Biography

Biography

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Mike Wallace (born July 22, 1942) is an American historian. He specializes in the history of New York City, and in the history and practice of “public history” (the way history gets presented to the public in museums, films, theme parks, novels, historic sites, etc).

In 1998 he co-authored (with Edwin G. Burrows) Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, which in 1999 won the Pulitzer Prize in History. In 2017, he published a successor volume, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919. He is now working on the third volume in the series, which will carry the story to 1945.

Wallace is a Distinguished Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York), and at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Early Life and Education

Wallace was born in Queens, New York, in 1942 and, after a stint (1943-1949) in San Francisco, where his father and his band leader uncle ran a record shop, the family returned to New York. Wallace grew up in Fresh Meadows, Valley Stream, and Great Neck. His father became a real estate salesman, then a real estate broker, moving his office eastward with the postwar suburban migration.

Wallace went to Columbia College in 1960. Like many others he came under the spell of master teacher James P. Shenton, and decided to become an historian. On graduating in 1964 he stayed on at Columbia for graduate studies. With historian Richard Hofstadter as his adviser, he worked on a dissertation about the emergence of the two party system, worked as Hofstadter’s research assistant, and in 1968 had his first article accepted by the American Historical Review.[1]

In 1968 Wallace took part in the student strike at Columbia University.[2] In 1969, Hofstadter, though opposed to the strike, proposed that they jointly produce a documentary history of violence in the U.S.[3] Wallace did the research; Hofstadter wrote the introduction; and Wallace published an essay with a different emphasis.[4] Arthur Schlesinger Jr. hailed the book in his New York Times review.[5] Wallace’s article was critiqued in a Wall Street Journal editorial.[6]

In 1970, the newly appointed president of Franconia College, 23-year-old Leon Botstein (currently president of Bard College) asked Hofstadter to recommend an historian. Wallace was hired, becoming the one-person history department.[7] Hofstadter died on October 24, 1970, at age 54, of leukemia; Wallace taught his Franconia students a memorial seminar called “Hofstadter’s History.”

In 1971, Wallace relocated to New York City, taking up a teaching position at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York). He offered his students, all police officers, a course on the history of American violence.

In 1976, when John Jay and other CUNY colleges were threatened with closure during New York’s so-called fiscal crisis, students (including police students) and faculty demonstrated in the streets.[8] Wallace and other CUNY faculty colleagues had produced (in 1974) a pamphlet, Crisis at CUNY that set the contemporary struggle in historical context.[9]


Radical History

In the early 1970s Wallace began working with other historians of his generation who were crafting alternative approaches to history, in tandem with activists in social movements who were challenging the established order by promoting civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and opposing economic inequality and the Vietnam War. The “young radical historians who burst onto the scene,” wrote one scholar, “presented a view of the past which emphasized class, and social and economic conflict,” and they “succeeded in broadening the scope of American history by adding the voices of those previously excluded, such as women, blacks and the working class.”[10]

In 1973 Wallace helped launch, and for the next ten years directed, the Radical History Forum. Presenters included such scholars and activists as Mari-Jo Buhle, Herbert Gutman, Jonathan Katz, Eugene Genovese, Paul Buhle, Harry Braverman, Dorothy Thompson, Peter Biskind, Frank Bonilla, E. P. Thompson, Eric Foner, Immanuel Wallerstein, Eleanor Leacock, Donna Haraway, Martin Duberman, Blanche Cook, Perry Anderson, William Appleman Williams, Harry Magdoff, Edward Said, Theda Skocpol, Sheila Rowbotham, Herbert Schiller, and Erik Barnouw.[11]

Wallace also participated in transforming the Radical Historians’ Newsletter, started in 1973, into the Radical History Review, by 1975. From then through the mid-1980s, he served as its editorial coordinator. Both the forums and the journal were housed in his office at John Jay College.[12] The RHR continues to this day, and is now headquartered at NYU, and published by Duke University Press.[13]


Public History

During the 1980s, Wallace began writing about the ways history gets presented to the general public, outside of schools and universities. His first analysis of public history presentations came with a 1981 article on the history of history museums.[14] Essays followed on historic preservation, Ellis Island, Disney World, New York City history museums, historical rhetoric used by politicians (notably Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich)[15], science and industrial museums, TV shows and movies, and the fracas over the Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.[16] In 1996, these and other pieces were collected in a book called Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory.[17] Michael Kammen, then president of the Organization of American Historians, wrote: “This book explains, better than any other, why history has been at the very heart of the culture wars in recent times.”[18] Wallace lectured widely in the 1980s and 1990s on the subject of public history.[19]

