Weitzman News

Posted December 20, 2020
  • Ed Ruscha, from Sunset Blvd. shoot, 1966.

    Streets of Los Angeles Archive. The Getty Research Institute, 2012.M.1. © Ed Ruscha

  • Ed Ruscha, from Sunset Blvd. shoot, 1995.

    Streets of Los Angeles Archive. The Getty Research Institute, 2012.M.1. © Ed Ruscha

Ammon Earns National Endowment for Humanities Grant to Study Urban Change

Francesca Russello Ammon, an associate professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning and Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at Weitzman, is part of a team that has been awarded an $86,000 digital humanities grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Sunset over Sunset, as the project is called, will tap the vast body of photographic work by legendary Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha which has been begun to be digitized by The Getty Research Institute (GRI) to analyze small-scale urban change in a manner never before possible.

Using five years of Ruscha’s street-view photography made along Sunset Boulevard between 1965 and 2001, and sources including the US Census, real estate data, and newspapers, Ammon’s team plans to build an interactive website and develop toolkits scholars and others can use to combine visual and non-visual evidence in studying the built environment. Their goal, says Ammon, is to “shift the locus of historical agency from top-down planners to tenants, business owners, and others whose often more modest gestures shaped the postwar city.”

Ammon’s collaborators are Brian Goldstein, an assistant professor of art history at Swarthmore College, and Garrett Dash Nelson, curator of maps and director of geographic scholarship at the Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library. 

The project grows out of a collaboration with The Getty Research Institute that Ammon began in 2019, when her team was among a select group of scholars to receive early access to a collection of some 130,000 newly digitized images of Ruscha’s Los Angeles photographs. The collection was made available to the public for the first time this year on a new website that enables search by keyword, geographic coordinates, and other attributes. 

Sunset over Sunset earned one of just 13 Digital Humanities Advancement Grants awarded in this grant cycle for the use of new technologies to “bring history alive for public audiences or facilitate advanced research in the humanities,” according to the NEH’s announcement.

The NEH made the announcement as part of $32.8 million awarded in grants to support 213 humanities projects in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

“As we conclude an extremely difficult year for our nation and its cultural institutions, it is heartening to see so many excellent projects being undertaken by humanities scholars, researchers, curators, and educators,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede.