Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities
2008—2009 Forum on Change
Associate Professor, History, Villanova University
Changing Views of Space and Place at the End of WWII: The Search for the Capital of the World
In 1945-46, Americans in more than 175 cities and towns offered their communities as potential “Capitals of the World” – that is, as headquarters sites for the new United Nations Organization. This widespread outbreak of boosterism provides a range of case studies of Americans’ perceptions of themselves and their communities in the context of world affairs. To understand these relationships, this project builds upon scholarship on globalization, international affairs, and urban history, linked through application of ideas of place and space in cultural geography. The actions of civic leaders can be explained largely by the change they experienced during their lifetimes. Born in the late nineteenth century and around the turn of the twentieth, they had seen changes in transportation, communication, and world affairs that made it possible to imagine the world far beyond the places where they were born. They inhabited not only a confined place (their hometowns) but an expanded space extending as far as technology, migration, and mass culture could go. They could seriously imagine their hometowns as Capitals of the World.