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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Liberal Cities? What Recent Elections Mean for Global Urban History

By Michael Goebel, Freie Universität Berlin

The agitated politics of 2016 have led intellectuals the world over to ponder the “end of the Anglo-American order,” the “bankruptcy of the post-war world order,” and the death of “liberalism.” That this death has been diagnosed before—for instance by the late Chris Bayly in the conclusion of his magisterial study of the globalizing nineteenth century—makes today’s echoes of the past all the more eerie. But the precedent may also make historians chary of issuing premature death certificates. Urban history and global history can be combined fruitfully in thinking about past and current trends in democracy and populism. Continue reading

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Pardo is the New Black: The Urban Origins of Argentina’s Myth of Black Disappearance

By Erika Edwards, University of North Carolina, Charlotte


“Woman with Jug and Skinny Dog.” Photograph from Córdoba, 1890. Archivo General de la Nación

It was a typical day, nothing out of the ordinary. I, a young, small-town girl had landed in a foreign country to begin my study abroad. I knew nothing about Argentina and was excited to discover the country. It did not take long for me to realize that my experience would be life changing. Black in a very white country, I stood out like a sore thumb. I was the “other.” At first I was uncomfortable, but then, I realized that my blackness was not the same in Argentina as in the United States. My blackness meant something else. I was exotic, if not exceptional, and surprisingly I was not black! Instead I was morocha (a non-offensive term referring to darker skin). How could that be? I had transformed into a lighter version of myself. As I grew accustomed to being called morocha, I could not help wondering who constituted a morocha.  Over time the answer became apparent: anyone who was not white. Other countries had mestizos (Indian and white mixture/descendant), or mulattos (black and white), but Argentina had grouped African and Indian descendants and people with tanned skin tones, often descendants of immigrants from Mediterranean countries, into a single category. Argentines proclaimed there “were no blacks in their country,” but the country certainly had a lot of morochos! Despite the lack of African descendants’ visibility today, in 1778 they had a significant share of the national population. Concentrated in cities, African descendants amounted to 44 percent of the inhabitants of the provincial city of Córdoba, for instance.[1] The decline of this population a national question for Argentina, whose black population dwindled from roughly 30 percent of the total population to 0.37 percent according to the 2010 census.

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Neoliberalism and the Structure of Settler Colonialism in a North American City

By John Munro, St. Mary’s University

It was, on the face of it, an unremarkable event. In the spring of 1989, a single-room-occupancy hotel and beer parlor was torn down in North Vancouver, Canada, and a new condominium tower was then put up in its place. Exemplifying the development model of the neoliberal city that time and again has seen the destruction of affordable housing in favor of pricey investment property, the residents and patrons of the St. Alice Hotel were displaced to make way for the Observatory, a luxury residential high rise.


St. Alice Hotel Demolition, 1989 (North Vancouver Museum and Archives)

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City Life and Automobility in Twentieth-Century Ghana

By Jennifer Hart, Wayne State University


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.



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]


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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