Professor Department of Geography
Affiliated Faculty, CSUS
Geography Department 100 St George Street University of Toronto
My research has two main strands. The first focuses on the historical geographies of metropolitan economic processes in the United States and Canada between 1850 and 1960, with particular emphasis on industry and factory districts. My studies of nineteenth- and twentieth-century industry, factory districts and class-based neighborhoods have been informed by work taken from (a) economic and urban geography (flexible production, labor market formation, ethnic and gender divisions of labor, scales of analysis, and landscape); (b) business and urban historians (production strategies, economic networks, historical narratives); and (c) historical materialism (the tensions between the contingencies of the historical geography of people, firms and institutions in urban places and the broader structures theorized by political economists).
My most recent book, Chicago Made: Factory Networks and the Industrial Metropolis, 1865-1940 (University of Chicago Press, 2008), examines the relationship between industrial networks and the building of the metropolitan landscape. The book demonstrates the importance for metropolitan Chicago of a complex set of networks between local manufacturers, wholesalers, land developers and others. It documents the formation of metropolitan flows of manufacturing capital, labor, information, expertise and products throughout the metropolitan district. Several themes run through the book: the establishment and growth of organizations and their relationship to the making of a metropolitan industrial landscape; the cyclical layering of the city and the ensuing complicated relationship between different metropolitan spaces; the significant but changing set of inter-firm relationships; and the recursive nature of working-class and factory district formation.
At present, I am examining the creation of state-funded factories during World War II and the impact of their disposal for private industry in the immediate postwar period. This research has two objectives. The first is to outline the economic impacts of American government funded industrial plants and war supply contracts during the war. The second is to assess the postwar impacts of these expenditures on the economic geography of metropolitan areas and regions. This research allows me to explore some important questions. What was the regional and metropolitan geography of this investment both during and after the war? Were new suburban wartime plants anchors for postwar growth? What was the nature of the contractor-subcontractor relationship during the war and did these investments continue to influence postwar metropolitan geography? I am currently writing a book that focuses on Chicago’s state-funded factories.
The second strand of my research focuses on the social geographies of Bombay and Calcutta between 1880 and 1910. I am working on this project with Richard Harris of the geography department at McMaster University. A key component of the study is an examination of the rich set of material for the two cities found in the published 1901 Indian census. This census provides an unprecedented body of material on a variety of variables, including caste, occupation, birthplace and religion. There are three elements to this on-going study. First, we examine the making of the census, with particular emphasis upon the reasons driving the British to compile such a massive body of information. Second, by mapping the data we provide a new and detailed picture of the social geographies of the two cities. Finally, we explore the social dynamics of these social geographies, seeking to add to our understanding of the class, caste and religious divisions of the colonial city.
Historical geography of North American economic restructuring
Industrial and social geography of suburban Chicago, 1850-1950
Wartime manufacturing and metropolitan growth
Colonial urban India and social exclusion
Ph. D McGill University. (1992)
M. A. McGill University. (1985)
B.A. University of Toronto. (1982)
awards and distinctions
SSHRC Insight Grant, “Industrial urban renewal and industrial change, Chicago 1930-1973,” 2014-2019
SSHRC Standard Operating Grant, “Placing people to govern colonial cities: Calcutta and Bombay, 1881-1921,” (with Richard Harris) 2009-2012
Dean’s Excellence Award, Faculty of Arts and Science, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
Connaught Research Fellowships in the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2002
Faculty of Arts and Science Outstanding Teaching Award, 2001-2002
Best Lecturer in Ontario (nomination), TVO Best Ideas Series (declined), 2006
Robert Lewis, “Modern industrial policy and zoning: Chicago, 1910-1930,” Urban History, 40 (2013): 92-113.
Robert Lewis and Richard Harris, “Segregation and the social relations of place: Bombay, circa 1901,” South Asia 36 (2013): 1-19.
Richard Harris and Robert Lewis, “Numbers didn’t count: the streets of colonial Bombay and Calcutta,” Urban History, 39 (4) (2012): 639-58
Robert Lewis, “Place-based corporate hegemony: General Electric in Tell City, Indiana, 1943-1947,” Journal of Historical Geography 36 (2010): 432-40.
Robert Lewis, Networking Chicago: Manufacturing Networks and the Metropolitan Industrial Landscape, 1865-1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
Historical Geographies of Urban Exclusion and Segregation
Urban Historical Geography and North American Cities
Urban Historical Geography