“Geographies of the Ancient City: Lessons to Learn from Diachronic Comparisons” Call for Papers

Session at RGS-IBG 2014 Annual International Conference, London, August 26-29
Session convened by Benjamin N. Vis (University of Leeds), B.N.Vis10@leeds.ac.uk
Session abstract:
Cities have a diverse history that stretches several millennia. Faced with the challenges of a rapidly urbanising world, urban geography traditionally emphasises the present and future of cities. Historical geography, on the other hand, is criticised for not usually penetrating into the past beyond a couple of centuries (Jones 2004; Lilley 2011), limiting the geographical perspectives and comparisons produced. It therefore is the realm of (ancient) historians and archaeologists to fill the gap left by geographers in the study of cities (Smith 2009). The ancient city has recently been a burgeoning area of research, especially through advances in archaeological data acquisition revealing an increasing diversity of precursory urban patterns (Smith 2003; Atkin & Rykwert 2005; Storey 2006; Marcus & Sabloff 2008; Gates 2011). Contemporary geographical and social perspectives and techniques are regularly utilised to elucidate the urban life and structures of the past (e.g. Lilley et al. 2007; York et al. 2011; Stanley et al. 2012; Vis 2014). However, rarely is research on deeply historical human processes and ‘alternative’ urban traditions brought in direct relation to current global urban issues. Only through the lens of the past can long-term societal processes – the successes and failures of different kinds of urban form, urban life, and sustainability – be better understood and can an evidence-base be built for the planning and interventions, which facilitate social prospering, adaptation, and endurance in urban settings.

It would be of mutual benefit to facilitate an informed dialogue between the historical sciences and present-day urbanists, which could identify the common grounds and formulate appropriate frames of reference and methods for comparisons (e.g. Nijman 2007; Smith 2012). Rigorous comparisons can explicate processes and their determinants as well as revealing the specific regularities and differences between them. Therefore, this session aims to open a direct debate between urban geographers thinking their views and methods offer important cues to the deeper history of cities and the historical geographers thinking their urban research holds relevant lessons for current urbanisation and urban life. These fields of interest will be broadly defined in the context of the ‘comparative social science history’ of cities and contributions from cognate disciplines are warmly welcomed.

Please propose papers by submitting a title and abstract of max. 300 words to the session convenor: Benjamin Vis ( B.N.Vis10@leeds.ac.uk ), by February 3rd 2014. Notification of accepted papers is expected by February 10th 2014.
Please feel free to forward this Call for Papers to anyone who might be interested.

For general information on the conference, please visit:


Atkin, T. and Rykwert, J. (ed.) 2005, _Structure and Meaning in Human Settlement_, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.
Gates, C. 2011[2003], _Ancient Cities: The archaeology of urban life in the ancient Near East and Egypt, Greece, and Rome_, second edition, Routledge, Abingdon.
Jones, R. 2004, “What Time Human Geography?” _Progress in Human Geography_ 28(3): 287-304.
Lilley, K.D. 2011, “Geography’s Medieval History: A neglected enterprise?” _Dialogues in Human Geography_ 1(2): 147-162.
Lilley, K.D., Lloyd, C.D., and Trick, S. 2007, “Designs and Designers of Medieval ‘New Towns’ in Wales,” _Antiquity_ 81: 279-293.
Marcus, J. and Sabloff, J.A. (ed.) 2008, _The Ancient City: New perspectives on urbanism in the Old and New World_, School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe.
Nijman, J. 2007, “Introduction: Comparative urbanism,” _Urban Geography_ 28(1): 1-6.
Smith, M.E. 2009, “Just How Comparative Is Comparative Urban Geography? A perspective from archaeology,” _Urban Geography_ 30(2): 113-117.
Smith, M.E. 2012, “The Role of Ancient Cities in Research on Contemporary Urbanization,” _UGEC Viewpoints_ 8: 15-19.
Smith, M.L. (ed.) 2003, _The Social Construction of Ancient Cities_, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.
Stanley, B.W., Stark, B.L, Johnston, K.L. and Smith, M.E. 2012, “Urban Open Spaces in Historical Perspective: A transdisciplinary typology and analysis,” _Urban Geography_ 33(8): 1089-1117.
Storey, G.R. (ed.) 2006, _Urbanism in the Preindustrial World: Cross-cultural approaches_, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
York, A.M., Smith, M.E., Stanley, B.W., Stark, B.L., Novic, J., Harlan, S.L., Cowgill, G.L. and Boone, C.G. 2011, “Ethnic and Class Clustering through the Ages: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Urban Neighbourhood Social Patterns,” _Urban Studies_ 48(11): 2399-2415.
Vis, B.N. 2014, “Mapping Socio-Spatial Relations in the Urban Built Environment through Time: Describing the socio-spatial significance of inhabiting urban form,” in: Rau, S. and Schönherr, E. (ed.), _Mapping Spatial Relations, their Perceptions and Dynamics: The city today and in the past, Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography_, Springer: 45-93.

Benjamin Vis
University of Leeds