by showing us contingencies in the past.

Why did you join the AHA? 

Probably to attend the annual meeting while I was applying for jobs, but I have stayed because I enjoy keeping up with the field through the AHR and Perspectives on History.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

Folk music (both consuming and producing), gardening, and spending time with my family.

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