Urban History Research Paper

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Urban history started as early as the nineteenth century in Western Europe. Italian scholars had a deep concern with the Commune, the governing body of the medieval city–state in connection with the unification process of the country. French historians had a similar concern with the commune movement which, over the centuries, had developed into town autonomy against the rule of a feudal lord, and also with freedom of citizens of medieval towns. German scholars showed interest in freedom and equality of townspeople of the medieval towns as a forerunner of democracy. In England during the modernizing process of local government, especially in connection with the reform of municipal corporations, historians had some interest in historical privileges of citizens given in the charters granted either by the King or by feudal lords, lay or ecclesiastical. From the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the historians’ main interests were in political, legal, and/or constitutional problems.

1. Regional Studies

The new trends of urban historians’ concern after World War II are more social, economic, physical, or topographic. There were two opposing opinions as to how to reconstruct historic towns which suffered serious damage by bombing during the War, either rebuilding them exactly as they were before or rebuilding them entirely anew according to new town planning and a new scheme. Moreover, as built-up areas are impossible to excavate, this offered great possibilities for archaeological excavation in areas destroyed by the bombing, especially in German and English towns and cities. Archaeological investigation explored not only medieval towns but also the deeper stratum of ancient Roman cities.

During the 1960s, either construction of new towns or redevelopment of the slum areas of nineteenth century industrial towns became urgent matters, and urban historians were concerned with the problems of new towns or the process of building towns during the Middle Ages, as clearly observed in Maurice Beresford’s New Towns of the Middle Ages, Town Plantation in England, Wales, and Gascony, published in 1967.

Organized research in urban history began in Germany at the end of the 1950s, in England during the 1960s, and in Japan and the USA in the early 1970s.

In West Germany, two Study Groups were organized: Arbeitskreis fur landschaftliche deutsche Stadteforschung as a national organization and Arbeitskreis fur sudwestdeutsche Stadtgeschichts-forschung as a local organization. They were started in 1959 and 1960, respectively. In Munster, Institut fur vergleichende Statdegeschichte was established by H. Stoob, and began to publish its journal, Stadteforschung, in 1970.

In England, the ‘Urban History Group’ was organized in 1963 at the General Meeting of the Economic History Society, and H. J. Dyos issued the Urban History Newsletter until 1973. From 1974 to 1991, 18 volumes of the Urban History Yearbook were published by Leicester University Press. Since 1991, as the continuation of the Urban History Yearbook, Urban History has been published semi-annually by the Cambridge University Press.

In 1986, The Centre for Urban History was established at Leicester University and the new second series of the Urban History Newsletter was published until 1999. The third series of the Urban History Newsletter started in Autumn 1999, when Richard Rodger was appointed Professor of Urban History at Leicester University.

In London, in 1975, the Metropolitan Society was founded and a new Journal, The London Journal, The Review of Metropolitan Society Past and Present, was launched. This journal was ‘planned to combine the work of historians and of scholars in other fields, for the first time presenting a more complete study of the whole region in its historical, its societal, and its cultural framework.’ Two years later, at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, the Centre for Metropolitan History was founded by Derek Keene and The Newsletter of the Centre for Metropolitan History was issued in 1992.

In 1987, The Urban Morphology Research Group was founded at the Department of Geography, University of Birmingham, and the Urban Morphology Newsletter was issued until 1997 when it was succeeded by Urban Morphology, Journal of the International Seminar on Urban Form.

In Japan, The Tokyo Study Group in Comparative Urban History was formed with six charter members in 1971, and issued Urban History Newsletter from 1975 to 1981. Since 1982, The Comparative Urban History Review has been published semi-annually. In 1991, the Study Group published two volumes of essays entitled Toshi to Kyodotai [Stadt und Gemeinde] in commemorating its twentieth anniversary, and also Edo and Paris, Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era was published by Cornell University Press in 1994, and Edo and Paris, the Japanese edition, was also published in 1995. These publications were outcomes of the Symposium held in Tokyo in 1990 to commemorate 400 years of the beginning of Edo. In 1978, the Society of Hokuriku Urban Historians was launched as a local organization by the initiative of T. Toyoda, and the Society holds annual meetings at three historic towns; that is, Kanazawa, Toyama, and Fukui, alternately. The Hokuriku Urban History Review appeared from 1979 to 1989, and The Journal of the Society of Hokuriku Urban Historians has been published since 1990.

