Alison Isenberg

Principal Investigator 2014-2020
Professor, History
Email Address:
Office Location: 
122 Dickinson Hall

Ph.D. History, University of Pennsylvania
B.A. History, Yale University

Alison Isenberg writes and teaches about nineteenth and twentieth century American society, with particular attention to the transformation of cities, and to the intersections of culture, the economy, and place. Professor Isenberg's book Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (University of Chicago Press, 2004) received several awards: the Ellis Hawley prize from the Organization of American Historians; Historic Preservation Book Prize from Mary Washington University; Lewis Mumford Prize from the Society for American City and Regional Planning History; and an Honor Book award from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.  At Princeton, Isenberg co-directs the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities(link is external), and is a Faculty Associate at the Woodrow Wilson School(link is external). She co-directed the Urban Studies Program(link is external) from 2012-2014, and currently serves on its Executive Committee.  An Affiliated Faculty member in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, she is also on the Executive Committee of the American Studies(link is external)Program.  During 2015-2016 she held an Old Dominion Fellowship, awarded by the Princeton Humanities Council(link is external).

Professor Isenberg served two years as president of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History(link is external), a multidisciplinary organization bringing together scholars and practitioners from history, design and planning, American studies, geography, environmental history, art history, sociology, preservation, and policy. Isenberg has worked on the boards of the Urban History Association(link is external) and H-Urban, and was founding review editor for the Journal of Planning History(link is external). She recently joined the Hagley Center(link is external) Advisory Committee.  Before moving to Princeton in 2010, Professor Isenberg taught at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (2001-2010), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1997-2001) and Florida International University (1994-1997). Her scholarship has been supported by visiting fellowships at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture (Spring 2010), the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University (2006-7), the Institute for the Arts & Humanities at the University of North Carolina (Fall 2000), and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe (1998-9). Shorter term fellowships from the Graham Foundation, James Marston Fitch Foundation, Hagley Museum and Library, Rockefeller Archive Center, Winterthur Library, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation have provided generous research resources. Before pursuing a Ph.D., Isenberg worked in affordable housing, parks planning, and historic preservation in New York City.

Books and Projects 2017-2018

Professor Isenberg has just finished Designing San Francisco: Art, Land and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay(link is external), published by Princeton University Press in September 2017. Designing San Francisco recently received the 2018 PROSE Award for Architecture & Urban Planning from the Association of American Publishers, and a John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies.  She is currently completing the final chapters of Second-Hand Cities: Race and Region in the Antique Americana Trade, from the Civil War to Urban Renewal. Her newest research focuses on the April 1968 uprising in Trenton, New Jersey. In addition to writing a book, Isenberg is working with documentary filmmaker Purcell Carson(link is external) to produce a film. The collaborative Trenton project is supported by the 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education; the Community-Based Learning Initiative, the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities; the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Princeton Histories Fund. The archive of primary sources and interviews created by URB202/HIS202 is also being used by a Spring 2018 seminar, Performing the City, taught with playwright Aaron Landsman(link is external).


Recent and upcoming courses:

  • URB 202/HIS 202  Documentary Film and the City:  The Trenton Project (seminar, Fall 2016, Fall 2017 with Purcell Carson)
  • AMS 395/HIS/THR/AAS  Performing the City: Race and Protest in 1960s Trenton and Princeton (seminar, Spring 2018, with Aaron Landsman)
  • HIS 388/URB 388  Unrest and Renewal in Urban America (lecture, Fall 2017, Fall 2018)
  • HIS 451/URB 451  Writing about Cities (seminar)
  • WWS 404  U.S. Cities: New Policy for Old Places (Research Seminar, Spring 2019)
  • WWS 402  Second-Hand Cities: New Policy for Old Places (Task Force Seminar)
  • HIS 500  Introduction to the Professional Study of History (graduate)
  • HIS 584  Topics in Urban History (graduate, Spring 2017)
  • HIS 589  Readings in American History, Reconstruction to World War I (graduate, Fall 2018)


Isenberg received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania (1995, Michael Katz, dissertation adviser), and a B.A. in History from Yale University (1984, William Cronon, thesis adviser).