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This research paper discusses the emergence of urban history as a subdiscipline in Western Europe and North America from its eighteenth-century origins and considers some of the methodological and theoretical approaches that have informed urban historical studies, ranging from the medieval to the contemporary periods. It considers the emergence of new paradigms of urban history in the rapidly urbanizing societies of South and East Asia and the implications for traditional urban historical scholarship. Finally, it provides an overview of the institutional and associational presence of urban history as a discipline.
- Emergence of a Subdiscipline
Urban histories have been written of towns and cities since antiquity: a sense of the past is a crucial component in the construction of a sense of place and local histories documenting a town’s antiquity and its achievements continue to inform the wider historical study of urban places. The study of urban history, however, that is the study of towns as particular types of settlement or society, as agents of change, or as the locus of particular social, cultural, or political formations, is of more recent origin, and the emergence of a specific sub-genre of academic study is unequivocally a twentieth-century phenomenon. In the twenty-first century, urban history has a clear status as a field of knowledge, although the extent to which it truly forms a distinct academic discipline, with its own methodologies or theories of knowledge, is more debatable. In the words of one urban historian, it is rather a ‘focus for a variety of forms of knowledge’ about the historical development of towns and cities (Dyos, 1982).
In the eighteenth century, historians and political economists, such as William Robertson and Adam Smith, recognized the importance of towns as historical agents in bringing about the rise of the modern European state and the system of global commerce that underpinned it, the collapse of feudalism, and the emergence of more widespread participatory politics (Robertson, 1769; Smith, 1776). Other historians drew attention to the role of towns in undermining feudalism by securing liberties and charters from monarchs who looked for commercial benefits and a counterweight against the influence of overmighty barons. They pointed also to the critical role urban society had played in facilitating the exchange of ideas, fostering creativity in the arts and encouraging the growth of civility. Thus, although the emergence of urban history as a field of research was still some distance away, the transformative role played by urban society in the broader narrative of historical development had been clearly identified. Political developments in the nineteenth century directed new attention to the historical urban experience: in Britain, the combination of political and municipal reform in the 1830s focused interest on the historical evolution of urban governance giving rise to some of the first synthetic studies of urban history, as opposed to the purely local study of a single town (Merewether and Stephens, 1835). The rise of democratic movements in Italy and France directed attention backward toward the communes of the medieval period, as historians sought models of more egalitarian and participatory politics in the annals of the medieval city republics (Sismondi, 1809–18). Building on the eighteenth-century recognition of the role of urban society in what would now be called the civilizing process, cities were also recognized as centers of cultural exchange and the arts, even as contemporaries denigrated the cultural philistinism of modern industrial and commercial urban centers. Thus, the Italian renaissance has always been discussed as an urban phenomenon seen through the histories of individual city states such as Florence or Siena (Burckhardt, 1860). But it was the unprecedented growth of the modern industrial city, the achievements of engineering and technology that lay behind it, and the extremes of wealth and poverty that it generated, which directed attention toward towns as the incarnation of modern capitalist modes of production and the nurseries of the modern age.
It was these changes that provoked the German sociologist, Max Weber, to write one of the most influential analyses of urban history of the twentieth century. In The City (published posthumously in 1921 and first translated into English in 1958), Weber set out a typological model for understanding the city and its historical development from the consumer/ producer cities of antiquity, to the largely autonomous city states of the medieval period, to the age of ‘great cities’ in the modern era. According to Weber, the western city emerged in the medieval period, defined by its market functions as a center of exchange, but also by its administrative autonomy in feudal society, its system of corporate governance and modes of association that were independent of ties of kinship or personal fealty, and its status as a defensive organization given physical form in the city walls. Weber’s conception of the city was an ‘ideal type’ and one that was shaped by his own understanding of the rise of democracy and participatory politics as the natural end of civil society. He excluded from his definition of the city both the settlements of Eastern Europe which were subject to feudal overlords and ‘oriental’ cities, such as Edo or Peking, despite their size, because they failed to display the requisite degree of autonomy and corporate governance. The model can be recognized today as Eurocentric, gender blind, and of limited use in an age of global cities and urban conglomerations or urban regions, but nonetheless it continues to carry value as a heuristic tool and remains an important reference point in historical discussions of urbanity.
