Researching the historical spatial cultures of towns and cities: a survey of concepts, methods and case studies

  • Alexander Von Lunen (Speaker)
  • Sam Griffiths (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This paper confronts the recurrent epistemological impasse that arises between research focussing on the description of material built environments and that which is concerned primarily with the people who inhabit, govern and write about cities in the past. A reluctance to engage substantively with this issue, it is argued, has been detrimental to scholarly efforts in urban history to understand the built environment as a meaningful agent of human social experience. This paper draws on examples of interdisciplinary scholarship in urban history across chronological and geographical boundaries in order to show how diverse socio-spatial practices including movement, encounter, play and procession, and also spatial concepts such as distance and proximity do not constitute universal sociological categories but are temporally constituted and historically contingent on the multiple temporal, material and cultural contexts that constitute them. It presents the authors’ own evaluation of various mapping methods associated with Historical GIS, space syntax and ‘digital history’ for urban history research. It is argued that while these techniques solve nothing in themselves they have a contribution to make where scholarly effort is directed towards developing appropriate interpretative frameworks for the kind of mapping operations they perform, such that their contributions can better engage with, rather than (as is sometimes the case) apparently seek to redefine, historical research practice in their own image.
Period1 Apr 2016
Event titleRe-Evaluating the Place of the City in History
Event typeConference
LocationCambridge, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational