Abby Spinak

Lecturer in Urban Planning and Design

Abby Spinak studies energy history, with a particular interest in the politics of utility ownership and the role of infrastructure in disseminating economic ideas. Her current research ties the history of electrification in the rural United States to the evolution of twentieth-century American capitalism and alternative economic visions. She is currently completing a book, Democracy Electric: Energy and Economic Citizenship in an Urbanizing America, which explores how a cooperative business model came to be preferred for federal electrification policy in the 1930s as a third option in a fierce debate about public versus private power; how a vast network of these community-owned and democratically-managed utilities arose across the country, quickly and dramatically altering the American landscape; and how urbanizing communities variously interpreted the political opportunities of community ownership at different moments over the past eighty years. Abby received her PhD in Urban Studies and Planning at MIT (2014). She has been a Charles Warren Center Fellow in the History of American Capitalism at Harvard University (2015-2016) and recently held an Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellowship in the Energy Humanities at Rice University (2016-2017).