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date: 02 July 2022


Abstract and Keywords

This book presents a detailed analysis of the evolution of major urban systems in the world from early times to the present. It presents case studies of the main trends in the principal urban systems and offers a comparative analysis of some key variables — power, population and migration, representations, environment, commercial networking, and so on — that help to explicate, distinguish, and interconnect those systems and networks. Developments and processes are examined over three broad periods: the early era from the origins of cities to around 600 ce, the pre-modern era up to the nineteenth century, and the modern and contemporary period, from the nineteenth century to the present time. This introductory article first discusses the value and problems of a comparative approach to the history of cities and a number of the core themes and questions that need to be explored. It then presents a schematic overview of the main trends in urban development from early times to the present.

Keywords: urban systems, history, cities, urban development

In 2008, for the first time, the majority of the world's inhabitants lived in cities rather than the countryside. The world has become, in some measure, truly urban. No less striking is the proliferation of large cities. Currently (2011) there are nearly 500 cities and urban agglomerations with over a million inhabitants, and 26 mega-cities exceeding 10 million, compared to only one city (Edo, modern Tokyo) with about a million people in the early 18th century.1 How has this critical transition come about? How did city systems evolve and interact in the past? What was the role of cities within societies and how did this compare between regions? Why were some urban communities more successful, more creative than others? What did it mean to be a town dweller in Ancient Greece, Meiji Japan, or in industrial and post-industrial Europe? How have urban patterns in the past impacted on those of the contemporary world?

In this Handbook we try to answer these questions through the first detailed analysis of the evolution of major urban systems in the world from early times to the present.2 There is no idea of offering an encyclopaedia of urban developments, even less a conspectus of individual city histories. Rather the strategy is two fold: first, to present case studies of the main trends in the principal urban systems; second, to offer a comparative analysis of some key variables—power, population and migration, representations, environment, commercial networking, and so on—that help to explicate, distinguish, and interconnect those systems and networks. Developments and processes are examined over three broad periods: the early era from the origins of cities to around 600 ce; the pre-modern era up to the 19th century; and the modern and contemporary period, from the 19th century to the present time. Given the complexity and specificity of area developments, the chronological analysis cannot be perfectly synchronized.

This introduction will first discuss the value and problems of a comparative approach to the history of cities and a number of the core themes and questions that need to be explored; and then set out a brief schematic overview of the main trends in urban development from early times to the present, with an introduction to the chapters that follow.

(p. 2) What is clear is that while recent times have seen a growing degree of convergence between urban regions, urban systems, and urban structures across the world, the disparities and differentiation are still very striking. Thus, whereas the Americas, Japan, Europe, and Australasia have urbanization rates well above 70 per cent, the rates in Africa and Asia including the Middle East lag behind. Again the distribution of the urban population living in mega-cities is highly variable—much greater in Asia and the Americas than in Europe or Africa. In terms of the standard of urban life the variations are no less striking. Of the top 30 cities offering the best quality of life in 2007, seven were in Europe, six in North America, and none in Asia or Latin America; again many of the world's leading tourist destinations are located in Europe. On the other hand, almost all the urban agglomerations whose territory exceeds 5,000 km2—decentralized cities often vulnerable to poor civic governance and acute social and environmental problems—are to be found in Asia and Latin America.3

To comprehend these variations and contrasts, we need to understand where cities, urban networks, and urban society have come from: the historic rollercoaster of urban growth, the evolution of urban hierarchies, and the way a range of key factors have shaped the formation of cities and urban networks. We need to be able to compare developments in China, Japan, India, and the Middle East, as well as in Europe, the Americas, and Africa. There is no teleological agenda, no reductionist idea that cities develop along the same trajectory. There are many different types of city, many different urban inventions, most notably in the early period; by later times there may have been greater urban confluence. However, it is the fundamental contention of this work that the comparative study of the world's urban communities in the past is a prerequisite for comprehending contemporary and future urban development on a global basis.