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In addition to analyzing the messages advanced in popular culture, Wallace worked with public historians to forge alternative presentations. From 1985 on he worked with a new curatorial team intent on renovating the Museum of the City of New York. In 1993 he helped save the New-York Historical Society from collapse and closure, organizing a Committee of Concerned Scholars that gathered more than 500 signatures at 40 campuses throughout the country calling on city and state officials “to fashion a solution that will keep the collections intact and available to all New Yorkers.”[20] The campaign was successful and Wallace subsequently worked with the N-YHS on several exhibitions. He has also been a consultant for the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Navy Yard Center, Ellis Island, South Street Seaport, Morris-Jumel Mansion, Rufus King Manor, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the Western Reserve Historical Society.[21]

Wallace also fashioned autonomous projects, like Radical History Radio, which in 1982 produced shows for WBAI; and the New York Public History Project, which in 1984 produced walking tours, pamphlets, and slide/tape shows on subjects ranging from the history of Wall Street to the history of housing (funded by the New York Council for the Humanities and the J. M. Kaplan Fund). He collaborated on a series of walking tours with his then wife Hope Cooke.[22]


New York History

In 1976 Wallace applied for a grant from the Rabinowitz Foundation to write a history of the United States as a capitalist society. His proposal argued that insurgent historians were collectively rewriting the history of the United States, but the new history was not accessible to the general public, because it lacked a narrative overview that brought all the pieces together into a compelling whole. With support from E.P. Thompson, Herbert Gutman, Eugene Genovese, and others, the grant was granted.

Wallace now partnered with Edwin Burrows, with whom he had co-authored a 139 page article on the American Revolution.[23] They set to work, aided by a 1980 NEH grant for the project, then entitled “The Emergence of American Capitalism.”[24] In 1983 Wallace presented at Beijing University an overview of the work in progress.[25] But progress was slow. The outpouring of new studies was overwhelming. So Wallace and Burrows decided to downshift the enterprise and write the history of New York City, setting it in the global and national context they’d constructed. They tried out the new format at the 1985 American Historical Association[26] and, their approach having passed muster with commentators including David Gordon and Sean Wilentz,they began looking for a publisher. In 1986 they signed on with literary agent Frances Goldin. In 1987 the project was taken on by Jim Silberman, president of Summit Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint, as a one volume work. Over the next decade, it became clear the project would be a far bigger multi-volume project, and in 1996, the authors moved to Oxford University Press. In November 1998, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 was published. In April 1999 it won the Pulitzer Prize.[27]

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Also in 1999, Ric Burns’ New York: A Documentary Film, a 14½ hour history of the city, aired on public television.[28] Wallace had been working with Burns since 1996, as a Senior Historical Adviser, and as an extensively interviewed on camera commentator. Nancy Franklin, the New Yorker’s reviewer, said Wallace “has a tremendous grasp of every phase and aspect of the city’s history.”[29] In her New York Times review Caryn James wrote: “The most astute commentators include the historian Kenneth T. Jackson, the architect Robert A. M. Stern and above all Mike Wallace” who “provides lively descriptions of several centuries of the city's daily life,” and “makes a case for New York as a place that came to believe ‘social justice is a commensurate good with the accumulation of private property.’”[30]

In March 2000, Wallace established a combined public history and scholarly project, the Gotham Center for New York City History. Housed in the CUNY Graduate School, the goal was to build on the popularity of Gotham and Burns' film, and boost the visibility – for citizens, tourists and students – of New York's historical assets.[31] The initial project was a Gotham History Festival, a grand coalition of history producers that would bring together the city’s historical museums, societies, preservationists, archivists, teachers, and academics in a weeklong event. It was scheduled to begin on October 5, 2001.

