The Global Urban History Project

By Mariana Dantas, Ohio University, Michael Goebel, Freie Universität Berlin, Emma Hart, University of St. Andrews, Nancy Kwak, University of California, San Diego, Tracy Neumann, Wayne State University, Carl Nightingale, University at Buffalo, SUNY, and Joseph Ben Prestel, Freie Universität Berlin

Over the past months, several scholars involved in different networks with a focus on urban and global history met to launch a new initiative: The Global Urban History Project (GUHP). All scholars interested in this rapidly growing hybrid field are invited to join the GUHP as members. The goal of the Project is to enhance the work of already existing networks such as the Global Urban History blog and the AHRC International Research Network Global Cities: Past and Present by merging, expanding, and formalizing connections between scholars who share an interest in the field but whose professional lives revolve around otherwise separate academic associations.

Hong Kong

Epitome of Global Urban History: Hong Kong Harbor ca. 1910-1915, from the Library of Congress.

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Hebron and Other Urban Battlefields

By Irene Vlad, Freie Universität Berlin

Hebron (al-Khalīl in Arabic) is the oldest, largest, and most populated city in the West Bank. It is widely known as one of the main hotspots of Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Often mentioned in the newspapers, the city’s troubled history encapsulates both the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the divisions that it has caused. In Hebron, more than anywhere else in the West Bank, the divide between a Jewish colonizing minority and a Palestinian majority has been carved into urban space – consistent political and military intervention having transformed the city’s architectural structure. Urban segregation, strictly marshaled by the Israeli army, has ensured the manipulation of the city’s landscape, successfully conforming it to the needs of surveillance and control.

Pic 1 hebron 1890-1900

Hebron in the 1890s

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Sacred Sites: A New Book on Urbanism in Ancient Central Mexico

David M. Carballo, Urbanization and Religion in Ancient Central Mexico, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 309 pp., $ 58.99 / £ 41.99 / € 64.99.

Reviewed by Caterina Pizzigoni, Columbia University

In a study that is as concise as it is illuminating, David Carballo takes us through a tour of Central Mexico urbanism in the late Formative Period (roughly from ca. 600 BCE to 100 CE), building on extensive scholarship as well as his own archaeological research. The analysis hinges on the connections between ancient urbanization and religion, brought to life through the methodological choice of combining archaeology with religious studies.


Teotihuacán in Central Mexico

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Emporia of Cosmopolitanism: A Social History of Early-Twentieth-Century Port Cities in Southeast Asia

Su Lin Lewis, Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016. 309 pp., $ 99.99 / £ 64.99 / € 94.99.

Reviewed by Michael Goebel, Freie Universität Berlin

There are few recent books as deeply anchored in both global and urban history as Su Lin Lewis’s exploration of urban life in early-twentieth-century Southeast Asian port cities. Combining a keen interest in the consequences of the world’s growing connectedness during the tail end of the age of steam, a thorough familiarity with the places it studies, and painstaking archival research, the book showcases how two subfields of history can be merged to great benefit. While Lewis speaks to recent debates in global history, she successfully eschews the now familiar charge that the field’s practitioners have veered too far from concrete, empirical studies of the local. The elegantly presented results of her research therefore should be read by a wide range of historians.


Postcard of Rangoon’s Port in the Early Twentieth Century.

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Imagine Lagos: Mapping a Pre-Colonial West African City

By Ademide Adelusi-Adeluyi, University of California, Riverside

Africa’s cities are now among the fastest growing in the world. But how well are their pre-colonial origins understood? Recent research on Lagos’s past reveals a thriving, indigenous yet cosmopolitan urban community, one which lasted through cycles of civil strife and peace, being bombarded and rebuilt, all prior to British annexation in 1861. Clear patterns emerge when we reimagine Lagos as it existed between 1845 and 1851, that is, the six years between the Ogun Olomiro (the Salt-Water War) and the British bombardment of Lagos Island.

Three themes frame the debates around pre-colonial urbanism in nineteenth-century West Africa: the use and interpretation of sources, the conceptual (and historical) boundaries of ethnicity as an explanatory factor, and the impact of the transatlantic slave trade and European colonialism on the growth and decline of port cities on the Atlantic coast. In plotting nineteenth-century Lagos, responses to these questions require an interdisciplinary framework, preferably one that relies on both narrative and visual cues.


Representation of colonial Lagos, ca. 1885. “Lagos looking West from Church Tower,” from the National Archives UK, CO, 1069/78.