Comparative Approaches to Urban History

We are confronted by many challenges in a comparative approach—related to literature, definition, and conceptualization. First, literature. One of the paradoxes of urban studies, particularly urban history, is that 40 or 50 years ago there was lively interest in comparative research. One early influence came from Robert Park and the Chicago School which tried in the 1920s to construct a general model of the city, but their comparative analysis was superficial and largely geared to American cities. A more important impetus came from the French Annales School which after World War II was increasingly interested in urban studies. Following the example of Fernand Braudel's La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen a l’époque de Philippe II (1949) which compared developments across southern Europe, North Africa, and (fleetingly) parts of the Near East, a series of French area studies shed comparative light on Middle Eastern and European cities with incidental illumination of Indian cities.4

(p. 3) Another major stimulus for comparative research derived from the English translation of Max Weber's The City in 1958. First published in 1921 Weber's study argued strongly for the distinctive civic and communal identity of the European city rooted in its medieval Christian heritage with significant levels of urban autonomy—an ‘urban community in the full meaning of the word’; elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia communal identity and action was variable and incomplete without the distinctive civic burgher leadership of European towns.5 Though his argument has provoked continuing debate (see in particular below, Chs. 9, 12, 21, 23), Weber's work gave important momentum to comparative work on Islamic and Chinese cities.

A third influence in the 1950s and 1960s was the exciting research being done by social anthropologists on, for instance, contemporary American and African towns. This encouraged historians to highlight possible similarities between the cities of early modern Europe and present day urban structures and developments.6 One of the most ambitious attempts to construct a model of the pre-modern city on a global, cross-temporal basis was Gideon Sjoberg's The Preindustrial City, Past and Present published in 1960.7

By the 1980s, however, comparative studies had started to run out of steam—for at least two reasons. One was the post-modernist reaction against broad comparative histories, so-called meta-narratives, as a kind of colonialist construct, an imperialist project. Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) argued that such an approach distorted our understanding of the Middle East and its world (though he says little about cities as such). Subsequent writers were even more critical of comparative area studies.8

Another reason was the extraordinary upsurge from the 1980s of specialist literatures, boosted by the growth of research institutes, specialist journals, and the like. Within Europe, for instance, we recognize a flowering of research by French, German, British, and other national schools. Driven increasingly by the pressures of the academic employment market and public research policies, work of this generation has frequently taken the form of highly specific, close-focused studies.9 Even more problematic has been the way that national research communities have formulated their own distinct agendas of research prioritizing particular periods and themes. Trying to undertake comparative analysis across Europe is thus fraught with difficulty, certain urban topics being completely ignored in some countries but lavishly explored in others. A similar explosion of specialist output on the history of cities has occurred in many countries across the world.

The challenge is how to direct this upsurge of specialist literature into a new comparative analysis of cities. Certainly the last decade or so has seen a revived appetite for comparative urban studies, fed in part by growing interest in globalization and the role of metropolitan cities in that process, and pioneered by sociologists and geographers.10 More recently research on the pre-history of globalization, in which Asianists and economic historians have been influential, has opened up crucial discussions, not just about the so-called Great Divergence between Asia and the West in the late 18th and 19th centuries, but about global living standards, manufacturing, marketing, and much else: in this analysis cities have steadily moved to centre stage.

Other challenges confront the student of global urbanization. Major difficulties are associated with defining what is meant by a city or town. Weber defined cities largely in (p. 4) institutional or communal terms. The German geographer Walter Christaller in the 1930s created a Central Place theory that used the provision of service functions for other settlements as the key criterion for urbanism; work that influenced researchers on China as well as Europe. Demographers like Josiah Russell and Kingsley Davis writing in the post-war era deployed population thresholds to define cities.11 Such simplicity can be treacherously misleading.

Given the great diversity of cities and towns across the world and the important demographic, economic, and other changes between the ancient period and present day, it would seem sensible to adopt a non-prescriptive framework, recognizing the multi-functionality of urban communities over time. On this basis we might expect cities and towns, usually but not invariably, to have a relatively dense population concentration; a range of economic functions; complex social and political structures (but not necessarily institutional ones); a cultural influence extending beyond community borders; and a distinctive built environment—often distinguished by important public buildings and public spaces. But not all these definitional markers would be present at the same time. This kind of catholic definitional matrix avoids the rigid urban modelling that the post-colonialist critics of early comparative studies excoriated. It is not a perfect solution. Contemporary sprawling, mega-city regions do not fit easily into this picture, though at their centre there is often a multi-functional core on this model.

