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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Plural Pasts in Southeast Asian Port Cities

By Su Lin Lewis, University of Bristol

Conflict and division characterize the way we often think of race relations in the colonial era, but the social history of Asia’s most multi-ethnic cities gives us a different view.

The colonial scholar J.S. Furnivall’s notion of the “plural society” has proven to be remarkably resilient in Southeast Asia. Furnivall believed that the plural society was a creation of the colonial economy, as large numbers of Chinese and Indian migrants arrived to aid in administration, provide capital, and work in plantations and rice deltas. In his eyes, migrant communities, which included Europeans, were not bound together by any social bond but rather segregated themselves from other communities, and co-existed solely to make money out of each other.


The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in George Town, Penang. Photo: Su Lin Lewis

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Analyzing the Palimpsestic Petroleumscape of Rotterdam

By Carola Hein, Delft University of Technology

Petroleum – its extraction, refining, transformation, and consumption – has shaped our built environment in visible and invisible interconnected ways around the world over the last 150 years. Industrial structures, buildings, monuments, urban forms, and infrastructure stand as material witnesses to the ubiquity and power of petroleum. Many people will orient themselves in space referring to gas stations, others will point to oil headquarters as local urban icons, and a select few will be aware of local oil industry facilities or the educational, housing or leisure facilities of the petroleum industry employees. But while observers recognize the connection to oil in select buildings, they do not picture the enormous collective presence of oil in the built environment, its impact on production processes, financial flows, and associated social and cultural patterns in our everyday environment, or the long history of oil’s impact on our lives.


Figure 1: Invitation for the exhibtion “Oliedam: Rotterdam in the oild era, 1862-today” at Museum Rotterdam. The exhibtion has been extended until November 2, 2016.

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Sex Work Regulation and the Colonial Order in Late Nineteenth-Century Cairo

By Francesca Biancani, University of Bologna

In modern cities, flows of people, capital, and desires intermingled and structured a new spatial order. Straight streets, airy boulevards, agreeable parks, coffee houses, and taverns constituted the backdrop of a new type of sociability linked to the emergence of a middle class endowed with purchasing power and increased mobility through technological advancements (macadamization, street lighting, public transportation, etc.).

A panoptic regime, organized along axes of class and gender informed the urban landscape. The city was now conceived as a space built to be seen and scrutinized by the gaze of the flâneur, the male bourgeois prototype strolling around a clean, orderly, and mappable city. A constant tension between such a disciplinarian urge and the multiplication of occasions for human contacts and interactions between sexes and social classes defined the order of the modern city. Together with the demarcation of spaces to which potentially non-conformist and subversive subjectivities and practices were relegated- the poor in the slums-, the new urban order was evident in new performative acts of social life- the choreographies and display of public life in the streets, promenades, parks, and theaters of the metropolis, in its department stores, and hotels. Here, social interactions between the sexes were carefully coded and “domesticated,” and transgression, to a certain extent, condoned and therefore normalized.

Document from the Powerhouse Museum Collection

Post Card showing Clot Bey Street in Cairo, 1915. Photography by Au Carto-Sport, Max H. Rudmann.

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