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Francesca Ammon is a cultural historian of urban planning and the built environment. Her teaching and research focus on the changing spaces of American cities, from World War II to the present. She grounds her interdisciplinary approach to this subject in the premise that the landscape materializes social relations, cultural values, and political and economic processes. Professor Ammon is particularly interested in the history of urban revitalization, with an emphasis on urban renewal; the dynamic relationship between cities and nature; public history as a tool for community-based research and engagement; and the ways that visual culture has shaped understanding of what cities are, have been, and should be.
At Penn, Professor Ammon is a member of the standing faculty of the Departments of City & Regional Planning and Historic Preservation. She also directs the Initiative in the History of the Built Environment. She is an associated faculty member of the History Department, an affiliated faculty member of the Center for Experimental Ethnography (CEE), and a Faculty Fellow of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. She has been a colloquium member of the Penn/Mellon Foundation Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative, a member of the Gender Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) Executive Board, and an Andrew W. Mellon DH Fellow at the Price Lab for Digital Humanities.
Beyond Penn, she presently serves as President-Elect of the Society for American City & Regional Planning History (SACRPH) and Co-Vice Chair of the Board of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
Before joining the Weitzman School faculty, Professor Ammon was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She has also been the recipient of an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Digital Humanities Advancement Grant, Society of Architectural Historians (SAH)/Mellon Fellowship, Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities, Ambrose Monell Foundation Fellowship in Technology and Democracy through the Miller Center of Public Affairs, John E. Rovensky Fellowship from the Business History Conference, and Sally Kress Tompkins Fellowship, jointly sponsored by SAH and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).
Teaching, Advising, and Prospective Students
Professor Ammon is a recipient of the G. Holmes Perkins Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award for Standing Faculty. She wrote about her teaching in "But Why Do I Have to Take This Class? Making Required Courses More Meaningful," Penn Almanac 66, no. 14, November 19, 2019.
As Director of the Initiative in the History of the Built Environment, she welcomes inquiries from prospective doctoral students interested in this interdisciplinary degree program that explores urban, planning, landscape, and architectural history within its social, political, and cultural contexts. Doctoral applicants whose primary interest is not historical in nature should first reach out to other faculty within the department.
Professor Ammon also welcomes inquiries from prospective master degree students who are interested in the Public History of the Built Environment (Historic Preservation) and Community and Economic Development (City & Regional Planning) concentrations.
Research and Publications
Professor Ammon is the author of Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape (Yale University Press, 2016), for which the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) awarded her the 2017 Lewis Mumford Prize for the best book in American planning history and the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) awarded her a Mellon Author Award. The book is not only the first scholarly history of the bulldozer, but also a sweeping examination of how the postwar nation came to equate destruction with progress. Construction equipment contributed vitally to Allied victory during the war. Afterwards, war-honed machines, men, methods, and metaphors effectively came home to reshape the domestic landscape. Case studies of urban renewal building demolition, suburban land clearance, and earthmoving for interstate highway construction demonstrate clearance practices in progresses. Meanwhile, an excavation of the bulldozer in postwar literature, films, and art reveals its popular reach. Ultimately, the project demonstrates both the processes and products of the postwar “culture of clearance.” Before the efforts of historic preservationists, neighborhood activists, and environmentalists began to temper the bulldozer’s work, the ideology, technology, policy, and practice of large-scale destruction dramatically transformed the American landscape.
Another strand of Professor Ammon's current research examines the relationships between urban renewal, rehabilitation, and historic preservation in the cities of Philadelphia and Montreal. This work is yielding traditional publishing products, as well as a digital public humanities project titled Preserving Society Hill. Built in collaboration with community partners, the website aggregates, digitizes, and spatializes a variety of sources related to the urban renewal and historic preservation of Philadelphia's Society Hill neighborhood, including: planning and architectural data, historical photographs, and an archive of nearly 90 oral history interviews and memoirs.
Professor Ammon is also currently collaborating with Brian Goldstein, Garrett Dash Nelson, and the Getty Research Institute on an NEH-supported digital urban humanities project related to photographer Ed Ruscha's “Streets of Los Angeles Archive.” The forthcoming website, Sunset over Sunset, will explore the histories of Los Angeles's iconic Sunset Boulevard -- and of the vernacular redevelopment of mid- to late 20th-century cities more broadly -- through the spatial pairing of Ruscha's photographic archive with related social and cultural data. Sunset over Sunset will launch in Fall 2023.
Digital Public Humanities
Preserving Society Hill: Sites and Stories of Urban Renewal in a Philadelphia Neighborhood (initially launched in 2018, v2 launched in 2022).
Articles and Chapters
"Urban Renewal through Rehabilitation and Restoration," in The Many Geographies of Urban Renewal: New Perspectives on the Housing Act of 1949, ed. Douglas R. Appler (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2023), 195-216.
"The Long History of Unfair Housing," co-authoried with Wendell E. Pritchett, in Perspectives on Fair Housing, eds. Vincent Reina, Wendell E. Pritchett, and Susan Wachter (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020), 9-44.
“Refuge, Resort, and Ruin: Real Estate Development and the Identity of Asbury Park, New Jersey,” in Liberty and Leisure in North America, ed. Pierre Lagayette (Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2008), 41-57.
In ‘Changing the Face of the City,’ Philadelphians Get Inclusive View of Urban Renewal (April 2022)
New Interdisciplinary Initiative in the History of the Built Environment (Oct 2021)
A Visual Archive of an Iconic American Boulevard (Aug 2021)
Ammon Earns National Endowment for Humanities Grant to Study Urban Change (Dec 2020)
‘Perspectives on Fair Housing’ looks back on more than 50 years of landmark legislation (Oct 2020)
Weitzman Faculty Receive G. Holmes Perkins Teaching Awards (May 2019)
Francesca Russello Ammon: ACLS Fellowship (Apr 2019)
Research: Ed Ruscha's Streets of Los Angeles Project (Dec 2018)
Faculty Members Ammon and Guerra Earn Tenure from Penn (Dec 2018)
Preserving Philadelphia’s Society Hill (Aug 2018)
Francesca Russello Ammon’s ‘Bulldozer’ Earns Prestigious Mumford Prize (Nov 2017)
Lecture Notes (Jan 2017)
When Push Comes to Shove (Dec 2016)
Excerpt: Francesca Russello Ammon on the Bulldozer's Wartime Boost (Sept 2016)
Francesca Russello Ammon Talks to WNYC about the Bulldozer (Apr 2016)
SAH/Mellon Author Awards: Dr. Ammon (Feb 2014)
John Reps Prize: Dr. Ammon (Oct 2013)