Campus News

Matthew Klingle Wins Award for Dissertation

Story posted December 16, 2002

Matthew Klingle, assistant professor of history and environmental studies, has won the award for best dissertation in North American urban history completed in 2001 from the Urban History Association.

Klingle's dissertation, completed at the University of Washington under the direction of Richard White, is titled "Urban by Nature: An Environmental History of Seattle, 1880-1970." Klingle is the 13th recipient of the annual award.

The award will formally be announced at the Association's 14th annual dinner Saturday, January 4, in Chicago. The dinner is being held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

The Urban History Association has described Klingle's dissertation in its award citation:

"Urban by Nature: An Environmental History of Seattle, 1880-1970" merges urban and environmental history in a way that is both striking in the depth and breadth of its research, as well as sophisticated and original in its argument.

This interdisciplinary study of spatial development in a northwestern city makes a very interesting argument about the relationship between "the city" and "nature," in an attempt to trace how nature in the city was produced and reproduced over space and time. It identifies an important strain in urban planning that saw itself in the business of "improving" rather than destroying nature.

Indeed, the author argues that Americans at the turn of the 20th century did not always see city and nature as opposites, but instead viewed urbanization as an instrument to improve the natural world and create "urban nature."

The promotion of "urban nature," however, had unintended consequences that often reproduced and amplified community divisions and promoted social inequality. Post-World War II promoters of urban nature tried to correct earlier problems, but even a new ecological understanding of nature produced another assortment of unintended consequences.

This dissertation quite successfully demonstrates how Seattle's attitudes toward nature and the city change over time and how they influenced each other. Its examination of the construction of urban space is a significant contribution to both environmental and western urban history.

The Urban History Association was founded in Cincinnati in 1988 to stimulate interest and forward research and study in the history of the city in all periods and geographical areas. The UHA is affiliated with the International Planning History Society.

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