The Archive Box #6: The Sources of Our Urban Planet

By Carl H. Nightingale*, University of Buffalo

The Archive Box is a series featuring global urban historians reflecting on their archival experience, and on the practical and theoretical challenges they faced while working with a variety of archives across the world.

View of Nairobi from the Wind Farm on the Ngong Hills. This particular view of the Urban Planet from the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi is a wonderful piece of primary evidence encompassing the pre-urban past, the present day “Great Acceleration” of the urban, and the future potential of cities driven by energy more directly harvested from the sun. Pre-city modes of life, like pastoralism, have become engulfed in power emanating from cities. The layer of smog over the approaching fringe of Nairobi attests to location of the world’s fastest-growing cities, most of which are located in Africa, and the role of hydrocarbon in the acceleration. The wind farms attest to fragile promises for the future.

How does one write a continent and millennia-spanning “biography of an Urban Planet,” while maintaining a strong grasp of the different sources which allow us to tell such story? Carl H. Nightingale has taken on this arduous task, and reflects here on the necessary interplay between primary, secondary, and tertiary archives to push global urban history forward at a moment of political and environmental crisis.

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Cities and News: Interview with Lila Caimari

To mark the publication of new contributions to our Cambridge Elements in Global Urban History series, we will feature interviews with authors and share short excerpts from their work. Here, series co-editor Michael Goebel interviews Lila Caimari, the author of our third Element, Cities and News (2022). Lila Caimari is is a full-time Researcher at Conicet in Buenos Aires. She has published extensively on the history of urban crime, the police, and the prison experience in Argentina. She is also the author of numerous articles and book chapters about the social and cultural history of modern Argentina. Her latest book, La vida en el archivo (2017), is a collection of writings about the practice of historical research. She currently works on the history of news and news circuits in South America.

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Real Estate and Global Urban History: Interview with Alexia Yates

To mark the publication of new contributions to our Cambridge Elements in Global Urban History series, we will feature interviews with authors and share short excerpts from their work. Here, series co-editor Joseph Ben Prestel interviews Alexia Yates, the author of our second Element, Real Estate and Global Urban History (2021). Alexia Yates is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Manchester and author of Selling Paris: Property and Commercial Culture in the Fin-de-siècle Capital (Harvard UP, 2015) as well as numerous articles. An excerpt of Real Estate and Global Urban History follows the interview.

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How Cities Matter: Interview with Richard Harris

To mark the publication of new contributions to our Cambridge Elements in Global Urban History series, we will feature interviews with authors and share short excerpts from their work. Here, series co-editor Tracy Neumann interviews Richard Harris, the author of our first Element, How Cities Matter (2021). Richard Harris is Professor Emeritus at McMaster University and the author of many books, articles, and essays on urban and suburban development. An excerpt of How Cities Matters follows the interview.

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The Archive Box #5: Chasing Archives in Ottoman Tunis

By Youssef Ben Ismail, Harvard University

The Archive Box is a series featuring global urban historians reflecting on their archival experience, and on the practical and theoretical challenges they faced while working with a variety of archives in different cities across the world.

What happens to the sovereign status of a polity when it is the object of a global imperial rivalry, and how do the archives of its capital city tell this story? From the French colonial heritage of the Tunisian National Archives to the multilingual informal correspondences of Tunisians across the Ottoman Mediterranean, Youssef Ben Ismail takes us through Tunis’ Ottoman archives, wrestling the city away from archetypal imperial representations, and revealing deep contestations over this North African past.

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The Global, the Urban, and the Revolution in 1970s Iran

By Rasmus Christian Elling, University of Copenhagen

The Iranian Revolution, most historians argue, was an urban phenomenon in which mass demonstrations in major cities led to the spectacular downfall of the shah in 1979. In addition to Ayatollah Khomeini’s politicized Shiite-Islamic discourse, it is further argued, popular revolutionary resolve was prefigured specifically by Marxist urban guerrillas. But what was urban about these guerrillas?

In trying to answer this question, I recently contributed to a new edited volume on Global 1979: Geographies and Histories of the Iranian Revolution. In this blogpost, I will recap the main arguments of that chapter and then demonstrate why this research matters for global urban history. Briefly put, I believe expanding urban analysis beyond the Euro-American sphere to places like Iran can help us understand global relativity in terms of simultaneity rather than only through transnational movement, circulation or traveling theory.

A Fadā‘i underground publication, “Reports from the brave struggles of the people outside of city limits!” (n.p.: 1978), contains 24 accounts of shantytown resistance collected in 1977, two years before the Iranian Revolution culminated
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The Archive Box #4: The Worlds of the Paris Commune

By Quentin Deluermoz*, University of Paris

The Archive Box is a series featuring global urban historians reflecting on their archival experience, and on the practical and theoretical challenges they faced while working with a variety of archives in different cities across the world.

150 years on, the Paris Commune continues to exercise a magnetic pull over the representation of revolutionary movements. From the Parisian barricades to the Kabyle insurrection that same year, Quentin Deluermoz takes us through a discovery of the local and global archives of this momentous event, and argues in favor of a history that embraces different methods and approaches, to do justice to intense events reverberating across multiple scales.

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The Archive Box #3: Building Colonial Capitalism in Bombay

By Sheetal Chhabria*, Connecticut College

The Archive Box is a series featuring global urban historians reflecting on their archival experience, and on the practical and theoretical challenges they faced while working with a variety of archives in different cities across the world.

From the colonial genealogy of Bombay’s persistent “slum problem” recounted in her award-winning book, self-described “archive nerd” Sheetal Chhabria invites us to read archives critically, helps us identify the spatial and historical tropes associated with the South Asian city and countryside, and warns us against the pitfalls of writing global histories without being rooted somewhere.

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The Archive Box #2: Japanese Judokas, Brazilian Black Belts

By João Júlio Gomes dos Santos Júnior*, State University of Ceará

The Archive Box is a series featuring global urban historians reflecting on their archival experience, and on the practical and theoretical challenges they faced while working with a variety of archives in different cities across the world.

While chronicling the encounters of Japanese fighters traveling across the urban centers of Latin America at the turn of the twentieth century, João Júlio Gomes dos Santos Júnior discusses the value of a history that does not pay lip service to nationalist narratives, offers advice on doing research in Brazil, and highlights the difficulties historians in the Global South face in accessing putatively global archives

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The Archive Box #1: Calcutta Pulp Fiction

By Anindita Ghosh*, University of Manchester

The Archive Box is a series featuring global urban historians reflecting on their archival experience, and on the practical and theoretical challenges they faced while working with a variety of archives in different cities across the world.

From small libraries in Kolkata to the British Library in London, through police records and pulp fiction published in late nineteenth-century colonial Calcutta, Anindita Ghosh reflects on her journey through archives, on the tension between formal and vernacular archives, and on the crucial importance of the latter for writing the urban histories of ordinary people.

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