A KCET web-based documentary, “Departures,” which focuses on the cultural history of Los Angeles neighborhoods features Dr. Josh Sides, history associate professor in its recent clip about Compton.
Sides, who is also the director for the Center of Southern California Studies at CSUN, focuses his teachings on urban history, while also teaching classes on African Americans and the West, and California.
“When it comes to teaching my classes, I include material about Compton, but I’m interested less in the city of Compton and more in teaching students how to understand places and the history of places,” Sides said.
KCET has taken an interesting approach with “Departures” on the way a city should be looked at.
Sides said he is not interested in the local for the sake of the local, but rather for the global.
Many of the assignments Sides requires his students to complete include doing research on their own neighborhoods or cities and other places that are familiar to them.
Sides said he wants his students to look at these places as scholars, trying to understand the international connections.
“My main focus is in getting students to connect places local to them to broader, historical changes so they can understand their context and connections,” Sides said.
Sides studied African American history in graduate school, which he feels is essential in understanding the American cities, he said.
“Racism is alive and well in our cities,” Sides said. “Race takes a profound role in forming our cities.”
Compton is just one example of the different cities that Sides lectures about in his classes.
“Compton witnessed all the changes we talk about when we talk about post-war America,” Sides said in the documentary. “It is, in some ways, a metaphor for post-war America.”
People are generally used to interpreting the African-American experience as one that has been painful because of racism, Sides said.
“If we look at the African-American experience through a metropolitan prism, it shows you how race is shaped through unintended consequences of urban planning, drug policies, housing development, and public policy – not just race,” Sides said.
Karen Drohan, graduate student of Sides’ with an emphasis on California history said the theme in his classes is the clash of culture, race, gender and ethnicity.
“When race plays a role in his classes, he places an emphasis on it, not the emphasis,” Drohan said. “He is a careful and diligent historian that will explore other issues when they are involved.”
Although he has focused his past research on African Americans, he is very balanced with how he deals with different races in California, Drohan said.
He is not interested in a single race, but how race motivates and affects people and how it creates cultural change, she added.
“He is not a one-note lecturer on race,” Drohan said. “He makes race as important as it is, when it is the factor. He never shies away from its importance.”
Jorge Leal, urban history graduate student has a class with Sides. He said that because of Sides’ accomplishments as a lecturer, researcher and historian, his understanding of African Americans has provided him with more questions about other ethnicities.
“He is neither neutral nor impartial,” Leal said. “He is straight-forward on what he believes based on his research and experience.”
Stella Theodoulou, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences said Sides’ work and commitment on the subject of African Americans is consistent with the college’s mission which is to be regionally relevant.
She said she feels it necessary to support the professors’ research with the resources they need, such as funding.
“We expect our faculty to publish, write and be authorities of knowledge,” Theodoulou said. “We hire teachers that are scholars and Dr. Sides is a stellar example of the scholar model of this college.”
Documentaries that feature faculty members or books written by faculty members bring exposure to CSUN and raise the profile of the individual colleges where the faculty members teach, Theodoulou said.
Sides has published numerous articles and the books “L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present” and “Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco.”
Sides has finished editing an anthology “Post-Ghetto,” which will be out in the spring. Sides was also featured in Stacey Peralta’s documentary “Crips & Bloods: Made in America” in 2008.
KCET’s “Departures” looks at other cities in Southern California, such as Chinatown and Venice, in a similar way.
Sides’ appearance in the Compton clip can be found on KCET’s website.