I am an assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach modern U.S. political history, urban history, and the history of inequality and work. I received my Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Virginia. In addition to scholarly publications in journals such as the Journal of American History and American Quarterly, my writing has appeared in The New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic's CityLab.
I am completing a book project, tentatively titled Illusions of Progress: Business, Poverty, and Development in the American Century, that recenters the history of 20th century liberalism by highlighting liberals' often naive, racially blinkered, and politically expedient reduction of the pursuit of social progress to stimulating economic growth.
By foregrounding the perspectives of local business elites and Chambers of Commerce in case studies in the urban North and the rural, urbanizing South, the project also challenges recent works of business history, the history of capitalism, and recent political history that take businesspeople's antistatist rhetoric at face value.
The project maps the long history of local-national, public-private partnerships, beginning in the New Deal, when local chambers of commerce enthusiastically steered public works projects toward local economic assets. Far from the result of a "neoliberal" turn in the 1970s, public-private partnerships are an enduring feature of American governance. Illusions of Progress reveals how, beneath deeply rooted antigovernment tropes, local businesspeople's political-cultural worldview, which I term "business producerism," legitimized their efforts to administer and grow the twentieth century state.
The book project is under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press for inclusion in its series, Politics and Culture in Modern America.
I have also begun preliminary work on a new book project that will extend my interests in social and spatially grounded approaches to economic history, the history of inequality, and political economy. The project will explore the modern history of lobbying in America from the perspective of key actors, perhaps including the National Rifle Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Cases may explore the gun trade and gang violence; suburbanization and the iniquitous racial and ethnic origins and outcomes of the mortgage crisis; and the consequences of the decline of localism wrought by ALEC’s production of model legislation.
Finally, I have also co-edited a volume with Lily Geismer and Mason B. Williams that seeks to develop new paradigms in postwar U.S. political history that move the field beyond partisan or ideological historical frameworks. Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2018) brings together leading scholars from subfields outside of political history to model methodologically and topically integrated approaches to political history not easily captured by the field’s once-dominant frameworks of “the New Deal order” or “the rise of conservatism.” Scholars in many fields have identified the considerable flaws in top-down or overly partisan political history, particularly its organization by and through rather narrowly and normatively defined crises. In contrast, the volume offers vertically and horizontally integrated approaches to the study of state power, democracy, and governance that are rooted in understandings of identity, social and cultural history, and the wide variety of experiences of citizenship under big government and within global capitalism.
Contact me at bcebul (at) sas.upenn.edu.
In my free time, I take pictures.