Dr. John Fairfield
- Professor, History
- Professor, Honors Programs
First Year at Xavier University:
- BA, MA, PhD (University of Rochester)
U.S. history, urban history
Although (or perhaps because) I grew up in the suburbs, I developed an early fascination with cities, first kindled on youthful excursions to Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, and, somewhat later, Shea and Yankee Stadiums. I lived and worked in New York City after graduation from college, first at a law firm and then as a taxi driver, experiences which cemented my love of and curiosity about cities. I read Robert Caro’s The Powerbroker (a biography of the city and regional planner Robert Moses) during those years (I lugged it everywhere) which led me back to graduate school. Although the University of Rochester lacked a formal program in urban history, I crafted my own focus on cities which has always given me a somewhat idiosyncratic approach to urban history. As a student of the late Christopher Lasch, I like to think I’ve developed a populist approach to cities, one concerned with the seedbeds of civic virtue and the ways in which the mind and character of the citizen are formed.
At Xavier, I’ve developed a variety of courses with an urban focus, from “African-American intellectual traditions” and “baseball and American culture” to “movies and cities” and “the ecology of the city.” Over the past ten years, I’ve been writing an urban interpretation of the long sweep of U.S. history, a project which deepened my appreciation of cities and their role in U.S. history. That project has at long last come to fruition as The Public and Its Possibilities: Triumphs and Tragedies in the American City (Temple University Press, 2010). Over the past five years, much of my teaching has been in Xavier’s Philosophy, Politics, and the Public honors program which has also deepened my engagement with cities. In particular, my course on “constructing the public” focuses on cities and civic life and is paired with Professor Gene Beaupre’s Mass Media and Politics, a hands-on, practical exercise in civic participation. Green urbanism is a growing interest of mine and I am developing an interdisciplinary seminar on that theme for the fall of 2010.
I love to write and do so as part of teaching. Much of my research begins in new courses just as much of my writing begins as classroom handouts. The discipline of teaching has encouraged me to try to write for general audience rather than exclusively for other professionals. I have also tried to make the wide variety of courses I have taught a virtue in my scholarship, particularly in my “urban history of the United States.” My current writing projects grow out of my courses on “movies and cities” and “the ecology of the city.
In addition to my teaching and writing, I serve as academic director of Xavier’s Institute for Politics and Public Life. Founded by the national political consultant (and Xavier graduate) Mike Ford, the Institute seeks to raise the prestige of the public in American life, enrich civic life in the Cincinnati region as well as nationally, encourage the development of reflective and effective citizens, and prepare students for careers in public service. I’ve also had the good fortune to teach in Xavier’s study abroad program in Paris, France two of the last three summers.