Urban History world tour: Leicester academics visit China and Colombia
World Tour Part I: China
Four of our academics were in China recently for an international conference co-organised by our Centre for Urban History. The Second World Forum of Urban History was held at Hangzhou Normal University over 5-9 April, a collaboration between the University of Leicester, HNU’s Institute for Urban Studies and the Institute of World History Research at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
As co-organisers of the conference, all four staff were involved in presenting papers, as well as acting as chairmen and discussants. Simon Gunn gave the keynote address, which explored the rise of the car system in the West and its impact on urban development, and this inspired a lively debate on the nature of suburban expansion.
Roey Sweet presented on the development of urban history in the eighteenth century and the contribution of antiquarianism to urban identity. Rebecca Madgin gave an overview of urban conservation, concentrating on how buildings are valued for their intrinsic as well as their economic value. Finally, Toby Lincoln presented on the birth of urban sociology in China, and in his closing remarks called on conference delegates to learn from each other’s experiences and embark on a truly comparative and global urban history to meet some of the challenges of contemporary society.
As well as attending the conference, the Centre for Urban History and Hangzhou Normal University finalised arrangements on joint Masters and study abroad programs. Two Chinese students are expected to start a Masters in Urban Conservation here in the autumn, and CUH and HNU will look at how Leicester undergraduates may spend a short time in China over the summer. Two members of staff at Hangzhou Normal University also expressed interest in taking up visiting scholar positions at Leicester.
CUH staff also met with members of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, one of the leading centers for urban history in China. A memorandum of understanding will allow for the translation and simultaneous publication of articles in Urban History Journal and 史林 (Historical Review). This is a unique collaboration between two leading journals, and will facilitate dissemination of knowledge on urban history between China and the rest of the world.
In short, this visit was a great success, and marks a major step forward in Leicester’s CUH achieving its goal of becoming the world’s foremost center for the study of urban history within the next decade.
World Tour Part II: Colombia
Not content with their trip to China, Simon Gunn and Toby Lincoln visited South America later that month, accompanied by Prashant Kidambi. The trio attended a conference on Urban Borders at the National University of Colombia in Bogota between 30 April and 4 May where Simon’s paper on the history of the Green Belt around London was well received. The audience was particularly interested in the politics surrounding the creation and preservation of this border. Simon also gave an introduction to a Leicester-Nottingham Leverhulme project on comparative car systems in Birmingham and Nagoya.
Prashant’s presentation on Indian cities covered their emergence during the colonial period and more recent expansion. Discussion concentrated on how sites associated with global modernity, such as airports and large shopping malls, are emerging on the borders of cities. Toby gave a history of urban rural relations in China from the dynastic period through to the present day, and argued that despite the growth of urban regions, individual cities retain their individual identities amidst extremely dense urbanism across a massive area.
The staff and students at the National University of Colombia were extremely welcoming, and their presentations focused on local issues, many exploring individual projects in Bogota in great depth from an architectural standpoint, but linking them to wider macro-processes of change. Discussions were very fruitful, and a good foundation has been laid for a conference in Leicester in November, possibly on the theme of the global turn in urban studies. In addition, a short conference report will be published in Urban History.