A Cycle Through South Side History

By Christopher Hansen, Chicago Studies Communications Intern

Source: USCS

South Side History Ride 2012

On Saturday, October 6th, a sunny and brisk morning, over 80 University of Chicago students, alumni, staff, faculty, and community residents gathered on Bartlett Quad to embark on a five-hour bike ride to get a first-hand look at historic Bronzeville, sneak a peek at the resident of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, admire the rugged limestone Union Stock Yard Gate, learn about the Settle House movement at the Jane Addams Hull House, and much more.

Organized by the Chicago Studies Program, the annual South Side History Bike Tour brings together community members from diverse academic and professional backgrounds with an interest in learning about their community beyond Hyde Park from a unique perspective on two wheels. The Bike Tour continues to grow and develop each year.

Sociology Professor Terry Clark began the Bike Tour fifteen years ago as a way to encourage his graduate students to connect course material in his seminar “Icons of Black Power” to its origins in Chicago history. As part of the Bike Tour, Clark invited his students out each quarter on a bike ride to the Harold Washington Cultural Center, the DuSable Museum, and other important sites of African American history.

Hearing positive feedback from Clark’s students, Dean of the College John W. Boyer wanted more students to have the opportunity to engage with the South Side’s rich history and deep ties to the University. Boyer and Clark collaborated in this effort, ultimately expanding the scope of the Bike Tour to a community-wide event.

According to Dean Boyer, “Students coming to Chicago should see Chicago as their second hometown, and the best way to make Chicago your new hometown is to get out into the city, to study its history, to see its neighborhoods, and to encounter its citizens.”

Political Science Professor Mark Hansen joined Clark and Boyer as the Bike Tour’s third faculty sponsor five years ago. Before setting out on the Bike Tour, Hansen highlighted the “long and proud tradition of using Chicago as a research site to explore the social, political and economic history of the community.” Speaking about his faculty co-sponsors and their investment in the event, Hansen emphasized their “shared interest and shared pride in this amazing city.”

The Bike Tour enjoys a broad appeal among students. Clark attributes its appeal to the “three different [disciplinary] interpretations of each historic site by the three faculty” which contribute to the students’ more holistic appreciation of the South Side. Gaelle Sharma, third-year in the College, became interested in the Bike Tour after taking “The Other Chicago,” a summer public policy course that encourages students to engage in fieldwork beyond campus.

Another rider, Valerie Michelman, shared that as a fourth-year, she had heard about the Bike Tour in past years and knew she wanted to go before graduation. Still other students admitted that while they wanted to learn about their city and mingle with fellow cyclists, they joined mainly to prove to themselves that they could make it through the 15-mile trek.

Did you miss out on this year’s Bike Tour? The Chicago Studies Program invites you to visit its website and e-calendar for a listing of all upcoming events. Highlights include the Southeast Environmental Task Force Energy Tour, Día de los Muertos celebration at the National Museum of Mexican Art, and Faculty Fireside Chat with Dr. Stacy Lindau of the Urban Health Initiative’s South Side Health and Vitality Studies.

Click here to see more photos from the event.