At the same time, the rapid pace of urban growth and industrialization in Western Europe and the USA focused the attention of reformers, economists, and philanthropists upon the city as a source of social problems and unexpected failures, as well as the engines of prodigious wealth generation and expansion. The city became an object of study and an entity to be described, planned, and controlled. This line of enquiry is perhaps more accurately seen as laying the foundations for urban sociology where attention was focused upon finding explanations and solutions to the problems of modern urban society. This was a field of research in which the Chicago School of Sociology led the way in the 1920s and 1930s. Of particular significance to the development of urban historical studies would be the work of Robert Park and Ernest Burgess, who applied a theory of human ecology to urban development, arguing that competition for land and resources inevitably led to differentiated zones of deprivation and affluence (the concentric zones theory) and Louis Wirth who concentrated on the way in which human behavior adapts to both the urban environment and the social structure of cities, a theme most famously articulated in his essay ‘Urbanism as a way of life’ (Park et al., 1925; Wirth, 1938).
Emergence of a Subdiscipline
Building on these developments, historians on both sides of the Atlantic in the postwar era made a deliberate attempt to move away from the ‘urban biography,’ the study of a particular town. Rather, they set about identifying urban systems and typologies based on scale (capital cities, metropolitan cities, megalopolis, administrative units), function (ports, railway centers, textiles, shipbuilding and heavy engineering, iron and steel, spas, tourist centers), categories (industrial cities, new towns, Mediterranean cities, imperial cities, sun belt/rust belt cities), or ideology (capitalism, communism, utopian planning): analytical tools which continue to be a staple of urban historical analysis. They also focused upon common processes: the development of capitalism, urbanization, and the emergence of a distinctive urban consumer economy or the interaction between property, power, and social relations, using thematic studies based on transport, demography, property ownership, income, and occupational patterns. From this perspective, an understanding of the particular evolution of an urban settlement might be significant in the local context, but for urban historians it was more important to locate such information within a broader understanding of systems of power or social relationships. The urban historian, in other words, sought to generalize and rise above the unique particularities of local studies that so often sustained the civic pride of antiquarians and local historians. This pursuit of the general rule, the sense of what was typical, was very much in tune with the positivism of social science–based research in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the Anglo-phone world. This was the period when economic history was riding high and the advent of new technologies, such as main frame computing opened up new possibilities for the quantitative analysis of evidence and the creation of statistical data from which generalities could be drawn and probabilities asserted. Social science-based historical research exercised a profound influence on urban history, where the town represented the locus within which economic and social change could be studied, but also constituted a peculiar nexus of social, economic, and cultural factors, often described as the ‘urban variable.’
Within this urban history agenda, medievalists and early modernists were often uncomfortable with theory and a form of quantitative empiricism which often depended upon evidence of a kind which simply did not survive from earlier periods and, crucially, an assumption that urban history is essentially the story of urbanization, and the parallel narratives of industrialization, democratization, and modernization. Their concerns were various: the medieval and early modern town was a very different phenomenon to that of the nineteenth or twentieth century. There was even considerable debate as to what constituted urban status in a period when few towns in Europe exceeded 10 000 people and many were far smaller: a size that no modern historian would recognize as urban. All towns must be understood in relation to their hinterlands, but in an essentially agrarian economy, medieval and early modern towns need to be studied as part of much broader systems and processes in which a distinctive urban experience is less easily isolated and defined than in the modern period. Quantification, which was axiomatic for so many of the questions posed by historians of the modern city, was often problematic: even establishing basic population figures for medieval and early modern urban settlements has been a challenge. The value systems of medievalists and early modernists also sat uncomfortably with those analyzed by urban historians of the modern period. Questions of legal status, systems of authority, or the organizing role of religion have loomed large. Concepts of class or systems of governance, by contrast, were far less important. Rather than urban growth, it was frequently decline and decay that attracted historians’ attention. At times, it seemed that there was little in common between the towns of medieval Europe, which numbered a few thousand or less, and the great cities of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of Europe and North America. This temporal divide hardened, with social scientists dominating urban historical writing in the period after 1750 and historians colonizing the earlier period – crudely a division either side of the main thrust of industrialization and modernization in Britain. This in itself is a (social science based) generalization, but the emergence of a separate Pre-Modern Towns group in 1987 in the UK was an expression of this intellectual and philosophical divide in Britain, and the disciplinary distinction between social scientists and historians in their respective approaches to towns and cities should be acknowledged.
