Searching for Meiji-Tokyo: Heterogeneous Visual Media and the Turn to Global Urban History, Digitalization, and Deep Learning

By Beate Löffler, University of Duisburg-Essen, Carola Hein, Delft University of Technology, and Tino Mager, Delft University of Technology

For a long time, urban history, as a field of study, focused on textual sources and elite subjects, and the scholars were mostly historians. In the twentieth century, historians studying large western cities started to experiment with a more holistic approach, engaging with other disciplines and sources to gain deeper insight into bigger questions; in particular, they integrated approaches from social sciences and started to shift questions away from material culture to social interaction in a broader sense. Then, in the late 1980s, the spatial turn in the social sciences influenced urban studies, bringing forward the intermingled complexity of social and physical space that is only hinted at in textual sources and thus elusive in research. Some years later, the pictorial turn further widened the field to include more disciplines: as more visual sources became available, they attracted the attention of scholars other than the archaeologists, historians of art, architecture, and urban form who had traditionally worked with visuals. This holistic character of urban history also makes it particularly fitting for studies on the global scale, as the case of Tokyo shows.

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The Urban Environmental History of West Ham and the River Lea

By Jim Clifford, University of Saskatchewan

Greater London’s population increased by five million during the nineteenth century and the city developed into a major center of industry, transforming the marshlands of the Thames Estuary into polluted and crowded urban landscapes. The rich collection of nineteenth-century London maps make digital mapping a powerful tool for exploring the environmental history of West Ham, the River Lea, and Greater London. The interactive map of factories digitized from the five feet to the mile Ordinance Survey, displays the historical Geographic Information Systems database at the core of my book West Ham and the River Lea: A Social and Environmental History of London’s Industrialized Marshland, 1839–1914.


Image of the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) flour mill in Silvertown, 1915 (Wikipedia)

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‘Serfing’ Metropolitanism in Fin-De-Siècle Russia: Village Structures for Global Infrastructures

By Botakoz Kassymbekova, Technical University of Berlin

In fin-de-siècle Russia, just as in many other parts of the world, rapid industrialization and the development of transportation and communication systems led to the growth of modern metropolises. Mass luxury hotels became one of their symbols and key infrastructures. As a 1907 advertisement of the new Palace Hotel in St. Petersburg announced:

“A massive development of international relations in the fields of politics, trade, industry, science and arts, due to the latest great achievements in transport communication […] brings humanity towards the ultimate victory over space and gives the possibility for further advancement in global rapprochement… The newest hotels of central Europe such as the Ritz in Paris, the Ritz and Carlton in London, the Adlon in Berlin […] became places of sociability and encounter between the best cosmopolitan and local societies.”

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Restaurant “Iar” in Moscow around 1900. Source:

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Immigration, Communities, and Neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, 1880–1930

By Benjamin Bryce, University of Northern British Columbia

In 1869, Buenos Aires was a small city of 178,000 inhabitants. Yet by 1914, it had grown to almost 1.6 million people and become the second largest city on the Atlantic coast (on either side). Much of this growth was fueled by the massive influx of immigrants, mainly from Europe but also from the Middle East and to a lesser extent South and East Asia. All told, from the early 1880s – when a broad wave of emigration from Europe began – and until the early 1930s – when the effects of the Great Depression took their toll on both Argentine immigration and the European outflow of transatlantic emigrants – more than 5.8 million people entered the country.

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Arrival of Immigrants in the Port of Buenos Aires, 1904.

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Building Social Space in Marseille

By Minayo Nasiali, University of California, Los Angeles

During the spring and summer of 2017, the Marseille city council approved a series of measures aimed at limiting the number of kebab shops in downtown neighborhoods. The city will draw from a fund of 1.5 million euros to take-over leases of empty storefronts and to hand-pick new businesses to open shop in the city center. According to city council member Yves Moraine, no existing businesses will be forced to close, only that moving forward, the city will prioritize high-end retail and “quality restaurants” over kebab shops (often known as les snacks) and other small businesses including family-run grocery and bric-a-brac stores. Such shops are often run by migrants from former French colonies, or by their children who were born in France.


The Vieux Port, with City Hall in the foreground. Photo by the author.