On September 11, 2001, the city was attacked. Invited by the Times to contribute an op-ed piece, Wallace set the catastrophe in historical context, noting the lengthy tradition of threatened or imagined assaults on the city, but reminding New Yorkers of the trials they had faced and surmounted in the past. It appeared on September 16, 2001.[32]

On October 5, when the city was still reeling, the long-in-the-works Gotham History Festival kicked off, with the proclaimed theme of exploring New York City's present in relation to its past, a goal made newly relevant by the addition of panels responding to the assault. Over the first weekend 5,000 came to the Graduate Center to attend over 100 panels, roundtables, exhibits, film screenings and a book fair.[33] On Saturday evening Martin Scorsese and Wallace had an onstage conversation before an overflow crowd about film and New York history, in which they discussed his upcoming Gangs of New York, and previewed clips.[34]

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The turnout was likely boosted by being one of the first public events of its sort since the attack. CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein wrote Wallace (on October 18, 2001): “I am delighted that the Festival was such a resounding triumph; this celebration of New York’s rich legacy of history and culture was precisely what the City needed in this difficult time.” The City Council agreed, and issued a congratulatory proclamation. Mayor Giuliani issued his first post 9/11 Mayoral Proclamation hailing the festival.

Nevertheless, Wallace vehemently opposed Giuliani’s unprecedented action in the last days of his term in office, when he took personal custody of his official city papers, carrying them off for processing under his personal control. On January 25, 2002, Wallace was quoted in the Times as saying, “It’s particularly a terrible idea, because the Giuliani administration had a very dismal record on making information accessible to the public.”[35] Wallace mobilized 850 historians, archivists, and a wide range of citizens to sign a petition urging Mayor Bloomberg to cancel the arrangement. On February 6, 2002, he held a press conference on the steps of City Hall that was covered extensively on television, and he followed up with several op-ed pieces (Newsday, Daily News, etc.).[36] He worked with the City Council and won passage of legislation that outlawed such actions in the future. For his efforts he received the 2002 Award for Outstanding Support of Archives, given by the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York, and the 2002 “I Love an Ethical New York” Award, from Common Cause/NY.[37]

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In the next months, Wallace worked with scholarly and civic organizations that launched a series of public conversations on how to respond to the crisis, both in the short term, and in terms of longer planning initiatives. In 2002 he published a book that drew together the various plans and proposals for New York’s future, to make them accessible to a wider audience. Entitled A New Deal for New York, the volume reminded the city of the legacy of the New Deal as a potential model for civic action, and indeed called for a “new New Deal,” a notion that gained wide currency.[38]

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The volume was well received by critics. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said “A New Deal for New York is lively, acute, and packed with usable information. Everyone interested in the future of our town should read Mike Wallace’s book.” James K. Galbraith said “A New Deal for New York is a glorious effort – rich, imaginative, sensible, and necessary. Above all it is sane. It deserves a huge audience.” In the New York Review of Books Jason Epstein called it an “exhilarating, great-hearted book.” The New York Times chose it as one of the Best Books on NYC of 2002. And the New Republic said that “By far the most cogent set of recommendations advanced in the past year of intense debate over the fate of Ground Zero is contained in a small book by Mike Wallace called A New Deal for New York... Wallace places the project within its larger regional and national context, delineated with a breadth of historical learning and socio-political insight not seen since Lewis Mumford... This is just what we need now, and Wallace has risen to the occasion splendidly.”[39]

To facilitate a more collective conversation about its suggestions, Wallace organized – with support from the Ford Foundation – an all day Conference (November 22, 2002) on “New York and the New Deal,” at the CUNY Graduate Center.[40] Wallace subsequently addressed a diverse array of civic and professional institutions.[41]

Meanwhile the Gotham Center continued to expand. Wallace put together a Board of Advisors that included: David Levering Lewis, Jason Epstein, Martin Scorsese, Pete Hamill, Kent Barwick, Juan Gonzalez, Ric Burns, Paul Goldberger, Kenneth T. Jackson, Paul LeClerc, Elihu Rose, Louise Mirrer, Brooke Astor, and CBS’s Mike Wallace. He also established the Gotham History Forum, which showcased the best new work on New York City history, and arranged conversations between historians and history makers.[42] The center developed a website that became a premier site for people interested in New York City history. The Gotham Center also launched a Teaching New York City History in K-12 project, to help public and private school teachers present the history of NYC in their classrooms. In 2012 Wallace and the Gotham center provided historical context for the Occupy Wall Street movement.[43]

As Wallace’s public history work continued, so did his writing on the second volume of the Gotham series, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919, aided, sequentially, by a Guggenheim Fellowship (2000), and a fellowship to the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers (2001).


Bi-National History

During his year-long residency at the Cullman Center, Wallace made the acquaintance of fellow resident Carmen Boullosa, one of Mexico’s foremost writers. On May Day of 2005 they were married. Becoming half of a bi-national couple – and living part time in Mexico City – broadened his personal and historical horizons, which led to some professional collaborations.