In September 1974, the Journal of Urban History was established ‘to provide urban scholars in the USA with a forum for interpretation and new research.’

2. Urbanization

There are four types of cities in history.

The first historical type of city appeared in the ancient Orient, namely in Mesopotamia and Egypt, in ancient India, and China. Walled towns with the surrounding territories were the center of theocratic rule of oriental despots. Officials of despots, clergy of temples, and wealthy merchants lived in those cities, which usually were located near palaces or temples, and were surrounded by quarters of subordinating poor tribes. They flourished with long-distance trade. However, there were no citizens as such.

The second type of city appeared in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. They were city–states called either polis or civitas. Cities were formed by landowning warriors settling in militarily defensible places, that is, acropolis. Rome was founded on seven hills, and by conquering the neighboring civitas became finally the Roman Empire ruling the Mediterranean World. Colonial cities were founded at strategic points in various provinces with a similar city plan. Agricultural estates or mines organized with slave labor, supported by long-distance trade, brought prosperity and peace, that is, Pax Romana to the Empire.

The third type of city, the medieval city, appeared in the area beyond the Alps; namely, Germany, France, the Low Countries, and England. Max Weber characterized ancient cities as consumers’ towns, and medieval towns as producers’ towns, because citizens of medieval towns consisted mainly of tradesmen and craftsmen. They were enjoying the privileges of freedom of citizenship, and they were enabled by feudal lords to form guilds and to constitute a self-governing body; that is, a mayor and the town council. These medieval cities located in areas that had facilities for water transportation, such as ports on estuaries or river banks. Emperors, kings, and feudal magnates, lay or ecclesiastical, granted these towns privileges of holding weekly markets and yearly fairs, as nexuses of long-distance trade as well as local trade.

The fourth type of city is called a modern or industrial town. As the result of the Industrial Revolution, a new type of city appeared. In England, at the earlier stage of industrialization, factories with machine systems were set up in dales where water power was available. However, after the steam engine was invented, factories were established at places near coal and iron mines, and/or near cities which could serve for the domestic market as well as overseas trade. The earliest of factories were abandoned very quickly, but remained as objects for industrial archaeologists’ research. Around the new type of factories, developers constructed cheap houses which accomodated wage laborers and their families. These houses were called ‘back to back,’ with poor sanitation systems, and later became poor slum areas. On the other hand, in the West End of London, in the suburbs of provincial towns, and in the resort towns such as Bath, new developments of landed estates started during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and constituted fashionable town houses not only for nobilities but also for the new middle-class. Although the size of these new type towns were limited by the system of transport within them, the population of cities increased significantly. This process was called the first stage of urbanization, and lasted until World War I.

After World War II, the so-called second urbanization process started not only in the highly industrialized countries but also in ‘developing countries.’ As the result of the rapid motorization and efficient communication systems, not only the size of cities expanded, but also the population of cities increased enormously. Huge cities appeared connected with satellite cities constituting a megalopolis.

Thus, urbanized society offered people amenities. However, the rapid urbanization brought pollution problems as well as poverty and misery, causing urban historians deep concerns.

3. International Cooperation

One of the distinct characteristics of recent research in urban history is international cooperation. In 1955, when the International Congress of Historical Sciences was held in Rome, European urban historians established La Commission Internationale pour l’Histoire de Villes. The first president of the Commission, Hermann Aubin [1955–8] was succeeded by Hektor Amman [1958–67], Phillipp Wolff [1967–81], and Sergi Vilfan [1981–91]. Adriaan Verhulst has been the president since 1991.

The Commission presents a report to the Congress as the result of five years’ preparation by the members of the Commission. The overall theme at the XIIIth Congress in Moscow, 1970 was ‘Urban Autonomy,’ at the XIVth Congress in San Francisco, 1975, ‘Social Structure and Urban Morphology,’ at the XVth Congress in Bucharest, 1980, ‘Central Government and the Towns in Europe,’ at the XVIth Congress in Stuttgart, 1985, ‘Town and Country,’ at the XVIIth Congress in Madrid, 1990, ‘New Towns in Europe (XII–XX century),’ at the XVIIIth Congress in Montreal, 1995, ‘Markets and Fairs,’ and at the XIXth Congress in Oslo, 2000, ‘Destruction and Reconstruction of Towns.’ The list of the themes shows not only the results of international cooperation but also the trends of historians’ interest. Along with internationally organized common research and reports, the Commission has undertaken three joint projects— the compilation and publication of urban bibliographies by country, of selected urban history texts (Elenchuses), and historical atlases of towns.

