The Pursuit of Global Urban History: A Dialogue Between Two Fields

Global Urban History Project and the Centre for Urban History, Leicester
11.06.2019 - 12.06.2019
Sally Hartshorne

The dramatic rise of global history has had a far-reaching impact on the production of historical knowledge. We are now asked to reflect on the global underpinnings of processes previously studied through the lens of the nation, the region and the local. Yet even as the call of the ‘global’ grows insistent, there have been attempts to reflect on what it means to undertake such an enterprise. The current issue of the Journal of Global History carries a spirited debate on the present and future of the field. These debates have significant ramifications for urban history, where the ‘global turn’ has begun to register an impact. A growing number of urban historians now draw upon the methods and discourse of global history in framing their research agendas. The emergence of the Global Urban History Project is an indicator of this growing synergy.

It is in this context that the Centre for Urban History at Leicester and the Global Urban History Project propose a conference to reflect on the implications for urban history of the ‘global turn’.

The conference has three aims:
Concepts, Methods, Purposes
The conference will consider the protocols of knowledge production that make possible the writing of ‘global’ history. Importantly, it asks: how do we tackle the problem of commensurability across time and space that is an essential basis for the writing of any global history? Accordingly, the organizers invite papers that engage critically with issues pertaining to the concepts, methods and sources that inform global urban histories. Questions include the following:

- What are the conceptual underpinnings of a globalized urban history or an urbanized global history?
- What are the methodological implications of pursuing histories that cut across global space? Must we search for new sources to do this work or simply re-read familiar sources?
- What is the goal of this work, exactly? To produce globally aware microstudies, better comparisons, more connected analyses between individual cities, or new large-scale narratives of cities’ place in global history? If the last, how do we guard against the critiques of such narratives, that they represent mechanisms of totalization and homogenization or that they eplicate Western triumphalism?

Intellectual Genealogies
Secondly, the conference will engage with the intellectual genealogy of the current ‘global turn’ within urban history.

- Given that urban historians have engaged in the past with questions of mobility, networks and flows, how new and radical is the current language of ‘connection’, ‘multi-scalar’, ‘transnational’, and ‘globalization’?
- What are the epistemological and analytical differences between urban historians’ current interest in the global turn and previous analytical frameworks that animated urban history?
- To what extent do we need to revise sweeping and abstract terms imported from the social sciences to suit global histories that foreground the notoriously contingent complexities of urban political, economic and cultural change?

The Global and the Urban
Thirdly, the conference seeks to explore how global history and urban history can mutually enrich each other.

- To what extent can global history elucidate the dynamics of everyday urban life? Is it desirable to translate the dense analysis characteristic of so much urban history to the global scale, and if so how do we do it without being overwhelmed by viewing such large landscapes in that sharp a focus?
- Can the density of political struggle at the urban level, for example, elucidate global history; do neighbourhoods, streets, squares and other urban spaces matter to historical phenomena that operate at the global level?
- How does urban cultural production go global and does it have anything to do with its origins in cities? Is there a place for urban emotions or a history of urban sensory phenomena at the global level?
- Can cities—or other spatial entities—be said to cause or create phenomena operating on a global scale?

The organizers invite proposals for individual presentations (20 minutes) and for panels of 3-4 papers where a theme is explored in detail. We especially encourage applications from scholars working on topics before 1850 and beyond Europe and North America.

Participants will be expected to provide full texts of papers by 1 May 2019. Scholars interested in proposing a presentation should send an abstract (max 250 words) and a two-page CV by 31 October 2018 to Sally Hartshorne,


Sally Hartshorne

The Pursuit of Global Urban History: A Dialogue Between Two Fields, 11.06.2019 – 12.06.2019 Leicester, in: Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists, 27.04.2018, <>.
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