More recent developments in historical writing have encouraged something of a rapprochement between historians across this chronological divide in the UK and Western Europe, at least. (In the USA, the study of colonial urban history, while vigorous, continues to be heavily overshadowed by studies of the modern American city; beyond Europe and North America, a different temporal framework applies, see later text.) Since the 1980s, the rise of cultural history, the linguistic turn, postmodernism, and the influence of the later Annales School (as reflected in interest in the construction of historical mentalités, for example) cast doubt on the empiricism and the theoretical assumptions of the social science–based approaches. Quantitative methods, which were implicit in much early social science–based urban history, could be criticized for having reified towns as depersonalized, abstract entities which simply grow or decline, which experience problems or resolve them. Such an approach distorted the nature of historical inquiry by focusing on issues and questions for which quantifiable sources exist, and by marginalizing aspects of urban life which did not lend themselves so easily to quantification, such as women’s work or the experience of the marginal poor. Urban history, as Griffiths and Jenner observed, was rendered as ‘a series of graphs and tables, or a succession of maps’ (Griffiths and Jenner, 2000). More recently, however, the opportunities offered by personal computing and the digitization of historical sources have altered the balance of historical inquiry yet again. The quantitative and qualitative can be combined ever more effectively and with greater sophistication due to the rapid steps taken in digital software and the emergence of a new field of digital humanities: the potential is evident in projects such as ‘London Lives’ which allow the researcher to combine the qualitative, microhistorical approach of researching the personal history of an individual with the ability to retrieve data on a macroscale through 15 different datasets created from 8 archives and comprising over 3.35 million names.
Urban history has defied definition, embracing as it does all aspects of the history of urban settlements whether as physical structures, economic entities, or communities of people. Its catholicity has also been reflected in its multi- and interdisciplinary approach to the past. The early gatherings of urban historians in North America and in Europe, respectively, included economic historians, sociologists, geographers, and architectural and planning historians. While geographers and planners are principally concerned with questions concerning the production, use, and meaning of space, historians share these interests but with a greater emphasis on the temporal dimension, extending their analysis across time. Influenced by theoretical works such as Henri Lefebvre’s La production de l’espace (1974; translated into English, 1991) historians, and urban historians in particular, have sought to ‘spatialize’ understandings of identity, social relations, and human activity. The urban environment and the material fabric of streets, houses, and public buildings can no longer be seen as passive actors in the historical process: rather urban space both molded and was molded by the behavior and actions of urban inhabitants. The advent of more sophisticated mapping technologies through the development of GIS has allowed urban historians to open up new agendas in both the analysis of the spatial dimensions of urban society over time and also the presentation of research results. The potential to visualize data through mapping techniques is evident in projects such as the hypercities project at UCLA and Visualizing Urban Geographies, a collaboration between the National Library of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.
Other historiographical developments, such as the ‘linguistic turn,’ and the school of cultural history which grew from it, directed urban historians toward the analysis of language and the way in which it shaped perceptions of identity and experience, particularly in terms of social status, class, and gender. This has been an approach that has lent itself to sources from antiquity to the twentieth century. The concentration of people within towns and cities and the rich potential for different forms of communication in urban society multiplied the opportunities to establish and create meaning or express identity. The emphasis on ‘experience and identity’ as a category of analysis has also opened up new avenues for urban historians to explore which were previously ignored or regarded as incidental, for example, the sensory dimensions and experience of the city – its sight, smell, touch, and sound – and the emotions that the city provokes.
Historians of medieval and ancient cities have always cooperated closely with archaeologists being heavily dependent upon the evidence of material remains for understanding of both the physical structure and social life of the town. Maurice Beresford notably drew upon archaeological evidence for his path-breaking study of medieval planned towns (Beresford, 1967): a key text that refuted earlier assumptions that urban planning was an attribute only of modernity. This kind of collaboration characterizes urban history wherever excavations have taken place, whether the British Iron Age town of Silchester (where archaeological evidence has transformed our understanding of British urban settlements prior to the Roman conquest (Fulford, 2012)) or the Japanese medieval castle town of Ichijo-dani, constructed in 1472 and destroyed in 1573. Historians and archaeologists studying classical and medieval urban settlements, influenced by cultural and spatial theory like their counterparts in later periods, have recently attempted to move beyond the description of topographical and architectural developments as ends in themselves, recognizing that the physical structure of towns was an embedded part of daily life, political institutions, and religious belief. Equally, archaeologists have become more interested in the activities within the physical structures as well as nonarchitectural or ‘activity spaces’ and the history of the everyday bringing the agenda of urban historians and archaeologists ever closer (Grig, 2013).
The convergence also reflects the ‘material turn’ in historical studies: in recent years, historians have been moving away from a text-centered approach to the past and have become increasingly appreciative of the insights to be derived from studies of material culture for later periods, as well as those for which little in the form of textual evidence remains. This greater openness to using material culture has also influenced urban history on a conceptual level by decentering the importance of human agency (drawing also on Actor Network Theory) and focusing attention on the agency of inanimate objects, buildings, spaces in shaping the behavior of individuals and society at large. Histories of the automobile and of roads, for example, demonstrate how these inanimate objects and structures have a powerful determinative impact on human agency in the urban context, while historians of the nineteenth-century city have analyzed how the modern liberal society was brought into being through techniques of governance that depended on an infrastructure of water, sewerage, gas, and electricity (Gunn, 2011; Joyce, 2003; Otter, 2008).
As the temperature of the global village rises, a historically informed understanding of the interaction between cities and the environment has become increasingly pressing. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the field of urban environmental history has emerged as historians seek to understand urban society as the product of the relationship between human agency, technology, and nature and to recognize the fundamental and irreversible changes that modern urban society has wrought upon the globe (Chakrabarty, 2009). Although the urban form is often seen as ‘unnatural,’ that is, man-made in contrast to the ‘natural’ rural or agrarian landscape, environmental historians break down that distinction, demonstrating how towns and cities have exercised a profound influence over the surrounding countryside, reshaping ‘nature’: an approach that is exemplified in William Cronon’s study of Chicago (Cronon, 1991). Another highly topical area of urban environmental research lies in the histories of pollution (water, air, noise) which almost always have an urban focus, as towns are the primary sources of pollutant activity. This approach to urban environmental history is often concerned with questions of social justice and inequality, and the interplay of race, gender, and class in urban environmental politics.