One final set of conceptual issues needs to be raised. As we noted, we are interested in examining and understanding the divergent patterns of urbanization and urban development and how these have been shaped by local circumstances, as well as regional and national variables. But historians are equally interested in the parallels and convergences. Here we need to ask if those similarities, say for example in the ground plans of early cities, often with a gridiron pattern, are the result of common but autarkic human responses to the structural pressures of urbanization (thus the need to deal with traffic congestion, environmental pollution, and the like), and how far they are the effect of ‘connectivity’—the transfer of cultural, commercial, and other ideas.12 As we shall see below, all the signs are that intercontinental connectivity was already affecting some aspects of urban development in the ancient period and was increasingly (albeit not consistently) influential in the pre-modern era, heralding the major interactions of modern and contemporary times.

Turning to the core issues addressed in this book, a central concern is with the pattern of urbanization worldwide. The urbanization process in the past was far from being predictable or sustained. It was characterized by a rollercoaster of developments as waves of expansion were followed by deceleration, even de-urbanization. In the Ancient Period early towns often sprang up independently to meet local needs, but later urban patterns were frequently of wider significance. Of fundamental interest is why expansion (and sometimes contraction) was a general, near-global process at certain times, as in the great era of urban growth reaching from Asia to Europe during the 11th to 14th centuries, but not in others, as in the 17th and 19th centuries, when first Europe, and then later China and India stood outside the main urbanization trends. Regional differentiation at all levels is crucial to understanding the historic trends in urban growth.

(p. 5) The book raises important questions about the drivers of urban development. A number of chapters (especially Chapters 9 and 23) shed light on the tension between market forces, such as agricultural specialization, commercialization, and industrial growth, and the role of power—of rulers, landowners, religions, and later states—in the establishment and promotion of cities. How does the dynamic relationship change across the global scene and over time? Among the other recurring drivers of urban change noted in this book is the impact of competition and cooperation. Rivalry between cities—over resources, trade, population, and much else—was probably influential in the earliest period and remained of vital importance in later eras, increasingly serving as one of the locomotives of globalization. But other chapters reveal how emulation and cooperation among cities, impacting on governance, infrastructure development, cultural life, and above all on urban landscapes, played a vital part both in urban differentiation and in the internationalization of cities.

In whatever region of the world, a shared concern of town dwellers has been with the provision and delivery of urban services. As we shall see, over time those services, whether economic, social, political, or cultural, have fluctuated greatly in type and scale, between cities and urban systems across the world. But no less vital and related are how services are organized: the different types of agency—municipal, state, private, or mixed (including religious and voluntary organizations); and the problems of finance, a critical issue for urban development (see e.g. Chs. 14, 23, 27). What cannot be doubted is that in most, if not all, periods cities make waves in the world around them. Not least, they generate often polarized perceptions or attitudes. From early times, we see how cities attract positive reactions and praise—in literature, songs, maps, paintings, film, and the like. But in certain areas at particular times, cities, and big cities especially, spawn bouts of anti-urbanism, as in late 18th-century Britain, early 20th-century Germany and Russia, and post-independence India and Maoist China.13 What factors lay behind such outbursts and what impact do they have on city development? And when does the contemporary sense of urban hegemony begin?

Such general themes and questions highlight both the plurality and parallelism of urban systems and take us back to the theme of connectivity. If there were a growing measure of convergence and interaction of urban networks from ancient and pre-modern times, what were the main vectors of connectivity? Two at least were critical: diasporas and international trade. While immigration was the life blood of cities (see Chs. 8, 22, 35), offsetting recurrent demographic deficits caused by high mortality, so it seems likely that ethnic migration, often large-scale and long-distance, was a powerful force for internationalism, often linked as in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia, with the growth of transnational trading networks. In the same way overseas commerce may from early times, and certainly by the 14th century, have connected up trading centres, often ports, in East and South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, an interaction which expanded and extended on a world scale in the early modern period (see Ch. 19), even before the huge explosion of global commerce in the 19th and 20th centuries with all its powerful convergent and divisive repercussions (see Chs. 25 et seq.).

(p. 6) Having explained some of the challenges of comparative analysis and also some of the themes and questions that shape this volume, it is time to sketch the main phases of urban development since its origins and relate these to the chapters of the book.14

Urban Trends in Early Times

Cities appear to have originated in Mesopotamia (modern Syria and Iraq) around the 4th millennium bce, then appear in the Nile River valley, and afterwards are found across the Mediterranean world. Cities also emerge on an important scale in the Indus Valley during the mature Harappan era (2600–1900 bce), and in China reached a high point of development by the 3rd millennium bce.

