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James Longhurst

Pronouns: he/him/his
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

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James Longhurst Pronouns: he/him/his



Specialty area(s)

Historian of urban and environmental policy, including transportation and bicycle history, and the social and cultural history of modern America

Brief biography

Before coming to La Crosse in 2008, I lived in New York, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Idaho. Here on campus, I volunteer some of my time with the McNair Scholars program, teaching  GRE prep, the "Entering Research" curriculum, and advising grad-school-bound students. I also work in active transportation advocacy on campus and in the community, with groups like Bicycle La Crosse and Active Wisconsin; I'm a member of the Committee on Transit and Active Transportation of the LAPC and on the board of the statewide organization 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. I enjoy biking and kayaking. I often spend summers near Lake Superior, or on a bike somewhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin. 

Current courses at UWL

Fall 2024 - HIS 110, HIS 490 Research Seminar

Spring 2025 - HIS 110, HIS 317 American Environmental History


Ph. D. History & Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, (Pittsburgh, PA) 2004
M.S. History & Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, (Pittsburgh, PA) 1998
B.A., U.S. History, Linfield College, (McMinnville, OR) 1994


Teaching history

Here at UW-L, I teach a variety of courses reflecting my interests in environmental history, the history of 20th century America, and public and policy history. My degree is in history and policy, a scholarly approach that is intended to produce historical research that can be useful in understanding public institutions and policy choices in the present. As such, I often discuss the links between past and present in my classroom, something that policy analysts call "path dependency" but that I like to call "history". This is particularly evident in my classes on environmental history and urban policy.

In support of the Topical Emphasis in Public and Policy History, I work to bring together the contributions of many faculty members working to further this new academic option for UW-L students. Public policy is the study of the strategies, actions, and problems faced by decision makers, ranging from taxation to infrastructure to social welfare, and I am interested in how those decisions about public policy are made, generally on the level of cities. I'm particularly interested in urban history, environmental politics, the form or design of cities, and the creation of institutions concerned with local, municipal, or state policy matters. I mostly address these topics in the United States, and in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Professional history

"The history that lies inert in unread books does no work in the world." Carl Becker, "Everyman His Own Historian," The American Historical Review Vol. 37, No. 2 (Jan., 1932), pp. 221-236.

Research and publishing

I am the author of Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road, published by the University of Washington Press in 2015, released in paper in 2017, and in translation by Katakrak Press as Las Batallas de la Bici in 2019. Widely reviewed and promoted, this book targets a popular audience with new scholarly history of the bicycle's policy and legal battles in American cities. There's more information available on the website. I've recently published a long-awaited chapter on turn-of-the-century sidepaths in Nature's Crossroads The Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, from the University of Pittsburgh Press, 2023; and “'Such business will be impossible': Mitsubishi Trading Company and the roles of design and tariff policy in the American bicycle market (1933–1938)," in the Journal of Transport History, as well as "Reconsidering the Victory Bike in World War II: Federal Transportation Policy, History, and Bicycle Commuting in America" in the Transportation Research Record, and a Journal of Policy History article titled "The Sidepath Not Taken: Bicycles, Taxes, and the Rhetoric of the Public Good in the 1890s."

My previous research project focused on the rise of local environmental organizing in the United States and Pittsburgh in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I used one environmental organization, Pittsburgh's Group Against Smog and Pollution or GASP, as a case study of the impact of new federal legislation and judicial philosophy on local organizing, implementation and enforcement. This resulted in the 2010 publication of Citizen Environmentalists. 



James Longhurst, History, presented "Working with Academic Partners" at the Community Transportation Academy Midwest regional training on Feb. 13 online. Professor Longhurst was a guest speaker for a group of transportation-oriented advocacy organizations from across the Midwest. 1000 Friends of Wisconsin was awarded a grant from the GM Climate and Equity Fund to develop Transportation Academy programs across the Midwest for Fall 2024, based on a successful program in Wisconsin. UWL hosted the first-in-Wisconsin Community Transportation Academy in Spring 2023. New programs learning from that experience include BikeWalkKC, Bike Cleveland, 1000 Friends of Iowa, Our Streets Minneapolis, and Transportation Riders United (Detroit). This was one of four training workshops this month to help them prepare, based on the experiences of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin leading CTAs in communities across the state. Longhurst is a member of the board of 1KFriends.

Submitted on: Feb. 14


James Longhurst, History, presented "Towards a New History of Parking: Meter Maids, Fighting Words, and the Right to the City " at the Urban History Association 2023 biennial conference on Oct. 29 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The conference theme was “Reparations & the Right to the City," and Longhurst explored a forgotten history of legal, physical, and emotional confrontations over parking enforcement.

Submitted on: Oct. 30, 2023


James Longhurst, History, presented "Community Transportation Academy: A New Model for Public Engagement" at the "Moving Communities Forward on Active Transportation" statewide summit on Oct. 6, in Appleton, Wisconsin. In spring 2023, La Crosse was the first site for a new model of encouraging public involvement in health and transportation policy; that model has now moved on to Stevens Point and Beloit, with plans to meet across the state and region, supported by AARP Wisconsin and 100 Friends of Wisconsin.

Submitted on: Oct. 7, 2023


James Longhurst, History, presented "Reconsidering the Victory Bike in WWII: Policy, Transportation and Chicago History" at a Northwestern University Transportation Library seminar on May 19 in Evanston, Illinois. As a part of a visiting researcher travel grant awarded by Northwestern University, UWL Professor James Longhurst presented a public talk on previous work. The federal Victory Bike program in World War II is a largely-forgotten attempt to replace personal automobile trips with bicycle commuting as a part of nationwide gasoline, rubber, and metal rationing.

Submitted on: June 22, 2023


James Longhurst, History, presented "Bike Battles of Rochester" at Cycle Town USA: Unpacking Rochester’s Bike History on April 24 online. Reconnect Rochester -- a non-profit organization working to build a more sustainable transportation network for greater Rochester, New York -- organized this panel discussion with three scholarly cycling historians. The event explored 1890s bicycle mania, the prominence of Rochester and western New York in the largely-forgotten Sidepath movement, and how this history is relevant today.

Submitted on: May 1, 2023