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Spotlight on a 2018 UIC Library Graduate Student Fellow

For the third year, through generous funding from the Richard J. Daley Collection Committee, the UIC University Library awarded fellowships to six scholars to conduct research using its holdings in Special Collections and the University Archives at the Richard J. Daley Library and the Library of the Health Sciences – Chicago. In 2018, four scholars from outside universities are awarded Short-Term Travel Fellowships and two scholars from within UIC are awarded Graduate Student Fellowships.

View the complete list of the 2018 awardees

Sara O’Neill-Kohl, Ph.D. Candidate, Urban Planning and Policy, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs
UIC Graduate Student Fellow
“What Happened to Fighting Back? The Rise and Fall of Industrial Policy and the Making of Economic Development”

I am currently researching groups that were engaged in fighting industrial decline from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s and their relationship with the professional field of economic development. Many of these groups began as ad hoc attempts to stop plant closings, but over the resulting decade “plant closing” groups accumulated experience and capacity that led them to form industrial policy agendas for reindustrialization. A number of the policy ideas that originated with the “plant closing movement” found their way to local governments during the same period (which were also struggling with the effects of deindustrialization).

In my recent project, I use a historical case study of Chicago-based industrial policies (and a Chicago-based national network formed by plant closing organizations) to understand how the rise and fall of the industrial policy platform affected today’s approach to economic development.

The collection I used is part of the University Archives and consists of the papers from a research center affiliated with the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs (CUPPA). The research center is called The Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) and worked closely with the city of Chicago’s Department of Economic Development under Mayor Harold Washington and community groups throughout the 1980s and 1990s to develop the foundation of Chicago’s industrial policy (In fact, former UIC Professor Rob Mier, who began the center in 1978, became the Commissioner of Economic Development under Mayor Washington).

The collection includes project file material consisting of meeting notes, official correspondence, original research data and drafts of the Center’s reports. These types of documents capture how ideas about local economic policy were being formed at CUED and reveal the process behind many of the more innovative policy recommendations.

The policies developed in Chicago during this time ultimately influenced other municipalities, as well as state and federal policy. As such, the University Archives’ CUED collection represents an important opportunity to better understand a critical period of economic history and policy response.

“The fellowship (and the assistance of University Archivist Scott Pitol) gave me the opportunity to access documents from the early years of CUED, which is currently an unprocessed collection. Looking through these boxes is a lot like a treasure hunt because you never know what you will find! In order to understand the ideas behind these policies, I have to reconstruct a time before industrial decline was viewed as inevitable. I’ve found that the work CUED was doing in the early 1980s reveals more broadly how approaches to local economic development and planning have changed over time,” says O’Neill-Kohl.

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