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.

The Global Urban History Project came into being at the final meeting of the International Research Network Global Cities: Past and Present, convened by Emma Hart (University of St. Andrews) and Mariana Dantas (Ohio University) and hosted by Jessica Roney at Temple University in Philadelphia on February 28, 2017. Michael Goebel (Freie Universität Berlin) represented the editorial team of Global Urban History, which also includes Joseph Ben Prestel (Freie Universität Berlin) and Tracy Neumann (Wayne State University). Other founding members included Nancy Kwak (University of California San Diego) and Carl Nightingale (University at Buffalo, SUNY).

Working with this organizing team, Carl Nightingale has taken the lead in establishing GUHP as a tax-exempt organization and has created a website for the Project.  The goal of the website is to introduce ourselves to each other, promote members’ work, collect and disseminate bibliographical information of work in the field, and increase awareness of the Project. The Global Urban History blog is excited to be part of this project. While it will continue publishing blog posts as usual, it will also serve as the principal initial forum for the GUHP, as it is gradually being built up and develops its own website and independent structures.

The first act of the Global Urban History Project is to welcome all scholars working in this field to join as members of the Project. To become a Project member, visit the new GUHP website, click on the “Join GUHP” link and take a few moments to write up a short profile of your work (or work-in- progress) in the field. Once you have become a member, you are also invited to submit a 1,000–1,500-word blog post about your work to the Global Urban History blog. Scholars at all stages of their careers are urged to become members; those working on pre-1850 periods, who are based at universities in the Global South, or whose research focuses on the Global South are especially encouraged to join.

How does the Project define global urban history? The GUHP is based on a broad understanding of global urban history, as encompassing any effort to think of cities as creations or creators of larger-scale or global historical phenomena. It celebrates the fact that scholars approach the intersection of urban and global history from different directions. Some travel along “transnational turns” in various subfields. Others draw on the concept of networks looking at urban connections across oceans, between colony and metropole, or along trade routes and supply chains. Others see cities as incubators of historical change with potentially global ramifications or think of cities in relation to their variably-sized hinterlands. Some scholars aim mostly to compare different places. Some projects focus on a single “hub” city, others on two or more cities, still others on cities across entire regions or empires; and still others aim to synthesize larger world-historical narratives. In short, global urban history, as understood in the GUHP, can comprise a variety of geographical scopes and theoretical inspirations.

Why do we need a Global Urban History Project? Two observations inspired us in creating this initiative. While there is a growing number of global urban historians, they are usually minority members of existing professional associations in urban history, area studies, period studies, or global history. The GUHP organizers demonstrate the variety of scholars involved in global urban history well: its members’ chief professional contacts are in Latin American History, Middle Eastern History, U.S. History, European History, Early-Modern Colonial and Atlantic History, as well as the History of Empires and Decolonization. Contributors to the Global Urban History blog and the Research Network Global Cities: Past and Present come from an even wider range of professional homes.

The second observation that guided this project is that global urban historians face research challenges unique to the hybrid nature of their field that require sustained attention and wider networks of collaboration and inspiration. Often, scholars in global urban history encounter, for instance, a need to combine dense archival research on specific localities in the traditional manner of urban historians with substantiating claims about phenomena that operate on a variety of larger and longer scales, including the world as a whole and from pre-modern times to the present. Global urban historians also have to engage with a variety of historiographies, ranging from the history of capitalism to the history of migration. At the same time, they are confronted with the need for direct and insistent interrogations of Eurocentrism, US-centrism, and other potentially problematic stories of exceptionalism in urban history, including those involving the very definition of the urban. Last but not least, scholars in global urban history have to critically engage, from the perspective of historians, with decades of highly evolved research and theorizing across the many fields of urban studies pertaining to global cities, globalization, network societies, and “global urbanization.” These observations illustrate some of the specific challenges that scholars in global urban history face. We are convinced that coming together in the GUHP will not only help in identifying these challenges, but also in finding ways to tackle them effectively.

In the upcoming year, members may join in the effort to formalize the GUHP and organize activities appropriate to the pursuit of its mission. In addition to creating an online directory based on member profiles and a bibliography resource, we will use our web presence to facilitate face-to-face and electronic conversations and information-sharing relationships between Project members. From there we hope to promote mentorship between the GUHP’s more established and its emerging members, co-sponsor conference panels, and organize independent workshops and professional meetings that showcase work in the field. Finally, when desirable and possible, the GUHP will pool member resources and outside grants to finance all of these activities.


Mariana Dantas is a historian of slavery and African diasporic peoples in the Atlantic World, with a particular focus on urban environments. Her first book, Black Townsmen: Urban Slavery and Freedom in the Eighteenth-Century Americas (Palgrave, 2008), examines blacks, slave and free, as urbanizing agents in the Americas. She is an Associate Professor of history at Ohio University.

Michael Goebel is Professor of Global and Latin American History at Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Argentina’s Partisan Past: Nationalism and the Politics of History (Liverpool University Press, 2011).

Emma Hart is a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Her research focuses on Britain’s Atlantic world between 1500 and 1800. Currently, she is involved in projects on early modern cities and globalization, and the role of market spaces in the emergence of an American economic culture before 1800.

Nancy Kwak is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of A World of Homeowners: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid (University of Chicago Press, 2015), awarded the Urban History Association – Kenneth T. Jackson book prize and the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations –Stuart L. Bernath book prize. She received her PhD from Columbia University.

Tracy Neumann is an Associate Professor of History at Wayne State University. She is the author of Remaking the Rust Belt: The Postindustrial Transformation of North America and of essays on urban history and public policy. She received her PhD from New York University, and she has held fellowships at the University of Michigan and Harvard University.

Carl Nightingale is professor of Urban History an Global History in the Department of Transnational Studies at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He received his PhD from Princeton University and has published numerous articles exploring the connections between urban and global 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.

Joseph Ben Prestel is an Assistant Professor of History at Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of Emotional Cities: Debates on Urban Change in Berlin and Cairo, 1860-1910. Joseph received his PhD in history from FU Berlin in 2015 and before joining FU’s history department he held a position at the research center ‘History of Emotions’ at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

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