Each year, the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy funds visionary research projects and programs that bring together in-depth historical research and cutting-edge policy analysis.

Luskin Center Research Grants are awarded to research teams comprised of UCLA faculty, graduate students, and community partners. These research teams are awarded funds to conduct collaborative research that will bring historical analysis to bear on specific issues of contemporary relevance. The teams are specifically asked to produce historical and policy analysis that will aim to solve the contemporary issue they have identified.

See below for announcements and updates from our grantees. To see a full list of our grantees, click here.

LCHP Research Fellows Release Report on History of Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles

A Century of Fighting Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles (1920-2020)

LCHP Research Fellows (2019-20) recently completed their report tracking the history of fighting traffic congestion in Los Angeles.

This report was completed by Martin Wachs, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering and City and Regional Planning at the University of California, UCLA PhD candidate Peter Sebastian Chesney, and UCLA Master of Urban and Regional Planning Candidate Yu Hong Hwang. Read more about the research team here.

To read the paper, click [HERE].

To see a timeline of attempts to solve the “congestion problem” in Los Angeles, click [HERE].

To listen to the podcast episode with the authors, click [HERE].

Announcing the 2020-21 Class of Luskin Center Research Fellows

Announcing the 2020-21 Class of Luskin Center Research Fellows

The UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy is pleased to announce its next class of Luskin Research Fellows for 2020-2021. The Luskin Center is one of the first institutions of its kind in the nation to bring together in-depth historical research and cutting-edge policy analysis.

The Luskin Research Fellowships for 2020-2021 have been awarded to research teams comprised of UCLA faculty, graduate students, and community partners. Four Research Fellowship teams were selected this year from a large pool of very strong candidates.

These research teams are awarded funds to conduct collaborative research that will bring historical analysis to bear on specific issues of contemporary relevance. The teams are specifically asked to produce historical and policy analysis that will aim to solve the contemporary issue they have identified.

This year, we broadened our call for proposals to include public facing and artistic projects that also engaged partner institutions across Los Angeles.

The following projects reflect some of the most cutting edge approaches to utilizing history to inform the present and help guide the future. They address some of the most pressing issues of the day through a historical lens, including public health, racial inequality, and systemic injustice.

The winning teams are:

Project Members: Tyree Boyd-Pates of The Autry Museum of the American West, Dr. Stephen Aron, Dr. Brenda Stevenson

In 2020, the Autry Museum of the American West launched The Collecting Community History Initiative (TCCHI): The West During COVID-19, which aims to help communities across the West identify and preserve items of historical and cultural significance during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the Autry expanded the project to collect and contextualize artifacts related to the “Black Lives Matter” protests that have erupted across the West (as well as the nation and the world).

This project will involve developing a UCLA seminar about the initiative, curation, and community engagement. It will also involve a series of public programs about plagues and protests, past and present.

Read more.

Project Members: Hao Ding, Dr. Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Architecture and design not only shape the built environment but can also help create and reinforce cultural identities of places and communities through the construction of historic and cultural heritage. What happens, however, in neighborhoods that have a significant presence of racial and ethnic minority populations? To what extent is the evolution of architecture and design in these neighborhoods reflective of their cultural heritage and identity? Do local planning authorities allow expressions of the ethnic culture (or cultures) in the built environment or seek to reinforce a singular hegemonic cultural identity (namely the one of the dominant culture) through planning regulations, planning codes, and design guidelines?

This project will examine these question by researching the history of the architectural styles of cities such as Alhambra, Compton, and El Monte. Click here to learn more about this project and the project members.

Project Members: Dr. Tawny Paul, Dr. Daniel Diaz

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how much society depends on essential workers. But some workers are more protected by policy than others. Rates of pay, health provision, working conditions, and access to recourse through unionization varies from sector to sector. Within the broad category of essential workers, farmworkers stand as a class apart.

LCHP will support this team to hold a public workshop that will contextualize the struggles being faced by farmworkers during the pandemic by discussing the movement to protect farmworkers in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, from dangerous pesticides. Click here to read about this project and the project members.

Project Members: Dr. Terrence Keel, Armond Lee

The medical examination of George Floyd is a recent episode in a long history of American biomedical science constructing death in ways that absolves state accountability and suppresses knowledge about the biological effects of institutional racism.

This project asks: How does the pretense of objective biomedical knowledge erase the conflict of interest between state-sanctioned violence protected by legal immunity and a state sanctioned medical body charged with the task of disclosing cause of death in state custody? LCHP will support this team in obtaining coroner’s reports and proof of death letters to examine historical examples that address this question. Click here to learn more about this project and the project members.

For inquiries about the Luskin Center, please write to luskincenter@history.ucla.edu.

Luskin Fellow Tyler Reny Publishes Article on White Voting Patterns after the Second Great Migration

Luskin Innovation Fellow for 2017-2018 Tyler Reny (Ph.D. Candidate, UCLA Political Science) has just published an article based on research funded by the Luskin Center. The article, entitled “Protecting the Right to Discriminate: The Second Great Migration and Racial Threat in the American West,” explores voting patterns in White communities in California in the wake of the Second Great Migration of the 1940s-1960s, when many Black families moved into majority White neighborhoods. Reny’s work suggestions that White voters perceived a “racial threat” that significantly altered their voting choices. To view the article, visit this webpage.

Luskin Center for History and Policy Class of Innovation Fellows for 2018-2019

The UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy is pleased to announce its next class of Luskin Innovation Fellows for 2018-2019. The Luskin Center is one of the first institutions of its kind in the nation to bring together in-depth historical research and cutting-edge policy analysis.

Innovation Fellowship teams for 2018-2019 will address a range of national and international problems. To learn more about the Innovation Fellowship teams and their projects, visit this webpage.

For inquiries about the Luskin Center, please write to luskincenter@history.ucla.edu

Madina Thiam’s Experience at the 2017 Second coordination meeting with C2Cs and UNITIWIN/UNESCO Chairs

About Madina

Madina Thiam, a Luskin Center grant recipient for 2017, is a doctoral student in the Department of History at UCLA. She is also the co-editor-in-chief of Ufahamu: A Journal of African History. Madina’s research focuses on the history of Sahel. Her Luskin Center grant allowed her to attend the Second coordination meeting with C2Cs and UNITIWIN/UNESCO Chairs. The meeting is described in her report.

Madina’s Report

History, Policy and Politics at the UNESCO

On November 23-24, 2017, I attended a meeting at the UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, thanks to a joint grant from the UCLA Luskin Center and Department of History. The UNESCO is the body of the United Nations Organization (UN) devoted to education, the natural and social sciences, culture and communication. The meeting attendees were all academics, either holders of UNESCO-sponsored Chairs in their respective universities, or representatives from research institutes and centers affiliated with the organization. All were specializing in topics falling under the scope of the UNESCO’s Culture Sector. One of the focal points of the meeting was the UNESCO’s current efforts to use cultural and historical heritage preservation as a tool to implement development policy, which resonated with my research in Mali. Additionally, a number of informal conversations revolved around the upcoming withdrawal of the United States from the organization.

Using Historical Research to Inform Development Policy

In 2015, the UN member States ratified a declaration entitled Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The signatories each pledged to work towards the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their respective countries. The SDGs are a list of 17 actionable items to be achieved, through policy, by 2030. They include: Climate Action; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Zero Hunger; Reduced Inequalities; etc.

The UNESCO believes the work of historians and other scholars is crucial in helping countries implement the SDGs. At the Paris November meeting, Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Culture, and Jyoti Hosagrahar, head of the Division for Creativity, enjoined academics to keep sharing with the organization research that could help governments better integrate issues pertaining to cultural and historical heritage preservation into their economic development strategies. In short: humanistic and social science research should be part of the policy-making processes of governments seeking to create employment, carry out industrialization projects, attract investments, foster business ventures, etc.

Among the academics in attendance, whose input the organization relies on, were a cultural historian studying theater in Brazil; a Chinese historian and curator recording, preserving, and promoting the industrial heritage of the city of Wuhan; and a number of architects, urban planners, and art historians working on the conservation of historical sites and monuments in their respective countries. Dr. Hosagrahar urged all scholars to consider submitting relevant work to the UNESCO, for potential publication and dissemination to the general public and policy-makers. Interested researchers, including graduate students, may reach out to the Division for Creativity.


Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
© The TerraMar Project

In Mali, where I conduct work, historians have a role to play in critiquing and informing policy-making. Mali, along with the broader Sahel-Sahara area of Africa, has since the 1960s been a site of sustained —though largely ineffective— policy-making from local governments and international organizations, mostly in the areas of economic development and conflict resolution. Yet, many issues these policies target should be framed and understood within their historical context. For instance, the recent publication of a widely shared video-clip showing the auctioning of Black African migrants in a Libyan slave market revived calls for development policies aimed at curbing migration, in order to prevent enslavements and death in the Sahara. Yet, the selling and enslaving of humans in the Sahara is a centuries-old practice, which cannot be tackled solely in the context of South-North migrations. It is crucial that more historians keep speaking out about this practice, as Mauritanian anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid recently did (see also Malian anthropologist Naffet Kéïta’s book L’Esclavage au Mali.)

Politicizing History?

While at the UNESCO, I also sought to better understand recent events that have highlighted the deep intertwining of history, policy, and politics that the organization embodies, particularly through the work of the World Heritage Committee. On October 12, 2017, the United States took the unilateral decision to withdraw from UNESCO, effective December 31, 2018, citing “concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias.” This announcement happened in the wake of the inscription of Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town as a Palestinian World Heritage site, during the 41st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee held a few months prior, in July. Did the treatment of a historical site truly determine United States financial and diplomatic policies?

It likely did not. During informal conversations at the meeting, many opined that the United States merely utilized this issue as a pretext to justify their isolationism and lack of interest in allocating money to multilateral diplomacy. As such, the upcoming Trump administration withdrawal from UNESCO is a coherent follow-up to the Obama-era decision to stop honoring the country’s dues to the organization —following Palestine’s formal induction as a member State in 2011. Since then, the UNESCO has been operating under a considerable strain, having had 22% of its budget cut off. In 1983 already, under the Reagan administration, the United States had left the organization, only to announce their return around the first anniversary of 9/11 in a bid, some have argued, to gain international support for the Bush-era wars.

Boasting National Histories

 Source: World Heritage List Statistics

As this example shows, World Heritage properties are sites of politics at least as much as they are sites of history. As of today, the UNESCO World Heritage List comprises 1073 natural and/or cultural properties from 167 countries, including Machu Picchu, Timbuktu, Mount Huangshan, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Chaco Culture, etc. All these properties, according to UNESCO’s criteria, hold Outstanding Universal Value in showcasing nature’s beauty and human creativity, throughout history. Unfortunately, the current geographical repartition of the sites fails to accurately portray the wealth and diversity of natural and cultural heritage in all parts of the world. Rather, it reflects the disparities in economic resources and diplomatic leverage countries are able to devote to heritage preservation. Indeed, while about half of the inscribed properties are located in Europe and North America, Africa is home to less than 9% of those. This does little to counter the commonly-held assumption that Africa has historically neither been home to influential civilizations, nor produced intellectual and artistic innovations, which historians of Africa find themselves having to regularly rebut.

At the Paris meeting, Mechtild Rössler, head of the World Heritage Centre, lamented that some States were overly dedicated to inscribing new properties on the list as a matter of prestige, and pointed out that the Centre was struggling to process the continuous flow of applications for inscriptions. Rather, Dr. Rössler stressed, countries should devote time and resources to work on the safeguarding of already inscribed sites, especially those endangered by conflicts or climate change, such as the cities of Aleppo or Timbuktu.

“We must be optimistic.”

This was Michael Turner’s response to my skepticism regarding the future of the organization, as we talked on the last day of the meeting. Prof. Turner holds the UNESCO Chair in Urban Design and Conservation Studies at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, and specializes in architecture, conservation, urban design and historic cities. He pointed me to some of the organization’s founding documents. Its 1945 Constitution, for instance, argues the need for a UN agency solely dedicated to education, science and culture, based on the idea that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” Reading these words, I mentally wandered away from UNESCO, and back to Mali: I was reminded of Boukary Konaté. Until his passing this past September, Mr. Konaté, an educator and language teacher, tirelessly collected, digitalized, translated and spread Malian rural traditions and oral histories that would have otherwise remained little accessible, or might have been lost. He set out to do so on his own, with few resources and no compensation. Optimism is warranted as long as academics, historians, and the UNESCO, keep striving to do work emulating that of Mr. Konaté and others like him.

Madina Thiam is a doctoral student in History at UCLA, and co-editor-in-chief of Ufahamu: a Journal of African History. She represented Mali at the 2017 UNESCO World Heritage Young Professionals Forum.