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Imagining Johannesburg: A New Book on South Africa’s Metropolises

Vivian Bickford-Smith, The Emergence of the South African Metropolis: Cities and Identities in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016. 340 pp., $ 99.99 / £ 64.99 / € 94.99. ISBN 978-1-107-00293-7.

Reviewed by Jonathan Hyslop, Colgate University and University of Pretoria

Can Themba was one of the great generation of black South African writers grouped around the renowned 1950s Johannesburg magazine Drum. He had his home in the brutally tough but immensely culturally and politically creative slumland of Sophiatown. Themba once commented that: “Sometimes I think … only Charles Dickens – or perhaps Victor Hugo – could have understood Sophiatown.” South Africa’s cities have been much discussed in recent scholarship but, usually, simply as theatres in which racial conflict took place, and in nationally specific terms. This point of departure has led to an attenuation of thought about these cities as cities. Contestations over South African urban spaces were central to the production of social cleavages and identities. While these battles always crucially interacted with the politics of race, they were not reducible to it. And what contemporary scholarship frequently misses is that historical actors often understood the places in which they lived in a transnational framework of discourses about urbanization and urban life. Themba imagined the city in terms that ranged as far as the worlds of Oliver Twist and Les Misérables.


Sophiatown in the 1950s

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Conveying Urban History Through Apps: Berlin’s Kudamm ’31

By Viola Benz and Birgit Wienand, Freie Universität Berlin

Recent years have seen an enormous growth of possibilities for historians to engage with a wider public beyond the academy. Urban history has benefited from these changes, particularly as cheaper airfare has encouraged short-term city tourism. In Berlin, one of the most popular places for tourists to explore twentieth-century German history because of its central role in World War II and the Cold War, websites, interactive elements in museums, historical images, audio walks and, more recently, smartphone apps provide a wide audience with an interpretation of the city’s history.

Kurfürstendamm in Berlin

Kurfürstendamm, Berlin, in 1931

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Global Ottoman: The Cairo-Istanbul Axis

By Adam Mestyan, Duke University

On a Sunday at the end of January 1863 groups of sheikhs, notables, merchants, consuls, and soldiers gathered in the Citadel of Cairo. They came to witness a crucial event: the reading aloud of the imperial firman that affirmed the governorship of Ismail Pasha over the rich province of Egypt. The firman was brought by the Ottoman sultan’s imperial envoy. After the announcement, which occurred, of course, in Ottoman Turkish, Ismail held a reception. Local Turkic notables and army leaders came to congratulate and express their loyalty. A few months later, in April 1863, they received Sultan Abdülaziz in person in Alexandria—something that had not occurred since the Ottomans occupied Egypt in the sixteenth century. From Alexandria the sultan took the train to Cairo. This was the first trip of a caliph on the tracks.


The Fountain of the Valide (the mother of the khedive), between 1867 and 1890, by Maison Bonfils, Library of Congress.

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“The ‘Urban Question’ is Now at the Center of Intellectual Life”: A Conversation with Rosemary Wakeman

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.


Rosemary Wakeman

For this post, we had the honor of speaking with Rosemary Wakeman, Professor of History and Coordinator of University Urban Initiatives at Fordham University. Wakeman is the author of Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement (University of Chicago Press, 2016), The Heroic City: Paris 1945-1958 (University of Chicago Press, 2009), and Modernizing the Provincial City: Toulouse 1945-1975 (Harvard University Press, 1998). Wakeman has published numerous articles on urban history and on cities including most recently “Rethinking Postwar Planning History” in Planning Perspectives 29 (2014) and “Was there an Ideal Socialist City? Socialist New Town as Modern Dreamscapes” in Transnationalism and the German City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Her current book project is An Urban History of Modern Europe: 1815 to the Present to be published by Bloomsbury Press. She is on the Editorial Board of Fordham University Press and the journal Planning Perspectives, and was Guest Researcher at the Faculty of Architecture & the Built Environment at TU Delft in 2016.

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Infrastructural Statecraft and the Rise of Just-in-Time Urbanism

By Boris Vormann, Freie Universität Berlin

Containerization has led international trade to triple since the mid-1970s. This massive expansion and deepening of exchange networks would have been unthinkable without the construction of material transportation infrastructures in the world’s metropolitan agglomerations. From the relocation of New York City’s port activities to New Jersey to the construction of entire logistics cities such as Nanhui New City in China: For flows of containerized cargo to circulate around the globe in ever longer and more complex supply chains, logistics hubs needed to be built in new geostrategic locations, city rivers needed to be dredged and bridges heightened. Sediment by infrastructural sediment, the urban logistics landscapes of today are reminders of our economies’ dependence on the seamless circulation of resources and commodities.


Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, 2004.

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