Urban History and Theory – an Introduction

Course Code :2053FLWGES
Study domain:History
Academic year:2020-2021
Semester:1st semester
Contact hours:45
Study load (hours):168
Contract restrictions: No contract restriction
Language of instruction:English
Exam period:exam in the 1st semester
Lecturer(s)Ilja Van Damme

3. Course contents *

This course is not a classical ‘world-history’ overview of cities through the ages; it is not even a classical history course connecting cities to major socio-economic, political or cultural historic events and processes in the past, since it questions first and foremost the theoretical foundations and added value of an historical sub-discipline that has been growing in popularity within academia: URBAN HISTORY.

Today, urban history is a well-established and flourishing field of historical research. This course aims to offer students a basic, introductory understanding of key concepts, theories, methodological inquiries and debates that have been integral to the rise of urban history as a global, comparative and interdisciplinary field of study since the second half of the twentieth century. Students will become acquainted with approaches to the key notions of ‘city’ and ‘urbanization’, and the different concepts and theories that are attached to these terms in older disciplines like urban sociology, urban policy, urban environmental studies, economic and urban geography, spatial planning, architecture, and cultural and visual studies related to the urban. Thus defined, urban history is part of a broader field of URBAN STUDIES, which questions the agency of the urban - the ‘urban thing’ or ‘urban variable’ - through society and history.

The historiography of the field of urban history is mapped out via different thematic entries and approaches, combining a discussion of classic texts with the latest literature to connect with current debates and controversies across the urban world. Today, for the first time in human history, more as half of world population is said to be living in cities and urbanized areas, surpassing those living in rural contexts. The field of urban history, and broader: urban studies, is pivotal for explaining the continued growth of towns and cities in a global context, and is particularly useful for identifying the various problems and solutions faced by fast-growing megacities in the developing world.

However, cities and urbanization are no modern phenomena. Urban history researches for the past among others: causes and consequences of urban growth and decline; long-term path-dependencies and disruptions in urban form, architecture and planning; the various ways that cities and urban living – urbanity – have been represented and talked about in visual and textual sources; urban policy, urban regimes and forms of urban governance; urban dominance and interactions with broader territories, networks of cities and ‘hinterlands’; spatial expressions of intra-urban inequalities, such as segregation, suburbanization, gentrification, ghettoization, etc.; spatial expressions of intra-urban cultural differentiation, identities’ and lifestyles; and so on.

Some of the urban history debates & questions introduced in this course, include:

*Can we speak of a ‘world of cities’? Or should we rather speak of a gradual historical process of ‘planetary urbanization’?

*When and why did cities emerge in history? Can we speak of an ‘urban revolution’? What role did cities play in antiquity?

*How and why do cities grow and decline? How is this reflected in its architectural form and spatial lay-out and planning?

*What are the sort of long-term associations and imaginaries – visual and textual representations, myths and topoi –connected to cities and urban living?

*What intra-urban processes are at work throughout history, and how are these related to the social and cultural composition of the urban fabric?

*Is there such a thing as an urban political-economy? How is such form of urban governance or urban regime connected to other levels of policy-making? What is the grip of urban politics outside its bounded territory?