Urban History Group Conference 2020

Urban History Group Conference 2020

Beyond the Functioning City: defining and contesting urban order, 1600 to the present

St Catherine’s College, Oxford, 16th & 17th April


This year’s Urban History Group conference looks to re-examine the centrality of notions of function to analyses of the urban past. Asking how towns and cities were organised historically, to what purpose and for whom, the conference questions how attempts to make towns and cities ‘work’ have shaped both urban form and citizens’ lives. The question of how best to make cities function effectively as economic and social entities lies at the heart of studies of urban governance and planning: historians of Europe and the Atlantic world locate modern planning in a late eighteenth-century ‘moment’ when economic expansion and urban growth dictated that governments should consider how built form might embrace new industrial technologies to optimise their social and economic functions. In this period functional priorities like the formalisation of land use, the efficient circulation of goods and people, the control of waste and disease, and, over time, the development of social welfare were enshrined as fundamental features of urban governance. In turn new techniques, policies and instruments were developed that sought to make material conceptions of order, whilst systems of knowledge and expertise sought to define the values that defined correct function. Yet the degree to which these processes occurred locally varied significantly. Moreover, historians of the early modern have, for example, shown how differing ideas of function were already central to the built environment long before the industrial revolution. Sociologists like Richard Sennett have argued that overly-formal notions of order have had negative consequences for many communities. Citizens in marginalised groups, defined by notions as diverse as class, race, ethnicity or sexuality, frequently had senses of purpose that differed radically from those of planners and governing elites. Western formulations of function spread unevenly on the tides of capitalism, whilst colonisers have seen function in ways that were often deeply antagonistic to local understandings. Indeed, calculations of economic function worldwide are and were often deeply antagonistic to what local communities and kinship groups wanted. As such, urban space became a contested space, where competing functionalities led to disruption, conflict and even violence. The functional city, therefore has often been, counter-intuitively, diverse and sometimes anarchic. Under such circumstances, it is a key concern of the conference to interrogate how and if difference and functionality co-existed.

We encourage historians, geographers, sociologists and other scholars of the urban to interpret the conference theme in the broadest sense and welcome creative approaches to the question, but we would like to draw potential participants’ attention to the following framing questions:

  • Have notions of urban order been primarily defined in terms of the relationships between capital, economics and built form? What have been the consequences of this?
  • How have historically marginalised groups in the city (women, racial/ethnic and religious minorities, the poor and working classes, and LGBT+ people) attempted to shape functionality? How have they experienced or influenced attempts to create order?
  • Are notions of function essentially elite, top-down ideas; to what degree has this model been challenged and by whom? How does power operate through ideas of functionality and whose version of function wins out?
  • How do notions like heritage and conservation fit with ideas of urban function?
  • What disciplinary approaches or novel sources can improve our understanding of urban function; and how could historians work with local communities to understand function?
  • What roles can and should scholars of the urban play today in setting the policy agenda? How can we ensure diversity in producing definitions of function?

The conference committee invites individual papers and panel proposals of up to three papers. Papers might be in the form of thematic or case studies, cutting across time and space to draw out the larger-scale historical process at work in relation to the conference theme. Contributions ranging from c.1600 to the present are welcome and can be drawn from any geographical area. Contributions from doctoral candidates are an important feature of the Urban History conference and we will once again host a two-stranded new researchers’ forum. The first strand is aimed at those who are midway through a PhD or undertaking early career research project (papers should be the same length as main sessions, but need not be related to the main conference theme). The second strand provides an opportunity for first-year PhD students to present a 10 minute introduction to their topic, archival sources, and historiography. This is an opportunity to obtain feedback from active researchers in the field of Urban History, but also to introduce your work to colleagues in the field.

Abstracts of up to 300 words, including a paper or panel title, name, affiliation and contact details should be submitted to theurbanhistorygroup@gmail.com. Please mark your proposal ‘Main Theme’, ‘New Researchers’ or ‘First Year PhD’ in the subject field and abstract. Those wishing to propose sessions should also provide a brief statement that identifies the ways in which the session will address the conference theme. The final deadline for proposals is 21st Oct 2019.

Bursaries. For postgraduate and unwaged early-career researchers a small number of modest bursaries are available to offset some of the expense associated with conference registration and attendance. Please send an e-mail application to Dr Nick Hayes at nick.hayes@ntu.ac.uk giving details of your current affiliation and/or status. Deadline 7th December 2019. The Urban History Group would like to acknowledge and thank the Economic History Society for its support for these bursaries.

For further details please contact

Conference Organisers

Dr James Greenhalgh

University of Lincoln

Tel: 01522 83 7729

Email: jgreenhalgh@lincoln.ac.uk


Dr Markian Prokopovych

University of Durham

Tel: 0191 33 44357

Email: markian.prokopovych@durham.ac.uk


For New Researchers

Dr Tom Hulme,

Queen’s University, Belfast

Tel: 028 90973312

Email: t.hulme@qub.ac.uk


Website: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/urbanhistory/uhg

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2020 Conference

Items will link when available

  • Call for Papers
  • Venue
  • Costs
  • Registration
  • Conference booklet (including Programme and Abstracts)