City Life and Automobility in Twentieth-Century Ghana

By Jennifer Hart, Wayne State University

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Accra lorry park, 2016. Photograph by the author.

On the eve of his country’s independence in the mid-1950s, Ghanaian journalist Moses Danquah claimed: “We are riding confidently on the crest of the wave to greater economic prosperity, to greater social and cultural achievements, and to eventual independence. We have reached this glorious stage largely through our progressive and efficient facilities for transportation—through our progressive, almost dramatic change from a static society to a mobile society.”[1] Nationalists like Danquah and Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah seized on the symbolism of mobility, declaring a new slogan for the new nation-state: “Forward Ever, Backward Never.” For Ghanaian nationalists, automobile technologies in particular embodied African creativity, resilience, and resistance to a form of British colonial rule that sought to limit African opportunities and control African economic development. However, automobiles and automobility were also symbols of the promise of a modernist future. That future vision was rooted in the dynamism of urban life, but new motor transport technologies ensured that even the most remote villages and farms were connected to the new Ghanaian culture of cosmopolitan automobility. In creating a “mobile society,” these nationalists claimed, Ghanaians were poised to seize their rightful place in a global community of prosperous nations.

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On the Khartoum Omnibus: Stories of Sudan’s Cosmopolitanism

By Raphael Cormack, University of Edinburgh

In July 2005 a helicopter carrying John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and new vice-president of Sudan, crashed in Uganda. Garang and the 13 other passengers were all killed. The most important leader of the South Sudanese liberation struggle was dead and, as the news spread, the reaction profound. In Khartoum, some of the city’s South Sudanese inhabitants began to violently protest and the Government responded by imposing a curfew.

This crash came at an important turning point in Sudanese history. Earlier in the year, John Garang had signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Sudanese Government of Omar al-Bashir, designed to bring an end to decades of civil war between the North and the South of Sudan. The hopes for the future took a hit after that day in July.

 

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Mafroosh used book market, Khartoum. Photo by Raphael Cormack.

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Subaltern Cultures of Nature in Industrial Chicago

By Colin Fisher, University of San Diego

U.S. environmental and cultural historians and American Studies scholars have long explored privileged Anglo Americans’ desire to come into contact with nature. We know that in response to the perceived ills of urban modernity, the affluent temporarily took refuge in English parks (such as Manhattan’s Central Park) and fled the city entirely for rural resorts and distant wilderness areas. We also know that prosperous Anglo-American tourists often used nature to culturally construct identity. Pastoral, sublime, frontier, and wilderness landscapes all served as primordial sacred places that middle- and upper-class Americans used to imagine hegemonic versions of American community.[1]

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Map of Chicago urban green space from Daniel H. Burnham Jr. and Edward H. Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. The plan built on the city’s existing park system.

But what about the “other half” back in the city? Did new immigrants, racial minorities, and industrial workers also draw a line between city and country and seek to cross it during their leisure? Did they, too, use landscapes to forge community and articulate identity? This is the subject of my book, Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago

I argue that during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, disadvantaged Chicagoans were just as eager as their better-off neighbors to escape the city and come into contact with nature. That said, Chicagoans on the margins had neither the time nor the money to travel to Niagara Falls, Yellowstone, Yosemite, or other distant places of rarefied natural beauty. So instead they sought out nature closer to home: in urban parks, vacant lots, beer gardens, ethnic cemeteries, commercial groves, and Cook Country Forest Preserve wilderness parks as well as along the Lake Michigan shore and at ethnic and working-class wilderness resorts on the urban fringe.

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Some Reflections on Imperial Port Cities in the Age of Steam

Lasse Heerten, Freie Universität Berlin, and Daniel Tödt, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technische Universität Berlin

Let’s judge some books by their covers. In the recently flourishing literature on global and imperial history, port cities have become ubiquitous icons, visual shorthand for globalization, world economy, and migration, as we can see on the covers of many of the field’s classics. But once you actually open these books, the port cities, the steamships, and dockyards tend to disappear. This is surprising because during the late nineteenth century port cities grew physically and became more politically and economically significant, both in Western Europe and worldwide. The urban docklands did not simply keep pace with the “transformation of the world” (Osterhammel 2014), they set the pace. Continue reading

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Plural Pasts in Southeast Asian Port Cities

By Su Lin Lewis, University of Bristol

Conflict and division characterize the way we often think of race relations in the colonial era, but the social history of Asia’s most multi-ethnic cities gives us a different view.

The colonial scholar J.S. Furnivall’s notion of the “plural society” has proven to be remarkably resilient in Southeast Asia. Furnivall believed that the plural society was a creation of the colonial economy, as large numbers of Chinese and Indian migrants arrived to aid in administration, provide capital, and work in plantations and rice deltas. In his eyes, migrant communities, which included Europeans, were not bound together by any social bond but rather segregated themselves from other communities, and co-existed solely to make money out of each other.

