Princely Architectural Cosmopolitanism and Urbanity in Rampur

By Razak Khan, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

The colonial state in India often justified the continuation of princely states as a policy for the preservation of “traditional patterns” in the cultural sphere. While the “traditional” was seemingly preserved, it was also increasingly transformed in princely states under colonial paramountcy. Princely states were not isolated entities with unchanging structures but need to be re-located within the British Empire’s changing discourses and practices to understand the nexus between princely sovereignty and modernity. This post studies the illustrative example of urban development and architecture in the Rampur princely state. Rampur survived as the only Muslim-ruled princely state in the colonial United Provinces in the post-1857-revolt context. While the city of Rampur and its culture display many characteristics of what may be termed as that of an “Islamic city,” it nonetheless developed as a cosmopolitan city with Indo-Islamic, colonial modern, and diverse other cultural influences. This entangled history gave Rampur a distinctly local and yet global cosmopolitan culture, which is most evident in its architecture and urbanism among other cultural artefacts.

Illustration 1

(c) British Library Board. The Durbar Hall, Hamid Manzil – Fort [Rampur] Date: c. 1911; Shelfmark: Photo 36/(5).

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“Historians of Cities and Global Historians Have Much to Learn From Each Other”: A Conversation with Nancy Kwak

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 delighted to have spoken with Nancy Kwak, Associate Professor of History at UC San Diego. She is the author of A World of Homeowners: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid (University of Chicago Press, 2015), which won the Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (2016) and the Kenneth T. Jackson Best Book Award from the Urban History Association (2016). With Andrew Sandoval-Strausz, she is the co-editor of Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History, out this fall from University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kwak photo

Nancy Kwak

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A Conference on Chinese Cities in World History

By Daniel Knorr, University of Chicago

The “global turn” in historical studies is a recent phenomenon, but global comparisons have long been foundational in the study of Chinese cities. Max Weber framed this comparison as decisively negative in The City, contrasting the European experience – characterized by economically vibrant and politically autonomous cities – with that of China, which, in the ostensible absence of these characteristics, he claimed lacked true cities. William Rowe’s repudiation of Weber in his 1984 and 1989 books on Hankou (Hankow) epitomized both growing empirical understanding of Chinese cities and an increasing orientation towards what Paul Cohen termed “China-centered” history, which rejected orientalist assumptions about China’s history as static and incompatible with modernity. This “China-centered” approach by no means entirely eschewed comparative perspectives, though. Rowe’s own contributions to the debate about public sphere/civil society in China as well as the “sprouts of capitalism” discourse among Chinese historians testified to the prevailing interest in placing Chinese cities in a global framework. Some thirty years later – now in the context of an interest in global connections that has swept through all fields of historical inquiry – historians of China still confront the challenge of simultaneously explaining the unique aspects of the country’s history and staking a claim for the global relevance and connectiveness of our research.


Nineteenth-Century View of Macau

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Cosmopolitanism on the Move: Port Said around 1900

By Valeska Huber, German Historical Institute London

Baedecker Map

Baedeker map of Port Said, 1885, from the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA).

Research on the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean has stressed the importance of the opening of the Suez Canal as a transformative factor that had extensive reverberations throughout the region. In the decades after 1869, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea developed into the lifeline not only of the British, but also of the French and Dutch Empires; the harbor town of Port Said at the Mediterranean entrance of the canal became a quasi-obligatory stopover during the journey between the colonies and Europe. However, while Egyptian or more generally Middle Eastern cities form a thriving field of research, Port Said has so far largely escaped the attention of urban historians of the Middle East. There are reasons for this neglect: Port Said never developed into a flourishing city comparable to its rival Alexandria and, despite expectations to the contrary, remained a rather small town of passage. Nonetheless, there are things to learn from this city as a case study of a harbor town with a particularly transient population. Here, the term “cosmopolitanism”, frequently used by travelers passing through the city to describe it, can provide us with one lens through which to revisit Port Said in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States

By Domenic Vitiello, University of Pennsylvania, and Thomas J. Sugrue, New York University

Recent refugee crises, xenophobic nationalism, and calls to deport unauthorized immigrants remind historians of earlier eras in which cities and nations have taken opposing stances on immigration. In the United States, the Trump administration spent much of its first 100 days attacking immigrants, refugees, and sanctuary cities, spreading fear but also losing key battles in the courts. All along, cities from New York and Philadelphia to Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have vowed to sustain their sanctuary policies. As they did in the 1980s when city leaders opposed the Reagan administration’s refusal to grant asylum to Central Americans, these Sanctuary Cities refuse to cooperate in federal deportation efforts, even in the face of threats to cut federal and state funding. Part of their calculus is that city officials know well the centrality of immigration to urban vitality in recent history. Beyond the humanitarian and moral reasons for sanctuary, many local governments see the prospect of losing immigrants as a greater threat to their cities’ economic wellbeing than the risk of losing federal funding.

Our new edited volume, Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States, shows what is at stake for cities in disputes over immigration policy. Its ten essays by urban social historians and allied social scientists explore the deep relationship between immigration and urban transformations in recent decades in the U.S. as well as in sending communities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The chapters – by Robert Sampson, Jacob Vigdor, Gary Painter, Marilynn Johnson, Michael Katz and Kenneth Ginsburg, Jamie Winders, Gerardo Sandoval, Andrew Sandoval-Strausz, Rachel Van Tosh, and us – illuminate how crucial immigration has been for the fortunes of cities, suburbs, and small towns worldwide.

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Comparing Transnational and Global Urban History

Nicolas Kenny and Rebecca Madgin, ed., Cities Beyond Borders: Comparative and Transnational Approaches to Urban History, Farnham, Ashgate, 2015. 262 pp., £75.

Reviewed by Joseph Ben Prestel, Freie Universität Berlin

Global urban history is not the only approach that seeks to transcend national perspectives on the urban past. Comparative urban history and transnational urban history are two other labels that scholars use in order to mark their choice of moving beyond a single city or nation-state. The present book makes for a highly stimulating read, not least because it draws attention to the questions that lie ahead for scholars that seek to engage in such an effort. Readers might come away from this book asking:  What makes global urban history distinct from other approaches, such as transnational urban history?

Cities Beyond Borders

Cities Beyond Borders brings together a wide array of historians specialized in different cities and world regions. The book’s twelve chapters touch upon the history of urban settings in North America, Europe, and South Asia. It opens with an engaging introduction written by the editors Nicolas Kenny and Rebecca Madgin, who make a compelling case for going beyond the analysis of a single city in urban history. Kenny and Madgin highlight that much scholarship draws on comparative assumptions to begin with. The very notion of a coherent object of analysis called “the city” can only be based on a comparison. It is this inherently comparative aspect of urban history that they seek to address head on, noting that “the chapters gathered here are underpinned by a basic question: how is our understanding of what it has historically meant to live in a city enhanced by a widened lens that encompasses multiple urban settings?” (p. 6). The editors stress that a comparative and transnational perspective on the past of cities also needs to engender reflections about the practice of doing urban history. This relates in particular to the use of comparative categories such as “port cities,” which they see as being at risk of contributing to a “reductive typology of cities.” Kenny and Madgin rather call on scholars to compare also very different cities to each other, which would contribute to new questions and a fuller understanding of the “urban imaginary.”

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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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