Wendy Plotkin, Ph.D.
Chandler, Arizona


Cities, Neighborhoods, and Housing

As an urbanist, I have been most interested in clashes over the residential rights of racial and religious minorities in urban neighborhoods, and over the use of government-mandated rent control in inflationary eras. Most of my work has used Chicago (my home city) as a locus of study, although more recently I have expanded this to a national level.

Racial and Religious Deed Restrictions in Chicago and the United States

I am completing the manuscript of Deeds of Mistrust: Race, Housing and Restrictive Covenants in Chicago: 1900-1953. This work examines the use of "racial restrictive covenants" against African Americans in Chicago in the first half of the century, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1948 in Shelley v. Kraemer that the enforcement of covenants was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. It explores the creation of covenants by real estate institutions and white neighborhood organizations, asking who was involved and laying out the intellectual defenses offered. It then examines the responses of Chicago's early (1930s-1940s) civil rights movement to the existence and enforcement of covenants. Areas of focus include the case Hansberry v. Lee (initiated in 1937 by Carl Hansberry, father of Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun, and heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1940); the Chicago NAACP and the University of Chicago-educated black lawyers who comprised its executive board in the 1930s; and the tensions that existed within the all-white Cook County judiciary in enforcing covenants.

In 2011, I collected information on the use of racial deed restrictions by Chicago's major subdividers in the first half of the 20th century. The conclusions and data from this work constitute the major work remaining to be done.

An article on the topic was included in the special Spring, 2001 (94:1) issue of the Illinois State Historical Journal devoted to race and housing in Chicago, which also included articles by Roger Biles, Raymond Mohl, Amanda Seligman, and D. Bradford Hunt.  In addition, I have published entries on related topics in the James R. Grossman,Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff, ed. Encyclopedia of Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); Stephen A. Reich, Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration (Westport: Greenwood Publishing, 2006), and David R. Goldfield, ed., Encyclopedia of American Urban History (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2006).

I have also examined the use of racial and religious restrictive covenants and the broader issue of housing discrimination against Jews in the U.S. and Canada, including an entry on racial restrictive covenants in Richard S. Levy, ed., Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005).

Most recently, I have written an entry for the African American National Biography (AANB) on Robert Taylor, the long-serving Chicago Housing Authority chairperson (1939-1951), who also was a leader in financing and managing housing open to African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s.

Those interested in the overall topic may consult my Racial and Religious Restrictive Covenants site.

Rent Control in Chicago and the United States

A separate topic of interest is the politics of rent control in Chicago and the United States since World War I. This controversial policy has created factions that are characterized by neither class nor racial characteristics, and that are fluid in their membership over time. Prologue, the journal of the National Archives and Records Administration, published the article "Rent Control in Chicago after World War II: Politics, People & Controversy" (available by clicking on the link, although it is 18MB!) in its Summer, 1998 issue, and I have also written entries on rent control in the Encyclopedia of Chicago and Encyclopedia of American Urban History.

I am interested in the larger issue of urban public policy, and published a review essay on the topic in the September, 2003 issue of the Journal of Urban History.

History and the Digital Revolution

I have contributed a chapter -- Electronic Texts in the Historical Profession: Perspectives from Across the Scholarly Spectrum" -- to Orville Vernon Burton, ed., Computing in the Social Sciences and Humanities (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002) as well as reviews of books addressing the topic [Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community, 1993, in the Journal of American Planning Association, Winter, 1995] and of on-line exhibits and primary documentary materials [Carl Smith, "The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory" WWW site, Chicago Historical Society, The Public Historian, Spring, 1997 (with Perry Duis) and Pennsylvania Gazette CD-ROM, Folio I: 1729-1750, Journal of American History, March, 1994].

From 2004-2006, I was involved in exploring the integration of historical geography and geographical information systems (GIS) in teaching history, drawing on resources from ASU's Quality of Instruction Grant program within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In this connection, I have worked with a national team of scholars brought together by Professor Philip Brown of Ohio State University to consider how to intelligently expand the teaching of geographical concepts and GIS within the secondary and undergraduate history curriculum. Among the products of this collaboration is the publication of a series of articles in the Journal of the Association for History and Computing across several issues. The first of these issues, in August, 2008 (V. XI, No. 2), included an article by me and my colleagues, Stephanie Stegman and Christopher Miller, entitled "Americans on the Move: Geography and Society in the Post-World War II Period, 1950-2000," about the move to the Sunbelt (available at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jahc/3310410.0011.202/--americans-on-the-move-geography-and-society-in-the-post?rgn=main;view=fulltext ) .



My major activity in this area was helping to establish H-Net (History on Line). In 1993, as a doctoral student, I worked with Professor Richard Jensen at the University of Illinois at Chicago to establish the organization, and served for a short period as one if its first Associate Directors. In 1995, H-Net moved to Michigan State University, and expanded its disciplinary focus, altering its name to Humanities and Social Sciences On-Line. H-Net is an umbrella organization for over 100 scholarly Internet forums on history and the humanities (at http://www.h-net.org).


My major activity within H-Net was establishing and acting as the chief editor of H-Urban (http://www.h-net.msu.edu/~urban) from February, 1993 to December, 2012.  H-Urban was the first of the H-Net scholarly forums on history and the humanities, and served as a model for many of those that followed. 


I was founder & editor of COMM-ORG, the H-Urban On-Line Seminar on History of Community Organizing and Community-Based Development, from November, 1995 to December, 1996 (funded by the University of Illinois at Chicago Great Cities program). COMM-ORG was an on-line seminar involving periodic presentations of working papers and discussion on the history and practice of community organizing and/or community-based development. Comm-Org is now an independent list operated by Randy Stoecker of the University of Wisconsin, at http://comm-org.wisc.edu/.


I taught at Arizona State University from 2003 through 2009. My focus was on modern U.S. History (especially the post-World War II era), urban history, and integrating information technology into the classroom teaching of the department. Among the courses I taught were History 412 (U.S. History, 1973-Present), History 411 (U.S. History, 1945-1973), History 300 (Historical Inquiry): The American Metropolis. and History 498 (Historical Inquiry): Watergate.


I am a past member of the Boards of Directors of the Society for American and Regional City Planning History and of the Urban History Association.


I received my Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1999, and an M.A. in urban and environmental policy from Tufts University in 1997.


I live in Chandler, Arizona, on the southern edge of Maricopa County and on the outskirts of the fast-growing Phoenix metropolitan area.

Last revised on January 27, 2015