Geography Urban Historical Geography
by
Nick Lombardo, Robert Lewis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0183

Introduction

Urban historical geography is the study of the various social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental processes that have shaped cities. This thematic diversity creates a genuinely interdisciplinary field of study. As a result, many of the key contributions to our understanding of the dynamics creating urban geographies of the past have come from scholars working across the humanities and social sciences, particularly from urban, cultural, and economic geographers, planning and architectural historians, urban historians, and sociologists. Despite this disciplinary variety, urban historical geography is united around an empirical and theoretical focus on cities of the past. It seeks to understand cities as always changing spaces that are both material and socially produced. It is interested in how human and non-human processes have shaped and been shaped by historical moments and transformations taking place in cities. As such, urban historical geography has its roots in the pioneering urban history work carried out by historians and historical geographers in the 1970s. This early work featured critical political economic approaches focused on cities as sites with their own history and not simply as props to human activity. For references that deal with historical geographies of the economy, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Historical Economic Geography.” This largely Anglophone group of scholars turned their attention to understudied groups and phenomena, including labor and the working class, women and families, and immigrant groups who lived and worked in cities. While its roots are in critical historical studies, urban historical geography benefited immensely from the growth of critical geography in Britain, the United States, and Canada. Critical cultural, economic, and social geographies have played a crucial role in imbuing this subfield with a heavy focus on the complicated dynamics of space and place. Outside of Europe, a significant amount of urban historical geography work has studied modern cities (post 1750). Moreover, this subfield’s largely Anglophone roots have meant that a great share of work has focused on North American cities, and, to a lesser extent, former colonial cities in South Asia and Africa. There is very little written in English dealing with Continental Europe, East Asia, or Latin America as a whole, though scholars have recently begun to contribute exciting work on these areas. Urban historical geography’s interdisciplinarity and its critical nature make it an exciting field of inquiry. The study of cities in the past sheds relevant, useful, and timely light on urban life, helping us to better understand cities in the past, present, and future.

Journals

While no journal specializes in publishing urban historical geography work, the subject is well served by publications in history, geography, and planning. All of them frequently publish scholarly research on the themes that engage urban historical geography, including planning, work relations, social class, identity politics, cultural change, and metropolitan development. These journals cover a variety of geographical and temporal areas. The Journal of Urban History and Urban History are the two main journals for work on urban history. Both journals cover the wide gamut of topics published by historical geographers and those in allied disciplines, such as historians and urbanists. Similarly, urban historical geography’s substantial overlap with planning questions is covered by articles found in Planning Perspectives and Journal of Planning History. Studies of mainstream urban historical geography topics can be found in Journal of Historical Geography. Reflecting the sub-discipline’s origins, a range of urban historical geography scholarship is published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers. The broad interest in the histories of urban social, cultural, and economic issues has led historical geographers to publish their work in journals that focus on contemporary work, such as the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research and Urban Geography.

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