(Urban) Landscape: Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

This session seeks to correct the overlooked position of global precolonial urbanisms, especially pertaining to the Global South, in current versions of postcolonial comparative urban studies. We invite multidisciplinary contributions to articulate and compare the role of indigenous patterns and practices of urban life in crucial regions for global urbanisation: Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Postcolonial comparative urban studies are succeeding in establishing a discourse that welcomes critical perspectives from the Global South. In spite of this, in focusing on contemporary cities it still prevents the preceding precolonial urbanisms from playing a substantive role in contextualising urban development in some of the most crucial regions: Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Especially across the Global South archaeology has recently been revealing an increasing variety of urban forms and organisations and new interpretive approaches are offering alternative perspectives on the realities of past and present urban lives. Simultaneously, the Global South probably contains the greatest variety of informal (peri)urban settlement, adding further diversity to urban vernaculars.

In this session we aim to identify commonalities through diversity. We imagine papers to represent a variety of disciplines, including history, archaeology, urban studies, ethno-history, and architectural history. By bringing together a selection of papers that address the indigenous practices of urban life in precolonial urban traditions, we aim to connect principles of the past to urban anthropology and urban development today. Elucidating vernacular solutions and knowledge that existed prior to the unsustainable principles of globalised urban life first introduced with colonisation, we hope to grow an appreciation for locally appropriate development practices. At the same time, we aim to explore shared characteristics of precolonial urban environments and the continuity of indigenous practices to set out a path for the comparative study of indigenous urban traditions and their historical development processes.

By adopting a cross-cultural comparative perspective, we aim to avoid being blinded by the particularities of any single case and to value shared and transferable practices. Such explorative evaluation of global precolonial urbanism aims to offer a critical historical contextualisation to formal and informal practices of urban development in the Global South.

  • Spokesperson: Benjamin Vis, University of Kent
  • Co-organizer(s): Victor Brunfaut, Université Libre de Bruxelles | Monica Baumanova, University of West Bohemia | Robin Coningham, Durham University
  • Keywords: Precolonial urbanism | Indigenous practice | Comparative urbanism
  • Time period: All periods
  • Topic(s): Architecture and urbanism | Archaeology
  • Study area: More than one continent