Credit: Timothée Andonian / Iméra
The Habsburg Mayor of New York: Fiorello LaGuardia
Summary of the research project
In the annals of American political history, Fiorello LaGuardia stands as a towering figure, rising from relative obscurity to become New York City’s three-term mayor. However, little has been explored about the formative years of this charismatic leader, and the project undertaken by Dominique Reill at Iméra, the Institute for Advanced Study of Aix-Marseille University, seeks to unravel this mystery.
LaGuardia’s story begins in 1906 when he arrived in New York City, armed with American citizenship and fluency in English. Despite arriving with no job and limited funds, he achieved remarkable success, becoming Attorney General of New York State, a member of the US Congress, and eventually the city’s mayor. Reill’s research project delves into the connections between LaGuardia and the Mediterranean-Habsburg world in which he lived before making his mark in New York. This world was marked by multiple languages, ethnic strife, and workers’ strikes, all of which would play a crucial role in shaping his political trajectory.
Through extensive research conducted across Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, New York City, and Washington, D.C., Reill reveals the parallel political transformations occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. The project aims to demonstrate how much of America’s political development, particularly its anti-elitist, welfare-oriented, progressive, and populist identity politics, was influenced by the happenings in the Habsburg Mediterranean. The Fulbright-Iméra fellowship will allow Reill to consolidate these findings and shed light on how LaGuardia’s early experiences in Europe prepared him to dominate New York politics even before he arrived.
The Transatlantic Roots of American Populist-Progressivism
Dominique Reill’s research project proposes to construct a social biography of American populist-progressivism, grounded in the experiences of immigrants from Habsburg Europe, the source of the largest segment of the early-twentieth-century US immigrants. The project posits that LaGuardia’s bold, media-savvy campaign techniques and irreverent style were directly influenced by the urban European worlds where he initially thrived.
In turn-of-the-century Habsburg Europe, mass-oriented campaigning was transforming city halls and parliaments, leading to a “politics in a new key.” LaGuardia’s early years in this milieu exposed him to the tactics of street firebrands, ethnic rallies, and strikes, all of which contributed to his later success in American politics. His multilingualism, acquired during his time in Habsburg Europe, played a pivotal role in connecting with voters from diverse ethnic backgrounds, making him stand out from his competitors who focused on securing votes from a single ethnic base.
Reill’s research aims to show how LaGuardia’s European background provided him with a unique outlook and set of tools that his American counterparts lacked. While his opponents focused on appealing to specific ethnic groups, LaGuardia embraced the Habsburg idea of diversity as a catalyst for progress and success. By contextualizing LaGuardia’s story within a European framework, Reill aims to rectify long-held misconceptions about the influence of impoverished immigrants on American political culture and demonstrate the interconnectedness of global political processes.
Resurrecting a Transnational LaGuardia
By unearthing LaGuardia’s European background and recontextualizing his rise within a Habsburg framework, Dominique Reill’s research project aims to challenge conventional historical narratives. The project goes beyond the traditional depiction of America’s early-twentieth-century immigrants as hailing from rural European backwaters and being thrust into the bustling metropolis of New York City.
Instead, Reill’s work highlights the significant growth and influence of Habsburg cities, where LaGuardia’s ideas and political acumen were honed before he set foot in New York. This transnational perspective allows for a richer understanding of the interconnectedness between the United States and Europe during this period, revealing how Europe’s explosive, modernizing, immigrant cities shaped the political landscape of New York and the nation.
Ultimately, “The Habsburg Mayor of New York” promises to be a groundbreaking manuscript that not only corrects historical mischaracterizations but also offers a fresh perspective on American history, emphasizing its global interconnectedness and the profound impact of transatlantic migration on the country’s political development.
Dominique Reill was born in Los Angeles and raised between the breathtaking vistas of the Topanga mountains and the landscapes of West Germany. She pursued her undergraduate degree in History at UC Berkeley and enriched her academic journey with a year abroad in Bologna, Italy, where she delved into Italian history, Women’s Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies.
After completing her undergraduate studies, Dominique lived in Paris and Rome before embarking on a graduate career at Columbia University. There, she specialized in Italian, Habsburg, and Balkan studies. She dedicated a year to research for her first book in Italy, exploring Florence, Venice, and Trieste, and spent three years in Croatia, immersing herself in Zagreb and Zadar. In 2007, under the guidance of notable mentors such as Victoria de Grazia, Istvan Deak, Volker Berghahn, Mark Mazower, Larry Wolff, and Samuel Moyn, she received her PhD in History with Distinction.
As a Remarque Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at NYU during 2006-2007, Dominique continued to deepen her academic pursuits. In 2007, she joined the history faculty at the University of Miami and later attained tenure in 2013. Her dedication to research led her to extensive explorations in Italy, Croatia, the UK, Germany, and the US for her first and second books. Presently, she serves as an editor for the Purdue University Press book series Central European Studies and has previously contributed as an Associate Review Editor for the American Historical Review. Her editorial experiences also extend to serving as an editor for the Cambridge University Press journal Contemporary European History from 2015-2020, and she currently sits on the journal’s board. Additionally, Dominique plays crucial roles on the boards of the Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies, the Journal of Austrian-American History (JAAH), the Executive Committee of the Society for Italian Historical Studies (SIHS), and holds the position of Vice-President Elect of the Central European History Society (CEHS).
Dominique Reill’s academic interests lie in shedding light on overlooked stories of Modern Europe, moving away from well-known narratives to explore neglected aspects of history. As a professor at the University of Miami, she teaches students to view Europe as an unknown world, emphasizing cultural and social dynamics alongside the political histories that captivate students. In recognition of her contributions to academia, Dominique was promoted to Full Professor of Modern European History in 2022. Within the university, she has actively participated in various committees, including serving on the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee (the GWC) and the university’s Tenure Review Board. She is a founding member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee within her department and has also previously held roles as the Director of Undergraduate Studies and a member of the Graduate Studies Committee and the Executive Committee.