The urban bibliographies were published during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The earliest Bibliography: was by French historians Philippe Dollinger, Philippe Wolff, and Simon Guenee, Bibliographie d’histoire des villes de France in 1967. It was followed by German historians Erich Keyser’s Bibliographie zur Stadtegeschichte Deutschlands (Acta Collegii historiae urbanae Societatis historicorum internationalis) in 1969. The last one was by English historians G. H. Martin and Sylvia C. McIntyre, A Bibliography: of British and Irish Municipal History, Vol. I in 1972.

Elenchus is a collecion of selected sources to illuminate the history of towns. The first volume was published in 1967, Elenchus fontium historiae urbanae, Volumen primum, quem edendum curaverunt C. Van de Kieft et J. F. Niermeijer (Acta Collegii historiae urbanae Societatis historicorum internationalis). In 1977 a guide book was published, Guide international d’histoire urbaine, I Europe, prepare par la Commission sour la direction de Philippe Wolff, Membre de l’Institute de France.

Publication of a historical atlas has become a more enterprising and widespread project. Although there was fundamental agreement on a unified concept, the actual outcome has been very diverse, and is unique country by country.

The earliest of the atlases to reach fruition was the British one, with a first volume of Historic Towns. Maps and Plans of Towns and Cities in the British Isles, with Historical Commentaries, from the Earliest Times to 1800 in 1969. This was the outcome of very close collaboration of M. D. Lobel, urban historian, and Colonel W. H. Johns, cartographer of the Ordnance Survey. The first volume consisted of historical atlases of seven British historic towns bound in one volume of folio size.

The fundamental process of drawing historic town maps is as follows: on the contemporary map of scale 1: 2500, modern buildings and constructions were eliminated piece by piece from a map and the town map reconstructed as it was in 1800; that is, the state of the town before industrialization. Then demolished buildings and perished constructions are added on a map based on archaeological findings as well as other information obtained from the old cadastre maps and other literary sources. As a result of these painstaking processes, medieval towns and even Roman towns were shown on large-scale colored maps, with commentaries by historians.

In the preface to this masterpiece (Historic Towns), Professor Wolf, as the president of the Commission, made the comment:

The legitimate curiosities of scholars are not, however, the only interests to be involved. Nor is it only lovers of the past who will be glad to get a faithful picture of the ancient ‘heart’ of towns. Ours is an era of extraordinary town development. Tomorrow’s ‘urban textures’ run a great risk of losing in charm and in human value what they gain in expansion. Our children run a great risk … of growing up joyless in soulless cities. The old centres of our towns, where the most precious of the ancient buildings cluster, make up the element peculiar to each town, by which it is differentiated from every other. This is a touristic treasure-house, … What is more, it is a human treasure-house, and one which any concern for the future bids us reconstitute and save: atlases of urban history provide an indispensable tool for this work—and only an exceedingly short-sighted realism could prevent us from appreciating the work’s importance.

The second volume was published in 1975 with the same format for four more English towns. The third volume was published in 1989 for the City of London from prehistoric times to c.1520.

The second winner of the international competition of publication of atlases of historic towns was German. Four series of historic town atlases were organized in Germany: (a) Deutscher Stadteatlas published five volumes to 1993; (b) Hessicher Stadteatlas published one volume in 1998; (c) Rheinischer Standteatlas published 12 volumes until 1996; and (d) Westfalischer Stadteatlas published five volumes to 1997. Each set consisted of a reconstructed color map on a scale of 1: 2500, an old map of the nineteenth century, an air photograph of the present day towns, old prints and historic photographs of towns with present photographs from the air, and a leaflet of the commentaries by historians, making the atlases more attractive to general as well as local readers.

In Austria, the Osterreichischer Stadteatlas, five volumes [1982–97] and Historischer Atlas on Wien, five volumes [1981–94] have been published under joint editorship of Wiener Stadt und Landesarchi and the Ludwig-Boltzmann Institut fur Stadtgeschichtsforschung.