As the comments above might suggest, urban history always stands in danger of losing its coherence as a particular approach, due to its inherent interdisciplinarity. At the other extreme, there is also a tendency to assume that anything, by virtue of taking place in a town or city, can be said to qualify as urban history. For most urban historians, however, the urban context is a necessary though not a sufficient condition, because the urban dimension itself may be considered an independent actor in the process of change and development in towns and cities. As the British historian H.J. Dyos explained:
the authentic measure of urban history is the degree to which it is concerned directly and generically with cities themselves and not with the historical events and tendencies that have been purely incidental to them.it is the study of the characteristically symbiotic relationships of their (cities’) different characteristics, of the ways in which their components fitted together or impinged on other things that distinguishes urban historians from those who may be said merely to be passing through their territory. (Dyos, 1974)
Questions of identity and social experience, meaning and representation, environment and material culture equally transcend the chronological and the disciplinary boundaries. If the distinctiveness of urban history as a discipline is no longer so clearly demarcated in the twenty-first century, this is due to changes in the nature of historical discipline itself rather than to any crisis of confidence in the validity of the town or city as the object of historical research. The ‘cultural’ turn, for example, as noted above, has helped to dissolve the boundaries between many different subgenres of history, not just urban history. The cogency of urban history as a framework for historical inquiry, however, remains powerful and it continues to evolve in new directions.
Urban history as a field of study emerged in Western Europe and North America largely in response to the specific historical circumstances of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and, in Western Europe, postwar reconstruction, which focused historians’ and sociologists’ attention upon urban society as a field of paramount importance for academic research. In the postcolonial era, there has been a global shift in attention as South America, Asia, and to a lesser extent Africa have undergone their own process of rapid urbanization. Just as in Europe and North America, much urban history in Asia, Africa, and South America was originally constituted of local studies and urban biographies, but increasingly urban historical scholarship in these areas has taken a more conceptual and comparative approach. The experience of urbanization in China and India, for example, challenges many of the paradigms by which Western urban history has been understood: the scale of the problems (and opportunities) faced by Asian cities dwarfs those of the Western experience of urbanization, and there is a telescoping of changes and processes for which there is equally no Western parallel: demographic expansion, industrialization, the emergence of democracy, the communications revolution – all of which in Western history followed sequentially – are taking place simultaneously and introducing an entirely new paradigm of urbanism. The models by which we have traditionally understood modernization and urbanization are being systematically upstaged.
Developments in the history of Chinese cities reflect those in the wider urban historiography. In the mid-twentieth century, a Eurocentric view of urban history saw Imperial China as static and autocratic, only spurred into modernization by the arrival of the West in the nineteenth century. It was argued that the form of Chinese cities reflected a long-established Confucian cosmology and that culturally they were indistinct from the countryside (Mote, 1971). Latterly, historians began to consider how internal events were equally, if not more, important than external influences in bringing change to China. This led to a reassessment of the history of cities, and two trends have dominated scholarship. The first views cities in Imperial China as dynamic, with complex commercial, cultural, social, and political identities, while the second explains the emergence of urban modernity as a result of both indigenous and external factors. Thus, for example, the former capital Kaifeng had a population of at least 1 million, and was characterized by lively markets, painting, poetry, and guidebooks, as well as sites of worship. Later, despite the disruption of dynastic overthrow, cities retained and developed their own distinct identities. Merchants of all classes formed large-scale trading networks that reached across the empire and abroad, while protoindustries in cotton, silk, and other sectors developed.
By the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, treaty ports, the outposts of colonialism in China, had already been transformed by modern innovations such as new roads, sewage systems, department stores, and a vibrant print culture. While it is true that Shanghai emerged as the center of Chinese urban modernity, historians now recognize that other cities were not simply copies of this metropolis. Histories of cities as far afield as Chengdu in Western China and Harbin in the north reveal how economic and political elites relied on local elements as much as global notions of urban modernity to create hybrid identities. Despite the disruption of the Anti- Japanese War of Resistance and the Communist revolution of 1949, we are now beginning to understand that even as urbanization stretches across whole regions, such distinctive identities continue to shape the development of cities in the twenty-first century. In India and South Asia, the village and not the city has traditionally dominated both national self-perception and the outsider’s view of the country. Weber dismissed Indian towns because they lacked the defining sense of unitary community that he identified in the West; rather they were simply loose federations of extended families, castes, or occupational groups (Gupta, 1981). For Indian nationalists, the city was associated with colonial rule and was regarded as a Western import, while the movement for independence was rooted in rural society, where Gandhi located the true India. Under imperial rule, it was assumed, a handful of presidency cities such as Madras, Bombay, Delhi, and Calcutta, and a clutch of railway towns had burgeoned; the others suffered deindustrialization and deurbanization throughout the nineteenth century.
