Markian Prokopovych (Durham University) and Shane Ewen (Leeds Beckett University)
Decolonisation, Subaltern, Marginality
How relevant are the current debates on decolonisation for urban historians working on Europe? This panel will explore ways to further revise predominant narratives in European urban history, such as urbanisation, from the perspective of urban groups marginalised because of race and ethnicity and, mindful of intersectionality, gender, age, class and disability. How much did colonial networks of people and goods and other connections to imperialism influence the growth and prosperity of European cities? Did it matter that some European metropolises increasingly relied on human and material resources from overseas, whereas others pulled them from hinterland regions closer afield? Who and how was excluded from participating in the 'civil society' or trade unionism because of their race and ethnicity in addition to class and gender? Thinking intersectionally, which groups' religious and cultural practices were marginalised due to their migrant or refugee status or disability? What do recent iconoclasms against the legacy of European colonialists memorialised in stone on our streets and squares tell us about the ways urban histories were written - and which groups would need to be written back into them? This is also a good time to address the persistence of racism, sexism and xenophobia among the working class activists, middle-class reformers and urban planners alike - and the need for more diversity in contemporary urban historical institutions and approaches.
Provincializing Urban History: Why Most Urban History is Still Nineteenth-century History
Bert de Munck (University of Antwerp)
Urban Agency, Postcolonialism, Subaltern
Cities have almost always been on the right side of history in Western thought. They have been seen as the cradle of democracy, rationality, the free individual, the free market and just about everything else the West prides itself on. An important period in the emergence of these visions is the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is when the distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft was made, and also, to a great extent, the overlapping distinction between countryside and city, and between stagnation and progress. Since then, the city has been almost synonymous with modernity.
In recent decades, this modernity-narrative has, of course, been severely criticised, but it keeps reappearing, as bestsellers such as The Triumph of the City by Edward Gleaser show. This may be related to the fact that the foundations of the modern social sciences, including human geography and urban sociology – which in turn have shaped urban history – were laid in the same period. In what way have epistemological changes perpetuated the idea that the city in particular is the driving force of history? My contribution seeks the epistemological origins of the urban agency idea, which underlies Western colonial and postcolonial domination. With my critical (genealogical) look at the epistemological foundations of urban studies and urban history, I try to contribute to a 'subaltern' perspective both in Europe and beyond.
Rethinking Europe in Teaching Urban History
Katalin Straner (University of York)
Urban Marginalities, Europe, Pedagogy
In this paper I aim to reflect on some of the challenges of teaching European urban history -- as an East-European migrant in post-Brexit Britain. It is worth taking a look at structural issues, such as that of the continued predominance of the English language as academic lingua franca: despite a number of recent works, scholarship that engages with broad narratives of European urban history continues to be dominated by English-language works and a disproportionate presence of western European case studies, particularly British ones. In many of these narratives, urbanisation is often seen through the histories of dominant groups and social processes taking place in London or Manchester rather than Budapest or Łodź. The literature on the latter in English is limited - and how can, or should we engage students with developments in other languages, regions, and academic contexts? What would be the ways to productively engage with structural issues in classic, foundational works - aiming at drawing students' attention to the diversity of approaches beyond them? Taking into account students' growing awareness of urban marginalities, my contribution aims to make more use of the global turn and scholarship on the 'global South' more broadly by asking questions about how we might do a better job at teaching a more inclusive urban history of Europe.
Untypical Empires and Marginal Cities: Exploring Ways of Reformulating Urban History
Markian Prokopovych (Durham University)
Decolonisation, Habsburg Empire, Race
Decolonisation discourse is currently shaped by Anglo-American approaches to tackling the issue of race in the American and British context and problematising and contextualising uncomfortable histories of colonialism and slavery of global maritime empires such as nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain. While attempts have been made to broaden the discussion to other historical and geographical contexts, especially imperial France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, among others - not least provoked by the street protests and actions inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in European cities today - corresponding research that looks on the imperial metropolis other than London from the postcolonial perspective is still in early stages. This paper explores possibilities of engaging with the decolonisation agenda while researching 'untypical' empires, such as the Habsburg Empire, and their cities. While not possessing colonies of any sort, Habsburg cities were reshaped in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century to the advantage of some groups while marginalising others. The paper argues that race, especially if treated intersectionally, played an important role in the creation of modern urban marginalities that have distinct parallels with the more familiar story of racial discrimination and segregation in the Anglo-American context. Furthermore, Habsburg cities were an integral part of colonial networks of people and goods that determined Europe's prosperity in the modern period, while racist approaches shaped the thinking of urban planners, reformers, activists and the press with regards to 'beautification' of cities.