Session at the 23rd Congress of the International Congress of Historical Sciences will take place in Poznań, Poland, in August 2020
This session invites the historian to take the city as a social and cultural agent with the capacity to shape individual, communal, regional and national attributes and identities. Contributors will be invited to speak to the proposition that if municipal by-laws and regulations can be seen historically to have regulated city spaces and their usages, how have they at the same time targeted individuals or groups, and given character not only to individual localities, but to their conglomerate formations. The broad theme encourages innovative transnational comparison and is amenable to historians of all periods and places.
Citizenship is usually seen in the context of sovereignty, as a benefit authorised by centralised governments at the level of the nation state. Contemporary usage tends to obscure the word’s etymological origins, which emphasised the now more obsolete meaning of a resident of a town. While the Renaissance saw a broad transition of the individual from subject (of a monarch) to citizen (of a town, and later a nation), the urban origins of the concept should not be entirely lost. This session invites historians of any chronological period or place to attend to the particular role of the city authority, through its regulatory regimes, as an agent that has moulded the modern individual and their social sensibilities. By-laws and city ordinances are often made in response to changing conditions and circumstances (adapting to the challenges of new technologies, or new understandings of disease causation), but their overt or covert effects can be more broad-ranging when it comes to managing human behaviours: in short, what role has the city as a political entity played in the civilising process?
The plethora of local bodies that have overseen the management of urban communities have long and diverse histories going back centuries, though it was the nineteenth century in particular that saw reformist zeal across Britain and various European constituencies, and by extension their colonial possessions (a more devolved system of elected councils in the case of the British; a more centralised system in regard to the French). Municipal governance, therefore, broadly evolved in parallel with, but in contradistinction to, the consolidation of the nation-state, though the jurisdiction of local government is generally subordinate to that of national government. Variously constituted as ‘commune’, ‘municipality’, ‘council area’, or ‘local government authority’, urban local bodies have responsibility for the three Rs of ‘rates, roads and rubbish’, shorthand for a broad suite of responsibilities such as city planning, public lighting, markets, nuisance regulation, slum improvement, public health and sanitation, water supply, and building regulations.
But from the Polish gmina, the Greek demos and the Norwegian kommune, to the Chinese zhíxiáshì, or the Indian nagar palika, the objectives of municipal government to regulate, legitimate and invigilate the public and communal spaces and infrastructures of their citizens have implicitly and explicitly targeted the improvement and modelling of the citizen-individual as much as they have sought to engineer the efficiency of traffic or the flammability of building materials. Often under the guise of public works or the maintenance of cleanliness and order, civic amenity has been code for social reform.
Some example of topics may include (but are not limited to):
- developing international relationships between local government authorities to codify, exchange or compare by-laws
- study tours by municipal officials to glean information about best practice
- analysis of the introduction and policing of specific by-laws targeting public behaviours
- balancing the rights of property owners and ratepayers with those of other citizens or strangers
- understandings of ‘nuisance’, ‘amenity’, ‘public health’, ‘public order’ and/or ‘public space’ as reflected in city ordinances, their policing and their transformations over time
- the ways in which municipal government has shaped the particular character of towns or regions
- urban regulations that have intended or unintended outcomes in terms of gender, class, race, social disadvantage
- the regulation of protests, processions, crowds and public rituals
- how by-laws regulating particular aspects of urban life vary from town to town
- municipal control of the itinerant economy (hawkers and street vendors)
- the regulation of busking and begging
- the application of local laws to ‘clean up’ cities or towns at specific historical moments (such as major events)
Please send title, 300-word abstract and 150-word bio and affiliation details to [email protected] by 31 July 2019.