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The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in George Town, Penang. Photo: Su Lin Lewis

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Analyzing the Palimpsestic Petroleumscape of Rotterdam

By Carola Hein, Delft University of Technology

Petroleum – its extraction, refining, transformation, and consumption – has shaped our built environment in visible and invisible interconnected ways around the world over the last 150 years. Industrial structures, buildings, monuments, urban forms, and infrastructure stand as material witnesses to the ubiquity and power of petroleum. Many people will orient themselves in space referring to gas stations, others will point to oil headquarters as local urban icons, and a select few will be aware of local oil industry facilities or the educational, housing or leisure facilities of the petroleum industry employees. But while observers recognize the connection to oil in select buildings, they do not picture the enormous collective presence of oil in the built environment, its impact on production processes, financial flows, and associated social and cultural patterns in our everyday environment, or the long history of oil’s impact on our lives.

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Figure 1: Invitation for the exhibtion “Oliedam: Rotterdam in the oild era, 1862-today” at Museum Rotterdam. The exhibtion has been extended until November 2, 2016.

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Sex Work Regulation and the Colonial Order in Late Nineteenth-Century Cairo

By Francesca Biancani, University of Bologna

In modern cities, flows of people, capital, and desires intermingled and structured a new spatial order. Straight streets, airy boulevards, agreeable parks, coffee houses, and taverns constituted the backdrop of a new type of sociability linked to the emergence of a middle class endowed with purchasing power and increased mobility through technological advancements (macadamization, street lighting, public transportation, etc.).

A panoptic regime, organized along axes of class and gender informed the urban landscape. The city was now conceived as a space built to be seen and scrutinized by the gaze of the flâneur, the male bourgeois prototype strolling around a clean, orderly, and mappable city. A constant tension between such a disciplinarian urge and the multiplication of occasions for human contacts and interactions between sexes and social classes defined the order of the modern city. Together with the demarcation of spaces to which potentially non-conformist and subversive subjectivities and practices were relegated- the poor in the slums-, the new urban order was evident in new performative acts of social life- the choreographies and display of public life in the streets, promenades, parks, and theaters of the metropolis, in its department stores, and hotels. Here, social interactions between the sexes were carefully coded and “domesticated,” and transgression, to a certain extent, condoned and therefore normalized.

Document from the Powerhouse Museum Collection

Post Card showing Clot Bey Street in Cairo, 1915. Photography by Au Carto-Sport, Max H. Rudmann.

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From Rural to City Dwellers: A New Book on Indians in Kenya

Sana Aiyar, Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015, 384 pp., $49.95 / £36.95 / €45.00.

Reviewed by Saima Nasar, University of Birmingham

Indians have contributed to Kenya’s multiracial tapestry for centuries. At Independence, Indians constituted two percent of the population and formed its petty bourgeoisie. By 1968 Kenya hosted over 170,000 Indian residents. Occupying key roles in the economy and civil service, Indians played no small part in the twentieth-century history of Kenya. Yet, as Sana Aiyar argues in Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora, an overwhelming emphasis placed on singular territoriality, coupled with the racially bounded nature of scholarship on Kenyan nationhood, has resulted in the historiographical marginalization of Indians, who are assumed to be historically insignificant (p.2).

9780674289888-lgConcerned with constructions of immigrant identities, Aiyar navigates the Indian Ocean world in order to disentangle the various narratives of people, place, and movement. The overarching thesis of this compelling, well-researched, and propulsive book is that diasporic populations have multiple homelands: these can be civilizational and/or territorial. As such, it interrogates the emergence of Kenyan Indian diasporic consciousness between 1895 and 1968, and traces its attachments to its civilizational homeland, India, within its territorial homeland, Kenya. Continue reading

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“Urban and Global History Have Been Converging”: A Conversation With Shane Ewen

The Conversations section of our blog seeks to foster critical exchange about the theoretical and methodological implications of bringing together global and urban history. The blog’s editors will occasionally interview scholars to discuss questions of global urban history, spanning across different regional and thematic concerns. For this post, we are thrilled to have spoken with Shane Ewen, Senior Lecturer in History at Leeds Beckett University. He is the author of What is Urban History? (Polity Press, 2015). He has written extensively about urban transnational history, urban governance, and environmental disasters. He is one of the editors of Urban History. He is also a member of the International Committee of the European Association for Urban History, one of the Board of Directors for the Urban History Association, and is on the Conference Steering Committee for the Urban History Group.

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Shane Ewen

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“World History Needs More Urban Mess”: A Conversation with Carl H. Nightingale

Since its launch in November 2015, the Global Urban History Blog has published posts on a range of different cities and topics. The blog grew out of the observation that an increasing number of historians are bringing together global and urban history in innovative ways, possibly creating a new field of historical research. The blog aims at facilitating exchanges between these scholars, since we feel that historians working on cities in different world regions, who also share an interest in global history, need to connect better. It also seeks to foster a critical conversation about the theoretical and methodological implications of bringing together global and urban history. Since global urban history is a research field in formation, this is an ideal moment to take stock and reflect on the direction in which scholars are heading. The new conversation section of our blog is designed to provide a home for these reflections. The blog’s editors will occasionally interview scholars to discuss questions of global urban history, spanning across different regional and thematic concerns.

Carl H Nightingale

Carl H. Nightingale

We are thrilled that for our first conversation we were fortunate enough to speak to Carl H. Nightingale, Professor of Transnational Studies and American Studies at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Nightingale received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and has authored numerous works on race and American and transnational urban history. His widely acclaimed book Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities (University of Chicago Press, 2012) was the co-winner of the Jerry Bentley Prize 2012. Continue reading

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