Chloe Ahmann Kessler

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

Cornell U.

Grant number

Gr. 10176

Approve Date

October 7, 2021

Project Title

Kessler Chloe (Cornell U.) "Futures After Progress: Living with Doubt in Late Industrial Baltimore"

This book explores the formative role of the uncertain future in American life, from the vantage point of late-industrial South Baltimore. Based on 24 months of fieldwork among residents, activists, industrialists, and bureaucrats there, and archival study covering more than 200 years, it tells the story of a place built on profound uncertainties: from its early life as a quarantine zone under precautionary public-health regimes; through years provisioning the military for both real and speculative warfare; and culminating in plans to build the nation’s largest trash incinerator, billed as a climate solution and euphemistically called the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project. I first chart this history and the ambiguous environment that it produced. I then show how residents relate to the future from within the haze kicked up by an aging industrial order, manifest in debates about the Fairfield Project. While the rise and fall of domestic industry is often cast as a tale about progress and its discontents, the view from here reveals that future-making in the US has long hinged on managing doubt—which frames a far more ambivalent trajectory. Chapters attend to the simplifying premises that help people navigate this ambivalence. At a time when uncertainty is the condition, not the exception, of life on our chemically altered planet, there are prescient lessons to learn from South Baltimore.