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Transpatialization: A New Heuristic Model to Think about Modern Cities

By Cyrus Schayegh, The Graduate Institute Geneva

How has the modern world been formed spatially? Historians have pored over that question for the last two hundred years. From the mid-nineteenth century and deep into the twentieth, many concentrated on nation-states; in the last few decades, globalization has been the name of the game. How do cities fit into these historiographic models? This question is critical for urban historians interested in more than “simply” intramural affairs. In 1998, Charles Tilly exhorted urban historians to pay more attention to “how big social processes interact with small scale social life.” As if in response, Andrew Lees and Lynn Hollen Lees noted that cities became a “‘third force’ in modern European society:” a key space linking individuals with nation-states. More recently yet, Jürgen Osterhammel has pointed out that in the rapidly globalizing nineteenth century, cities became ever more intensely hubs for state bureaucratic action, economic pivots, hot houses of knowledge, and centers of sociability.

Beirut - air connections 1950s

Beirut air connections in the 1950s.


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Remodeling Tianjin: A New History of Globalization in a Chinese City

Pierre Singaravélou, Tianjin Cosmopolis: Une autre histoire de la mondialisation, Paris, Seuil, 2017. 384 pp., € 24.00.

Reviewed by Gabriel Doyle, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales

In the study of European imperialism in China, the Boxer rebellion that shook the Qing Empire at the turn of the twentieth century is an unavoidable cornerstone. Nonetheless, some phenomena tied to this rebellion still nourish new studies, such as Pierre Singaravélou’s book Tianjin Cosmopolis. His book is focused on a short period of time, between 1900 and 1902, when an international municipal government took over the city of Tianjin, located about 100 kilometres from the capital Beijing. Addressing a series of events that have been, according to the author, “curiously eluded by historiography” (81), the book offers a study of turn-of-the-century globalization, fitted into the streets of a Chinese city. Continue reading

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Words Matter, Silences too: Speaking About Urban Spaces

By Richard Harris, MacMaster University, and Charlotte Vorms, University of Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne

As historical scholars, we know that the meaning of words often changes, and that those changes can matter. Sometimes they matter a lot, familiar examples being “race” and “gender.” But when the meaning of a word doesn’t change for a time everyone begins to take it for granted. For most North Americans, “suburb” is one such a word.


1958 American Lawn Food Ad

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The Making of Imperial Peripheries: The musseques in Late-Colonial Luanda

By Juliana Bosslet, SOAS, University of London

Angolan magazines in the 1960s and early ‘70s often insisted that Luanda was “the most Portuguese” of all African cities. The supposed exceptionalism of the Portuguese colonial case led not only academics but also contemporary social actors to analyze it as a development somehow apart from the British and French empires. Portuguese backwardness, the country’s inability to “civilize” its colonies, and even the high levels of miscegenation and settlers “going native,” amongst other widely held beliefs, had long been deployed to justify this exceptionalism. However, despite the uniqueness of each colonial experience, the Portuguese territories in Africa shared important developments with contemporary empires in the continent, including the rapid urbanization of a few centers, as was the case of Luanda. Continue reading

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Urban Encroachment is a Historical Trigger for Shiʿi Outrage in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Metropolis Qatif

By Claudia Ghrawi, Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin

Increased sectarian politics in the Arab Gulf countries have prompted researchers to take sectarianism more seriously as an analytical category “without reducing sectarian identity politics either to an already given essence or explaining it away by factors exterior to sectarianism itself.”[i] Current Shiʿi outrage over the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods in the Qatif metropolitan area, the largest center of Saudi Arabia’s Shiʿi population, which is situated along the Saudi littoral of the Persian Gulf, is usually interpreted within the framework of the regional conflict between Sunni Arab governments and Shiʿi Iran as well as the internal politics of the Saudi regime. However, it may be also understood as symptom of the worldwide phenomenon of unrestrained urban expansion and profit making in the age of neoliberalism, which ties in with questions of citizenship, human livelihood, and cultural identity. The Qatif area has for more than seventy years suffered from the havoc that oil industry and urban encroachment wreaked on local environment and society. Since the discovery of oil in 1938, land has become an object of large-scale price speculation by members of the royal family and local investors. In the process, the former oasis environment gave way to sprawling suburban growth. During the last seven decades, the area’s population grew from approximately 30,000 inhabitants prior to oil industrialization to over 500,000 in 2010.

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Qatif metropolitan area with the Rams in the upper left quarter.

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