Postcolonial and subaltern studies reinforced this antiurban tendency, with a literature where rural society and peasant farmers, rather than the urban proletariat, were foremost. Serious interest in the city did not begin until the 1950s when sociologists and economists began to study the processes of urbanization in response to the influx of postpartition migrants to Indian cities after 1947. The field was dominated by sociologists and anthropologists, however, and a historical dimension was missing until the 1960s when historians began to recognize the importance of the city as a backdrop – if not as an agent or a ‘variable’ – in the emergence of modern politics and nationalism and in the processes of industrialization and modernization. By the 1970s, Indian historians, influenced by some of the same historiographical trends as in the West, began to focus more upon the city as the theater for the display of colonial power through architecture and the built environment, on the social history of the urban working classes, and on the public culture of colonial Indian cities. The foundation of the Urban History Association of India in 1978 bears witness to the emergent profile of the field. But it is the astonishingly rapid urbanization of the last 30 years – Indian cities now account for more than 10% of the world’s urban population – that has directed attention toward the city and its colonial as well as the postcolonial past. Economic liberalization and globalization have created a newly wealthy and influential urban middle class: the same forces have also reshaped Indian cities and deepened the inequities of wealth and political opportunity and as such the city is the object of renewed historical study, shaped by both its colonial and postcolonial past. Even more so than in China, the urban history of India has had to engage with the historiography of the West, but what the more recent literature has demonstrated is the hybridity of Indian urbanism: colonial models of urban governance were imported, but they were also modified, resisted, and adapted in the colonial context, giving rise to a very different version of indigenous modernity and urbanism.
As South Asia, China, and parts of Africa undergo unprecedented urbanization and represent an ever-increasing proportion of the world’s urban population, the study of urban history is losing its Eurocentric focus and taking on an increasingly global perspective: urbanity and modernity are being reconfigured and traditionally held assumptions regarding periodization and the origins of urban modernity in the West or the dominance of Western forms of urbanism have had to be refined. Questions of urban historical process such as the relationship between state power and urban governance or the growth of civil society and the rise of the public sphere have to be seen now in global perspective (Kidambi, 2007). The emergence of ‘world cities’ such as Bombay and Delhi, Shanghai, and Singapore, as well as London and Los Angeles as the crucial nodal points of global networks makes them key players in the emergent field of transnational history which looks at interactions and developments beyond the nation state and across continental boundaries. The field of transnational and global urban history is one which is rapidly expanding and opening up a rich seam of new questions and new directions.
The institutionalization of urban history can be traced through the establishment of dedicated research chairs, research centers, formal associations of scholars, publications, and the presence of urban history within university curricula. The formal institutionalization of urban history goes back to the early twentieth century when the Stockholm Institute for Urban History was founded by the confederation of Swedish Towns in 1919, a development which led later to the establishment of the world’s first chair in urban history at the University of Stockholm in 1953. The inspiration for the Swedish Center for Urban History, however, was rooted in the traditions of urban biography and localism (its remit was the ordering and publication of documents relating to the history of Swedish towns). A different version of urban history began to be formalized, however, at around the same time: across the Atlantic in 1953, a loose association of American academics agreed to meet informally to discuss urban history, deliberately distancing themselves from both the traditions of antiquarianism in the European tradition and the urban boosterism that was characteristic of North American cities. A regular series of conferences and publications followed in a movement that was identified as the ‘new urban history’ (Stave, 1977). Nine years after the North American Urban History group held its first meeting, H.J. Dyos of the University of Leicester and other colleagues belonging to the Economic History Society formally met as the Urban History Group 1962 in the United Kingdom. During the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, associations of urban historians were established across Europe and further afield, such as the Arbeitskreis für landschaftliche deutsche Städteforschung (1959) and the Arbeitskreis für südwestdeutsche Stadtgeschichtsforschung (1960) and the Dutch Urban History Group in 1974. Beyond Europe, the Tokyo Study Group in Comparative Urban History was formed with six charter members in 1971, for example, and the Urban History Association of India, as noted above, was established in 1978.
