Alison Isenberg

Professor of History
Co-Director, Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities
Office Phone
Dickinson Hall, Room 122
  • Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
  • B.A., Yale University

Alison Isenberg writes and teaches about 19th and 20th-century American society. She is currently completing a book about the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr‘s assassination.

Isenberg's first 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. Her second book, Designing San Francisco: Art, Land and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay (Princeton University Press, 2017), 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.

At Princeton, Isenberg is the founding co-director of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities and faculty associate at Princeton School of Public & International Affairs. She directed the Urban Studies Program 2012-14 and serves on its executive committee. She is affiliated faculty in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and on the Program in American Studies executive committee. In 2015-16, Isenberg held an Old Dominion Fellowship awarded by Princeton‘s Humanities Council. She has organized numerous public humanities workshops and events relating to her research into Trenton, New Jersey, in collaboration with filmmaker (and co-professor) Purcell Carson, playwright (and co-professor) Aaron Landsman, students and staff, and many community partners. This work has been supported by the 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education; the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship, the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities; the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Princeton Histories Fund. Isenberg and Carson‘s collaborative teaching and research received the 2019 Award of Recognition from the New Jersey Historical Commission.

Isenberg served two years as president of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, 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 and H-Urban, and was founding review editor for the Journal of Planning History. She currently serves on the advisory committee of the Hagley Museum and Library Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society.

Before moving to Princeton in 2010, Isenberg taught at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey (2001-10), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1997-2001) and Florida International University (1994-97). 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 (1998-99). 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.