“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.


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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The Paris Commune in Global Urban History

By Quentin Deluermoz, Université Paris 13

Translated from the French by Cecilia Terrero Fernández

Although the Paris Commune is considered a major event in the history of the modern world – just think about how the Russian and Chinese revolutions made use of its memory – it does not, at first glance, seem like a “natural” subject of global or of global urban history. The aim of my current research project is precisely to reexamine this event from a global perspective. Looking at the relevant historiographies available may help to offer a better understanding as for why this perspective has been avoided so far and why it is important to include it.

Soviet stamp

Soviet Stamp Commemorating the Commune

Paradoxically, the Commune has first been the subject of a form of international history: In studies of the workers’ movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with a Marxist motivation (in the broad sense), the Commune is seen as the last urban revolution of the nineteenth and the first socialist revolution of the twentieth century. This interpretation, which was supported by numerous studies, began to fade roughly twenty years ago, for a number of well-known reasons. The questioning of its teleological narrative, a generational shift in the academic world, and the consequences of the global upheavals after 1989, all conspired to render this international-history approach to the Commune less common, no doubt wrongly so. Continue reading

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Between a Wall and the Sea: A New Book on Colonial Havana

Guadalupe García, Beyond the Walled City: Colonial Exclusion in Havana, Oakland: University of California Press, 2016,  296 pp., $34.95, £24.95 ISBN: 9780520286047

Reviewed by Cecilia T. Fernández, Freie Universität Berlin

Strolling through Havana’s so-called “casco histórico,” its colonial center, can be a bizarre experience: Tidy cobblestones line the streets, freshly painted facades look onto the spacious “plazas.” Amidst restaurants, cafés, and hotels, stores have emerged that sell designer fashion to no one really knows who. And yet, if one were to take a wrong turn and end up in one of the smaller side streets, the painted facades would quickly give way to crumbling walls and the famous Cuban “baches” – potholes of unpredictable dimensions.

9780520286047Since approximately the 1980s, Havana’s Oficina del Historiador has made extensive efforts to restore what is considered the core of the city’s colonial identity. However, the politics of the “city proper” are contested and the size of the funds invested in certain parts of the city is controversial given the desolate state of other areas.

In her book, Beyond the Walled City: Colonial Exclusion in Havana, Guadalupe García of Tulane University argues that these politics are influenced by the categories of intramuro and extramuro. That is to say that the part of the city that from the eighteenth until the late nineteenth century was surrounded by city walls is considered the genuine core of colonial Havana.

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African Urban History and Global History – a Comment

Liora Bigon, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Reflecting on Africa’s urban past in the context of African history and as part of a global phenomenon is a challenging mission situated at the intersection of three subfields of research: African history, urban history, and global history. The complexity of this task is further intensified since each of these subfields is framed by its own “psyche” of historiographic mentality, which is sometimes surprisingly positional. An eighteenth-century missionary report from the capital city of M’banza-Kongo could be considered as symptomatic:  In this report, the missionary complained about being able to cross the entire capital city without seeing a single house in the surrounding greenery of the equatorial. [[i]] In other words, urbanity in Africa is disavowed while Africa’s bucolic image is strengthened. The depiction of towns in sub-Saharan Africa as “villages” is persistent throughout the ages from Rousseau’s “noble savage” to nineteenth- and twentieth-century European colonial accounts. This perspective has been carried directly into some recent urban-studies textbooks. Thus, Peter Hall writes in the introduction of his book Cities of Tomorrow:

“This is supposed to be a global history, yet – given the all-too-evident confines of space and of the author’s competence – it must fail in the endeavor. The resulting account is glaringly Anglo-Americocentric. That can be justified, or at least excused: as will soon be seen, so many of the key ideas of twentieth-century western planning were conceived and nurtured in a remarkably small and cosy club based in London and New York. But this emphasis means that the book deals all too shortly with other important planning traditions, in Spain and Latin America, in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, in China. Those must provide matter for other books by other hands.” (p. 6)


Pre-colonial house on Gorée Island, Senegal. While this permanent architecture and imported materials are identified with the upper métis classes, the labor force was African. As a product of the transatlantic slave trade among other exchanges, it stands as a vociferous visual evidence of African slaves who are muted in the archival records. Photo by Liora Bigon.

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Reflections on “Global Urban History” at the Second Global History Student Conference

Philipp Kandler, Freie Universität Berlin, and Thomas Lindner, Max Planck Institute for Human Development


The Town of Palmira, Valle del Cauca, ca. 1900.  Photo: Biblioteca Departamental Jorge Garcés Borrero

The global history of cities is en vogue at the moment. Increasing numbers of historians interested in global history turn to cities as spaces of connectedness to ground their historical analysis and to explore the role of cities in limiting as well as enabling global interconnectedness in times of uneven globalization. At a student conference organized by students of Berlin’s Global History MA program in May 2016, a group of over forty students from sixteen countries discussed new perspectives on global history. The range of topics discussed mirrored the diversity of presenters: panels on post-colonialism, visual or gender history provided platforms for many interesting and fruitful discussions. The inclusion of a whole panel on “Global Urban History” at the conference certainly reflects the growing importance of the study of cities in global history. Continue reading

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Japan’s Urban Colonial Past and the Problem of Commemoration

