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 2020

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.


Registration – hosted by our parent organisation the Economic History Society: https://www.eventsforce.net/ehs/frontend/reg/tOtherPage.csp?pageID=7291&eventID=12&traceRedir=2


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


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

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