Urban History is becoming one of the most popular academic approaches within the broader interdisciplinary field of urban studies. Similar to, for instance, urban sociology or urban planning, Urban History foregrounds the centrality of ‘urban space’ to understand past and present human societies.
Such popularity and growing academic institutionalization of urban history is connected to the widely held belief that human society has currently entered an ‘urban age’, is experiencing an ‘urban revolution’, and is undergoing ‘planetary urbanization’. These notions rest on the widely held assumption that the world is undergoing historically unprecedented challenges: from rapid ecological degradation and climate change and rampant social inequalities, to the loss of traditional cultural values and identity markers and the hollowing out of democratic institutions. Many of these problems are believed to be connected to the ‘CITY’: an intricate multi-scalar and multi-relational spatial complex and process that has become the dominant mode of human living and settlement over the course of more than 5000 years of history.
The historical lines connecting the proto-urban sites of Jericho and Catal Huyuk in the ancient Middle East to the present-day million metropoles of Jakarta and Chongqing in Asia have obviously never been linear or self-evident. Yet, telling and explaining history through the prism of cities, urban living and the urbanization process can be seen as an urgent and relevant mode of understanding the present-day world. How have we become an ‘urban species’? And what does that even mean? What was the role of cities within societies? And what did it entail to be a town dweller in the past? Finally, how can we connect urban history with our contemporary urban world?
In the new Master Profile Urban History, we try to approach these questions and problems via three modules, each with its own specific goals and objectives, but complementary to each other. In a first, specialist course, Urban History & Theory: an Introduction, students learn to understand and discuss critical concepts like city, urbanization and urbanity. They are challenged to understand how and why urban knowledge, theory and insights have been historically produced, and are given the opportunity to apply these theoretical insights to their own (urban) historical research. In a second, longue durée overview course, City & Society in the Low Countries, students acquire in-depth and comparative insight into the importance and role of cities in understanding this specific region of Europe. No other element has been as fundamental in understanding society in the Low Countries as the size and longevity of its urban network. The question, however, now arises as to the origins, development and long-term impact of the urban ‘variable’ on the historical development of what would eventually become Belgium and the Netherlands. Finally, in an experience-based module, Urban History Weeks, students gain tacit knowledge, allowing them to better understand and ‘feel’ the urban: through practice and experience, students are encouraged to think and act like urban specialists and professionals. In two weeks, one week in Antwerp and one abroad (in 2019-20 Krakow, Poland) they will evaluate through readings and discussions the importance of an urban phenomenon at global level (2019-20 social segregation) and investigate themselves while exploring urban landscapes the consequences of this phenomenon for urban life and ideas about urbanity in specific urban environments. They will in this way learn to envision how urban history might come to the rescue today by helping us understand and analyze present-day urban issues, such as social segregation, super-diversity and economic dispersal, among others.
More information can be found on the website of Master of History.