What is global urban history?
GUHP (pronounced "gup") is based on a broad understanding of global urban history as encompassing any effort to think of cities as creations or creators of larger-scale or global historical phenomena. It celebrates the fact that scholars approach the intersection of urban and global history from different directions. Some travel along “transnational turns” in various subfields. Others draw on the concept of networks, looking at urban connections across oceans, between colony and metropole, or along trade routes and supply chains. Others see cities as incubators of historical change with potentially global ramifications or think of cities in relation to their variably-sized hinterlands. Others focus on the international travels of a particularly important figure in urban affairs. Some scholars aim mostly to compare different cities. Some projects focus on a single “hub” city, others on two or more cities, still others on cities across an entire regions or empires; and still others aim to synthesize larger world-historical narratives. In short, global urban history, as understood in the GUHP, can comprise many geographical scopes of inquiry and many theoretical inspirations.
Why do we need a Global Urban History Project?
Two observations inspired us in creating this initiative. While there are growing numbers of global urban historians, they are usually minority members of existing professional associations in urban history, areas studies, period studies, or global history. The members of the GUHP Board of Directors demonstrate the variety of scholars involved in global urban history: our chief professional contacts are in Latin American History, Middle Eastern History, U.S. History, European History, International Planning History, East Asian History, Early-Modern Colonial and Atlantic History, and the History of Empires and Decolonization. Contributors to the networks upon which GUHP was founded, that of the Global Urban History blog and the Research Network Global Cities: Past and Present, come from an even wider range of professional homes. The members of GUHP come to us from literally dozens of scholarly associations.
The second observation that guided this project is that global urban historians face research challenges unique to the hybrid nature of their field that require sustained attention and wider networks of collaboration and inspiration. Often, scholars in global urban history encounter, for instance, a need to combine dense archival research on specific localities in the traditional manner of urban historians while also substantiating claims about phenomena that operate on a variety of larger and longer scales, including the world as a whole and from pre-modern times to the present. Global urban historians also have to engage with a variety of historiographies, ranging from the history of capitalism to the history of migration. At the same time, they are confronted with the need for direct and insistent interrogations of Eurocentrism, US-centrism, and other potentially problematic stories of exceptionalism in urban history, including those involving the very definitions of the urban. Last but not least, scholars in global urban history have to critically engage, from the perspective of historians, with decades of highly evolved research and theorizing across the many fields of urban studies pertaining to global cities, globalization, network societies, and “global urbanization.” These observations illustrate some of the specific challenges that scholars in global urban history face. We are convinced that coming together in the GUHP will not only help in identifying these challenges, but also in finding ways to tackle them effectively.
The Global Urban History Project first came into being at the final meeting of the Research Network on Global Cities: Past and Present , convened by Emma Hart (University of St. Andrews) and Mariana Dantas (Ohio University) and hosted by Jessica Roney at Temple University in Philadelphia on February 28, 2017. Michael Goebel (Freie Universität Berlin) represented the editorial team of the Global Urban History blog, which also includes Joseph Ben Prestel (Freie Universität Berlin) and Tracy Neumann (Wayne State University). Other founding members included Nancy Kwak (University of California San Diego) and Carl Nightingale (University at Buffalo, SUNY).
Working with this group as an Organizing Team, Carl Nightingale took the lead in establishing the Project as a tax-exempt organization with its own website and Board of Directors. The goals of the website are to introduce ourselves to each other, promote members’ work, and increase awareness of the Project and its upcoming activities. Over the course of 2017-18 GUHP and its new staff members will reach out to members and prospective members to collect and disseminate course syllabi and bibliographical information of work in the field.
With the launch of this site, scholars in the field are invited to join in the effort to formalize the GUHP and organize activities appropriate to the pursuit of its mission. In addition to creating an online directory based on member profiles and a bibliography resource, we will use our web presence to facilitate face-to-face and electronic conversations and information-sharing relationships between Project members. From there we hope to promote mentorship between the GUHP’s more established and its emerging members, co-sponsor conference panels, and organize independent workshops and professional meetings that showcase work in the field. Finally, when desirable and possible, the GUHP will pool member resources and outside grants to finance all of these activities.
A note on our illustration
Following the lead of the editors of the Global Urban History blog, the designers of this site have chosen a Manila-themed décor. The city has often been cited as the final node in the first truly globe-circling system of imperial exploitation and commerce. As such it facilitated regular movements of people, money, goods, ideas, and power across all three of the world’s major oceans.
The woodcut illustration and maps in the frieze above this page are details from the amazing "Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas" of 1734. Like the work of today's global urban historians, the map allows its readers to move swiftly from intimate street-level dynamics to bird’s eye views of the city to the much larger regional and global geographies that create and are created by the world's cities.
The Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica can be viewed in its entirety at: http://www.imoa.ph/imoawebexhibit/ Source: U.S. Library of Congress (Catalog No. 2013585226; Digital ID g8060 ct003137).