In 2010, Wallace and Boullosa worked together on a museum exhibition called Nueva York (1613-1945) – itself a joint production of the New-York Historical Society and El Museo del Barrio. The exhibition and accompanying catalog explored the centuries-long relationship between Gotham and the Spanish-speaking world.[44]

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In 2015, Boullosa and Wallace co-authored a book entitled A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War.”[45]

Greater Gotham

In 2017, Wallace completed Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 (Oxford University Press).

“An unprecedented feat,” wrote Phillip Lopate, “the new gold standard of urban history, Greater Gotham both extends and enhances the achievement of Gotham. Employing considerable analytical acuity, Mike Wallace has uncovered the through-lines in New York's story, cutting through the tangle of competing interests with wit, skepticism, nuanced judgment and masterful understanding. It's a tour-de-force of research, synthesis and literary clarity, and is full of surprises and the illumination of dark corners.”[46]

Ira Katznelson says: “The bounty continues! With Greater Gotham, Mike Wallace advances his impossible-to-put-down chronicle of New York City. Combining unmatched knowledge, striking narration, and analytical power, this stunning book is more than a portrait of a city, but a fresh vantage from which to consider the making of twentieth-century America.”[47]

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Teaching

In the 1980s and 1990s Wallace developed some novel courses of study, blending his public history and New York history interests (Media and History, Hollywood and History), and he deployed innovative teaching techniques in his basic courses on New York City History and the History of Crime in New York City.


Honors, Awards, Grants

Columbia University Presidents Fellow (1961-1962), Herbert H. Lehman Fellow (1963-1964), City University Faculty Research Scholar (1974), Rabinowitz Foundation Grant (1976), Johns Hopkins University Visiting Fellow (1977), National Endowment for the Humanities Grant (1980), Cummington Community for the Arts Writer in Residence (1984), New York Council for the Humanities Grant (1984), J.M. Kaplan Fund Grant (1984), Blue Mountain Center Writer in Residence (1986), National Endowment for the Humanities College Teaching Fellowship (1993), American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship (1994), New York Society Library Book of the Year (1998), Pulitzer Prize (1999), Municipal Art Society Brendan Gil Prize (1999), Guggenheim Fellow (2000), Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers [New York Public Library] Fellow (2001), Award for Outstanding Support of Archives, by Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (2002), “I Love an Ethical New York” Award, from Common Cause/New York (2002).


Personal Life

Wallace is married to the Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa, author of seventeen novels, seven volumes of poetry, ten plays (seven staged), and two books of essays. A Guggenheim and a Cullman Center Fellow, her most recent novel in English, Texas, the Great Theft, translated by Samantha Schnee, was a finalist for the PEN translation award, and she has won five NY-EMMYs for her work on the CUNY-TV show “Nueva York.”[48] Boullosa’s website is www.carmenboullosa.net; her twitter is @carmenboullosa; her facebook is fb.me/CarmenBoullosaEscritora

Wallace was formerly married, in December 1969, to Nancy Greenough[49]; in May 1973 to Elizabeth Fee, now Chief of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health [50]; and in October 1987 to Hope Cooke, public historian, writer, and former Queen of Sikkim.[51]


