Sean Wright

Year in Program: 2

Fields: Specialty in U.S. History from Reconstruction to the Progressive Era, particularly through the lens of race and class. With Minors in African-American History and Social Science Methodology

Advisor: Dr. Thomas Summerhill

Committee: Dr. Thomas Summerhill, Dr. Lashawn Harris, Dr. Lisa Fine, and Dr. Joe Darden

Research Languages:

Educational Background:
BA – Grand Valley State University
MA – University of Chicago


Striving to continuously discover the moral complexities of history and life through education and teaching, I am driven to utilize my life experiences and educationally-focused skill set to facilitate a learning environment for students. The study of history has a wonderful way of cultivating empathy for those long past – This is a quality to be cherished as so few things in life can do the same. By earning a PhD at Michigan State University I hope to become a history professor so I can continue to partner with people in  thinking deeper about the human condition.

Regarding my own research, today, in Detroit’s Downton Grand Circus Park two statues stand opposing one another. A statue depicting former popular Detroit Mayor and Michigan Governor Hazen S. Pingree has stood since 1904. Across from Pingree on Woodward Avenue sits a statue of his lifelong political rival and the mayor that succeeded him in office, William C. Maybury whose statue was erected in 1912. This is the only instance in United States history where two statues of two political rivals from the Progressive Era stand in such direct contrast with one another. Investigating the unique nature of these memorials, this work ultimately combines the history of Progressive Era politics with the history of memorialization politics to understand the cultural divisions in turn of the twentieth century Detroit. Upon his death, Pingree’s statue was immediately called for and largely funded by the cents and dollars of working-class Detroiters, among them European immigrants, who saw in Pingree a crusader for social and economic justice as during his political career Pingree challenged corporate control and taxation that favored the wealthy. Opposite him, Maybury’s memorial was a direct contestation to the legacy of Pingree as Maybury’s statue was called for and largely funded by the lump sums of political allies and wealthy industrialists who Maybury catered to during his tenure as mayor. Many of these patrons would go on to become hallmark names of Detroit industry, such as Hudson, Sanders, Navin, Vernors, and Ford. Torn between the “Penny of Poverty” and the “plenty of plutocracy,” Detroit’s socio-political landscape at the turn of the twentieth century reflected deep class divisions found throughout the rest of Progressive America. And these cultural tensions would continue to reinvent themselves in Detroit being reincarnated most recently in debates between downtown business interests and the low-income Detroiters living in the city’s neighborhoods.