In France, the Atlas historique des illes de France has been published under the editorship of Centre Charles Higounet, Centre de recherches sur l’occupation du sol et du peuplement, at the Universite Michel de Montaigne, Bordeaux since 1982 containing 42 towns in various provinces.

In Italy, two titles of historic atlases of towns have been published; that is, Atlante storico della citta italinae (Italia settentrionale et Sardegna) and Atlante storico della citta italiane (Italia centraleve meridionale) since 1986, containing four and 14 towns, respectively.

Other European countries are also editing and publishing atlases of historic towns of their countries, so that more than 300 towns in Europe had an atlas by the end of the millennium.

In 1989, the European Association of Urban Historians was organized and the Association is holding biennial conferences. The first conference was held in Amsterdam in 1992, the second conference in Strasbourg in 1994, and the third conference in Budapest; the overall theme was Cities in Eastern and Western Europe. The fourth conference was in Venice in 1998 when the theme was Cities in Europe: Places and Institutions. In 2000, the fifth conference was held in Berlin and the theme was European Cities: Networks and Crossroads. The sixth conference will be held in Edinburgh in 2002.

4. Multidisciplinary Research

Another feature of recent trends of urban history is inter or multidisciplinary research. The Society for Medieval Archaeology was founded in 1957, and publishes a Journal, Medieval Archaeology, annually.

In 1969, a small number of British historical geographers formed a group in order to collect material for an International Glossary of Agrarian Terminology, and in 1973 the name of the Historical Geography Research Group was adapted and formally recognized by the Institute of British Geographers. Since 1975, the Journal of Historical Geography has been published by the Academic Press, London, under the joint editorship of John Patten (Oxford) and Andrew Clark (for the Americas).

A Planning History Group was established in the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Birmingham in 1974, and issued the Planning History Bulletin from 1979 to 1987, but when the editorial team changed, the title of the Bulletin changed to Planning History, Bulletin of the Planning History Group. Then, from 1993, Planning History became the Bulletin of the International Planning History.

In 1989, Gordon E. Cherry and Anthony R. Sutcliffe launched a new journal, Planning Perspectives, An International Journal of History, Planning and the Environment.

In Italy, since 1976, Storia Citta, Rivista Internationale di storia urbana e territoriae [International Review of Town Planning History] has been published irregularly.

Another discipline is architectural history. It is deeply connected with town planning and also townscapes of different periods. In Japan, the Society of Architectual Historians of Japan was established in 1983, and is publishing the Journal of the Society semiannually.

Interdisplinary research is organized between different disciplines and is flourishing. However, the most remarkable contribution to urban history has been medeival archaeology. Not only in European countries but also in Japan, excavations of ancient and medieval towns have been carried out extensively.

In Japan, not only Kyoto and Nara, ancient capitals, but also Ichijo-dani, a medieval castle town constructed in 1472 and destroyed by war in 1573, and so-called One Thousand Houses in Kusado, an ancient market town lost by flood in 1673, are distinguished examples of excavation by medieval archaeologists. Archaeological findings were examined with contemporary literary sources, and clarified the details of town plan, economic activities, social life of the day, and even the mentality of town-folks.

In Europe, Germany, England, France, and Scandinavian countries, the results of research on medieval archaeology are remarkable. However, the most distinguished case of cooperation between archaeologists and historians must be the investigation of Anglo-Saxon and medieval Winchester. Winchester Studies 1, the first volume of the series of publications was published in 1976 entitled Winchester in the Early Middle Ages: An Edition and Discussion of the Winton Domesday [surveyed in 1148]. Two volumes of Winchester Studies 2, Survey of Medieval Winchester were published in 1985 and part two of Winchester Studies 3, Pre-Roman and Roman Winchester was published in 1979. Still more volumes are to be published.

5. Conclusion

Research into urban history has tended to be concentrated on Western or European countries. China has a long and unique history of towns and cities. However, these never were given any autonomy of their own, and therefore they remained as mere centers of central or local administration. So it makes comparison with European towns difficult. As to other Asian countries, the processes of building new towns under colonial rule such as New Delhi, Rangoon, or Bangkok have been much clarified. However, the urban history of their predecessors, Old Delhi, the Mogul city, Yangon, a port town of Burma, or Ayuttha, the old capital of Siam, should be further explored. The other unexplored field of urban history is towns and cities within the Islamic world.


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