History institute to focus on northeast LA

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With support from a myriad of other academic departments and community organizations, the history department will be rolling out a new history research institute in January. Tentatively named the Institute for the History of Los Angeles, the new program aims to support faculty and student research, along with alumni, public and community partner interaction and collaboration, according to History Professor Jeremiah Axelrod, director of the new institute.

The new institute will be interdisciplinary, with more than half of the advisory committee not affiliated with the history department, according to Axelrod. Some departments also involved include Urban and Environmental Policy, sociology and the Cultural Studies Program.

History Department Chair Marla Stone, who is on the institute’s steering committee, has been working with Axelrod to develop the proposal to launch the institute.

“The institute will allow the student body to connect to the city through courses with community-based learning, research seminars working with archival material and funding for research projects in LA,” Stone said.

Axelrod, inspired by his own personal connections with the LA area — he, his father and grandfather all grew up there — came up with the idea for the new program almost three years ago. Since then, he has begun extensive planning and initiated meetings to start forming the institute on campus.

Heading the creation of this institute, Axelrod said that navigating the bureaucratic processes of implementing a new program at Occidental was often time consuming.

“If you’re trying to start something new at Occidental, you have to first of all be prepared to fail and second of all have a lot of patience,” Axelrod said.

Axelrod has persisted in setting up this institute because he sees its benefit in contributing to an under-studied area of history.

In particular, this new program will focus on the local history of northeast LA, a region that has been insufficiently researched by academic institutions, according to Axelrod. With new opportunities for students to research their surrounding areas, a number of unique internships will potentially be available for students interested in collaborating with community partners such as Highland Park Heritage Trust and Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, according to Axelrod.

“I think the new institute would be a great program because of the opportunities it would provide,” history major Thomas Egan (sophomore) said. “The opportunity to research the city that we live in can bring many benefits.”

The institute will be differentiated from other universities’ history research programs in that its focus will be student-centered and emphasize how research interrelates with teaching, according to Axelrod. Apart from internship opportunities and guest speakers being brought to the college, the institute’s focus will lend students additional resources to benefit their summer and senior comprehensives research.

“[The institute] sounded like a really exciting project and something that Oxy really needs,” Stone said. “As the primary liberal arts college in the Los Angeles County, the specific focus on Los Angeles makes a lot of sense.”

Axelrod is hopeful that the institute will remain permanently at Occidental. The college recently inherited a large photo archive by a freelance photographer who worked in northeastern LA for half a century, according to Axelrod. In addition, the institute’s steering and advisory committees are already in the process of applying for three major grants.

“We’d love to endow the program in the long-term so that it is able to exist forever,” Axelrod said.

In the future, the institute will host speaker and performance series directly related to the culture, history or social structure of LA as well.

“It would be nice if Oxy students, faculty and the larger community could promote more intelligent discourse about Los Angeles,” Axelrod said. “It’s not just about researching Los Angeles, but making a difference about its future.”