Notes

[1] “Changing Concepts of Party in the United States: New York, 1815-1828,” American Historical Review, 74 (1968).
[2] "Reminiscences of Mike Wallace on Columbia 1968," interview by Alessandra Lorini (1983), Student Movements of the 1960s Project, Columbia Oral History Collection.
[3] Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace, American Violence: A Documentary History (Knopf, 1970); David S. Brown, Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography (University of Chicago Press, 2008).
[4] Michael Wallace, “The Uses of Violence in American History,” The American Scholar 40, No. 1 (Winter 1970-71): 81-102.
[5] Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “Review of American Violence,” New York Times, October 25, 1970.
[6]The Particular in the Void,” Wall Street Journal, December 28, 1970.
[7]College Names 23-Year-Old President,” New York Times, June 26, 1970.
[8]Students and Officials Protest Proposed End of City U. Colleges,” New York Times, February 27, 1976.
[9] Newt Davidson Collective, Crisis at CUNY (1974); CUNY Digital History Archive, “Transcript of interview with members of the Newt Davidson Collective: Nanette Funk, Jerry Markowitz, William Tabb, and Mike Wallace” (2014).
[10] Robert A. Bell, “The Changing Voice of Left History: New Left Journals and Radical American History,” Ph.D., University of Waterloo, 1999.
[11]A Conversation about the Radical History Review: Former and Current Collective Members Reminisce,” Radical History Review 79 (Winter 2001): 15-47; “Radical History Forums (1973-1982).”
[12] Ellen Noonan, “Interview with Mike Wallace,” Radical History Review 79 (January 2001): 49-74; Mike Wallace, “On Being Taken Seriously,” MARHO Newsletter, 2 (ca. Spring 1974).
[13] http://rhr.dukejournals.org/.
[14] Michael Wallace, “Visiting the Past: History Museums in the United States,” Radical History Review (1981): 63-96.
[15]Newt Gingrich - Historian?
[16] Mike Wallace, “ The Battle of the Enola Gay ,” Radical Historians' Newsletter (1995).
[17] Mike Wallace, Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory (Temple University Press, 1996); Michael J. Schroeder, “Review of Mickey Mouse History,” H-Review (April 1997); Thomas Cripps, “Review of Mickey Mouse History,” Labor History (Spring/Summer 1997).
[18] Michael Kammen on Mickey Mouse History: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1174_reg.html.
[19] Mike Wallace, Curriculum Vita.
[20]Scholars Mourn and Fight a Landmark Library’s Closing,” New York Times, February 9, 1993.
[21] Wallace, Vita .
[22]When East met West and Walking Around Led to Brooklyn,” New York Times, February 24, 1993; Hope Cooke, Seeing New York: History Walks for Armchair and Footloose Travelers (Temple University Press, 1995).
[23]The American Revolution: The Ideology and Psychology Of National Liberation,” Perspectives in American History 6 (1972): 167-306.
[24] https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=RO-*1034-80.
[25] "An Overview of American History," Department of History, Beijing University (1983).
[26] Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace, "The History of New York City: An Overview," American Historical Association Convention, 1985.
[27] "The 1999 Pulitzer Prize Winner in History," http://pulitzer.lamptest.columbia.edu/winners/edwin-g-burrows-and-mike-wallace; “Another Wallace,” New York Times, April 16, 1999.
[28] http://www.pbs.org/wnet/newyork/.
[29] Nancy Franklin, “Unique New York,” New Yorker, November 15, 1999.
[30] Caryn James, “For a City Driven by a Dream,” New York Times, November 12, 1999.
[31] http://www.gothamcenter.org/about.html.
[32] “‘These Fantasies Have Been Horribly Realized,’” New York Times, September 16, 2001.
[33] http://www.gothamcenter.org/past-special-projects/gotham-history-festival-2001.
[34] Id.
[35]Giuliani’s Papers Go to Private Group, Not City,” New York Times, January 25, 2002. See also “Giuliani Defends Removing Papers From City Control: Critics Want All Mayoral Records in the City's Hands,” New York Times, February 6, 2002.
[36]Archivists Demand That City Take Back Giuliani's Papers,” New York Times, February 7, 2002.
[37] "The Guilani Papers," Gotham Center for NYC History, http://www.gothamcenter.org/past-special-projects/february-21st-2015.
[38] Mike Wallace, A New Deal for New York (Bell & Weiland Publishers/Gotham Center Books, 2002).
[39] Wallace, A New Deal for New York.
[40] Kim Phillips-Fein, “A New New Deal?” Nation, December 12, 2002; "NYC and the New Deal" conference, Gotham Center for NYC History, November 2002, http://www.gothamcenter.org/past-special-projects/new-york-city-and-the-new-deal.
[41] Wallace, Vita.
[42] Gotham Center for NYC History, "Forums (2000-2017)."
[43] Mike Wallace, “Before Occupy Wall Street.”
[44] Edward Rothstein, “ Looking South, Not East, into New York’s Past ,"New York Times, September 17, 2010; Mike Wallace, “Nueva York: The Back Story: New York City and the Spanish-Speaking World from Dutch Days to the Second World War,” in Edward J. Sullivan, ed., Nueva York, 1613-1945 (Scala Publishers, 2010).
[45] Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace, A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War (OR Books, 2015).
[46] https://www.amazon.com/Greater-Gotham-History-York-City/dp/0195116356/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1502383125&sr=1-1&keywords=wallace+greater .
[47] Id.
[48] Carmen Boullosa, booklet.
[49]Nancy Greenough to Marry Dec. 13,” New York Times, October 26, 1969.
[50] Interview with Elizabeth Fee ” (2006); “Elizabeth Fee Publications.”
[51] Hope Cooke, Time Change (Simon & Schuster, 1981).