While most of these national associations were also interested in urban history beyond the national boundaries, there was also a strong international and collaborative impulse to urban historical research as countries across Europe had to come to terms with the devastation that World War II had wrought upon towns and cities and sought to put the conflict of the first half of the twentieth century behind them. In this spirit, the International Commission for the History of Towns (ICHT) was established in 1955: ‘pour objet d’établir des contacts et de faciliter la coordination des recherches entre les spécialistes de toutes les branches de l’histoire des villes’ (to establish contacts and to promote the coordination of research between specialists in all areas of the history of towns and cities). In a similar vein, the Institute für vergleichende Stätdegeschichte was established in Munster in 1969. The most notable achievement of the ICHT to date is the support given to the Historic Towns Atlas project, the aim of which is to coordinate the production of atlases of towns plans, to common scales, accompanied by commentaries and subsidiary maps, to facilitate the comparative study of the history of European towns.
Comparative European, and increasingly comparative global urban historical research, is also fostered through the biennial conferences of the European Association of Urban Historians (EAUH), established in 1989. The lists of sessions of recent conferences give a fair indication of current trends in urban history with themes such as environment, heritage, deindustrialization, consumption, and construction of community all areas of particularly topical concern, obviously reflecting contemporary priorities in wider society. Recent conferences have also seen a marked increase in scholars from the former Eastern Bloc, who were formerly isolated from the traditions of Western European and American historical writing, for whom topics such as the legacy of industrialization and deindustrialization for modern cities and the problems of urban sustainability are particularly pertinent. These conferences also serve to showcase methodological advances, and in particular the progress that has been made with IT-assisted mapping and GIS as well as the construction of other digital resources. In the USA, the Urban History Association and Society for American City and Regional Planning History hold conferences in alternate years, and while their focus is chiefly upon the urban and planning history of North and South America, their meetings are similarly taking on an increasing global and transnational perspective.
Once scholars had identified a common interest in urban history and formed an association, publications soon followed, initially in the form of newsletters to disseminate information, but invariably leading to the emergence of journals dedicated to urban historical research. Thus the Journal of Urban History which first appeared in 1974 has its origins in the Urban History newsletter of the 1950s and 1960s. In the United Kingdom, H.J. Dyos was similarly inspired to issue his British newsletter until 1974 when its publication was formalized as the Urban History Yearbook. This, in turn, evolved into the Urban History Journal published by Cambridge University Press in 1991. While Urban History and Journal of Urban History share a comparative approach and global coverage, many other urban historical journals have emerged in the last 50 years with a stronger national or regional approach, including the German journal Städteforschung (first issued in 1970), Stadsgeschiedenis (covering Belgium and The Netherlands), Città e Storia (primarily Italy), and Histoire Urbaine (predominantly France) while in Japan, The Comparative Urban History Review focusing on Japanese urban history has been published twice a year since 1982.
The establishment of research centers dedicated to urban history at various universities has helped to ensure that the subject maintains an institutional profile and a presence in the curricula of undergraduate and postgraduate courses (Rodger and Menjot, 2006). H.J. Dyos became the first professor of Urban History in the United Kingdom; following his death in 1978, the tradition of urban history at Leicester continued, with the foundation of the Center for Urban History in 1985. Its current priorities reflect some of the key developments in urban history of recent years: an emphasis on the importance of transnational approaches and recognition of the importance of Asia (notably China and India) in modern urban history and the nature of urban heritage and the management of the past for cities in postindustrial society. Other specialist research centers for the study of urban history include the Center for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, the Center for Urban History, University of Antwerp, the Danish Center of Urban History at the University of Aarhus, and the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe at Lviv.
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