For all the confidence with which we, as scholars and citizens, invoke the “segregated city” to explain the world we live in––segregation being at once the object and the conclusion of so much of our analysis––we still have much to learn about the material realities of racialized urban experience. These realities often defy the simple binary logics and spatial ordering implied by the term “segregation,” and also arid liberal pieties about life in a “post-racial society” (an ideal that has become even more suspect, and more fraught, in recent months). The material world of modern segregation involves mixing, movement, and change within sedimented structures, and has a complex genealogy.

The purpose of this project is to study and understand that complex genealogy through exploration of a range of racialized locales in the St. Louis region––those over-determined, but often under-studied sites of segregation that define and even symbolize urban life. We will ask what we can learn about the racialized experiences embodied in such sites through “archaeological” examination.

The MWMS project is collaborative, and involves scholars and practitioners from diverse fields. It also has several interrelated elements, each of which will inform the others: a symposium in which researchers will present initial findings and respond to one another's work; a website/blog in which discoveries and insights will be communicated with the community; a searchable repository of materials related to the project that will be available for researchers in the future; an undergraduate course (Spring 2017) that allows students to participate in the conversation and do their own research on sites of segregation; and an edited volume of essays by project contributors to be published by a scholarly press. These activities will be carried out in phases and continuously inform one another.

Our approach involves engagement with the textures, movements and meanings of everyday experience, as well as the political-social histories and racial memories of our city.  We seek to develop new conceptions of the “segregated city” and its relevant boundaries and pathways, and believe that micro-level, or site-specific, approaches will generate new vocabulary and frameworks for explaining the lived realities of racialized urban spaces––realities not always legible in metropolitan-level studies of  “segregation.”

The research will be staged and collaborative: our twenty contributors will each develop their own readings of a given site (with some working on the same or closely related sites), sharing their findings and providing feedback on works-in-progress, and learning from one another throughout the process.  While they represent a very wide range of disciplines and fields, they share some key priorities, including:

  • Interest in the layers of meaning and experience at the sites (their material, spatial, political and experiential dimensions, past and present);
  • Consideration of representations of the site, records of their use, and other contextual sources (archival, ethnographic, artistic, etc.) that illuminate the lived realities of segregated life;
  • Development of new insights into the political-historical geography of St. Louis as well as new modes of understanding of the material realities of segregation.

Project contributors will do this work in phases. Site research has already begun, and existing as well as new sources are already being gathered. Researchers will be sharing source material via the digital repository, and helping us to conceptualize its future form as a living archive to be expanded by future students and other researchers. Some important milestones include:

* Winter-Spring 2017: Development of draft essays, and collection of material and historical evidence (images, historical documents, maps, sound recordings, oral histories, and so on).

* Spring Semester, 2017: An AMCS course, "The Material World of Modern Segregation: St. Louis in the Long Era of Ferguson' (L98 3190), will be taught by project contributors Iver Bernstein and Heidi Kolk. The course will include appearances by some project contributors and involves students as researchers and respondents at the April Symposium.

* April 21-22, 2017: The Material World of Modern Segregation Symposium. This two-day gathering of project contributors will include lively exchanges that foster new insights relevant to revision of essays as well as broader issues of framing the material for publication.

* Summer 2017: Ongoing research and revision by contributors, and (in consultation with partners in Washington University Libraries) development of a framework for the MWMS ‘living archive.’

* Fall-Winter 2017: Continued development of MWMS living archive, and final preparation of essays for publication in an edited volume tentatively titled The Material World of Modern Segregation: St. Louis in the Long Era of Ferguson (projected publication date fall 2018/spring 2019), which will be rich in visual content and likely have an online component.