Emer O’Dwyer, Oberlin College

In January of this year, Miura Hideyuki, a journalist for the Asahi shinbun, was awarded the Kaikō Ken Memorial Nonfiction Prize for his work of reportage, Five-Colored Rainbow (Goshiki no niji, Shūeisha, 2015). In it, Miura traces the postwar lives of graduates of Manchukuo’s Kenkoku Daigaku, a university established in 1938 to train future generations of leaders capable of providing a front of sovereignty and authenticity to the Japanese Imperial Army’s bold new project of state-building. The five colors of the rainbow refer to the nationalities of Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, and Manchuria, representatives of which comprised the university’s first cohort of 141 students. The students’ collective union in classrooms and on training fields at the university in the capital city of Shinkyō (now, Changchun in the People’s Republic of China) was intended as a microcosm of the harmony trumpeted by the new state’s many propaganda outlets.

Square Dairen

Central Circular, Dairen, ca. 1940

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Black London: Two New Books on the Postcolonial British Capital

Marc Matera, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015, 414 pp., $29.95 / £22.95, ISBN: 9780520284302

Kennetta Hammond Perry, London is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, 336 pp., $49.95 / £22.95, ISBN: 9780190240202

Reviewed by Michael Goebel, Freie Universität Berlin

If there is a specific date on which Britain became “postcolonial,” many would opt for June 22, 1948. On that day, a former Nazi naval vessel that the war’s outcome had Anglicized, now sailing by the name Empire Windrush, docked at Tilbury on the Thames Estuary. It carried around 500 West Indian labor migrants, who in the popular imagination represented the vanguard of larger numbers to come. Among them was a 26-year-old Trinidadian orphan who in London achieved world fame as the “grand master of calypso.” As the young man’s stage name, Lord Kitchener, testified, a good part of this generation of colonial immigrants was infatuated with the British Empire. “My residence is Hampton Court, so London, that’s the place for me,” he hummed in one of his most celebrated songs, first recorded in 1951.

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Claims of Modernity: The Building of the Ottoman Imperial Bank in Istanbul

Fabian Steininger, Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Servet 1892_2

Cover of the journal Servet-i Fünun from August 11, 1892, showing the southern facade of the Ottoman Bank building

In May 1892, the Ottoman state bank (Bank-ı Osmanī-i Şahane) moved into its newly built headquarters in the Voyvoda Caddesi in Istanbul’s Karaköy district. The bank had been founded almost twenty years earlier as a semi-independent institution. Its shareholders were mainly French and English entrepreneurs.

The building of the bank is architectonically remarkable in that it is characterized by two completely different facades. The northern facade facing the street featured the main entrance and was built in the European neo-classical style of the day. The southern facade facing the Golden Horn and the old city could not be seen from the street level but from the water. It was built in a rather different style, which may be called neo-Ottoman or neo-Islamic, and featured eaves and alcoves clearly inspired by early Ottoman architecture. The building, which to this day dominates the view of the Galata peninsula, was designed by the Levantine architect Alexandre Vallaury. Today, it houses a museum of the bank and SALT, a center for research and the arts.

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The Bloodlands’ City: A New Book on the Making of Ukrainian Lviv

Tarik Cyril Amar, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015, 356 pp., $35.00.

Reviewed by Franziska Davies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

In the course of the twentieth century the city of Lviv in present-day Ukraine went through virtually all of East Central Europe’s formative experiences: war, post-imperial collapse, competing national projects, Soviet and Nazi occupation, the murder of Eastern coverEuropean Jewry, population exchange and Sovietization. In 1914 Lviv (Polish: Lwów) was a predominantly Polish and Jewish city with a growing and increasingly confident Ukrainian minority and the provincial capital of the Habsburg crownland known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. In 2014 Lviv had been an overwhelmingly Ukrainian city for decades and many of its inhabitants were among those demonstrating for a European orientation of their country on Kyiv’s square of independence. Lviv is often construed as the hotbed of an exclusive Ukrainian ethnic nationalism alien to Ukrainians in the East and ultimately incompatible with their own Soviet past. Not least against this background Tarik Cyril Amar’s study is an important reminder of how much more complex Lviv’s past really is. Lviv’s transformation during the first half of the twentieth century is also the subject of Christoph Mick’s book Lemberg, Lwów, L’viv, 1914-1947: Violence and Ethnicity in a Contested City published in English in 2015. Furthermore, the city is located in what Timothy Snyder has called the Bloodlands, i.e. those places in Europe which were victim of both Stalinist and Nazi aggression from the 1930s until Stalin’s death in 1953. Amar is interested in similar questions, but focuses on the period since the first Soviet invasion in 1939 and on the impacts of Sovietization after the Second World War. Thereby his study offers two important perspectives: Firstly, by looking at the alternation of Soviet and Nazi occupation regimes in one particular city, Amar is able to discuss the question of their interaction more precisely than Snyder’s grand narrative leaves room for. Secondly, by expanding the focus to the 1950s and 1960s the end of Amar’s story does not coincide with the end of mass violence, but also takes the impact of postwar policies into account. His analysis is based on a rich array of sources and secondary literature and considers a wide range of issues such as interethnic relations, social transformation and the remaking of urban living space. Continue reading

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