In Chapter 2 Augusta McMahon shows that Mesopotamian cities generally contained planned temple and palace complexes but unplanned neighbourhoods and areas of industry. Many cities were organic developments, with water supply, transport routes, hinterland links, and immigration critical to their development. Fewer were planted political cities, associated with regional states. As elsewhere, Mesopotamian cities experienced cycles of growth and decline: urban development was very much a process. In the Mediterranean region (Ch. 3) we see the emergence of an integrated network of cities (often deliberate foundations) of a density and complexity that would not be matched until the early modern era: as Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and Robin Osborne explain, early Phoenician foundations from the 9th century bce were followed by Greek cities from the 8th century bce and later Roman cities. Communities were self-conscious of their urban identity and city evolution was shaped not just by economic activity (industry, services, and long-distance trade) but by norms of ordered space and relations to power. In the Indus Valley (Ch. 5) four to five major settlements developed into large fortified cities, with some craft industries and involvement in long-distance trade but compared to the Mediterranean and Middle East, urban centres appear the exception rather than the norm; and by the 2nd millennium bce they were all in decline. Although early proto-urban settlements in China date from the 6th millennium bce, by the mid-3rd millennium bce China had experienced, according to Nancy Steinhardt (Ch. 6), an urban revolution: numerous cities appeared often replete with large walled areas, ruling elites, and largely agricultural resources, though with some artisan workshops.

By the 1st century ce, developed urban systems are found in many areas of the world (see Table 1.1 and Regional Maps i.1–5). Urbanization had arrived as a global phenomenon, though most cities and towns were small and town dwellers formed only a minority of populations.

Generally, urban growth was promoted by: movement from the countryside; agrarian improvement; increased political stability; and the expansion of long-distance trade. Thus across the Mediterranean and into the Middle East, mostly under Roman rule, we see a developed hierarchy of settlements led by metropoles like Rome with over a million (p. 7) people and Antioch and Alexandria, each having about half a million, but with a range of provincial capitals, major ports, and smaller cities. As David Mattingly and Kevin MacDonald explain in Ch. 4, cities likewise sprang up across the Sahara (for instance at Jarma), in the Middle Niger and West African forest (thus Ife), and also in the Upper Nile. Such cities demonstrated strong local peculiarities, although as elsewhere state formation and long-range contacts and trade (including long-distance traffic) played a part in their growth. By this time, in northern and western India, the Early Historic Period, urban centres reappeared, albeit with limited continuity with earlier developments—growing in new areas such as the Ganges valley; now, as Cameron Petrie notes (Ch. 5), there was important trade with the Roman world and China, as well as South East Asia. We also find cities flourishing in China under the Western and Eastern Han dynasties (see Ch. 6). Their two great capitals Chang’an and Luoyang were extensively planned with palaces, temples, official buildings, markets, and crafts: Chang’an had around 250,000 people and Luoyang twice that figure. General growth of cities across the country was boosted by trade, strong government, and identification with Chinese culture. Urban developments also spring up elsewhere: for instance, the early Mayan and other Mesoamerican developments in central America.15

Table 1.1 Estimated Urbanization Rates lst Century ce

% urban

Mediterranean Europe: Italy


 whole region


Northern Africa


Middle East


North India




Sources: Ch. 8; further information from David Mattingly, Cameron Petrie, Augusta McMahon, Robin Osborne, Nancy Steinhardt.

While there was great diversity of urban forms, basic forces shaping urban development can be identified. Fundamental to the growth of cities at this time, as in other eras, was migration, although, as Luuk de Ligt explains in Ch. 8, the data are often sparse and difficult to interpret. Still it is likely that with high mortality in cities—due to disease (for instance, malaria, plague) and environmental problems—migration flows were necessarily high to sustain the relatively advanced levels of urbanization (see Table 1.1). Mobility included not only forced movement by war captives and slaves but also voluntary migration by herdsmen, farmers, and craftsmen attracted by economic opportunities and charitable handouts in cities; among the movers were ethnic groups (for instance, Jews and Greeks at Alexandria).

In Ch. 7 David Stone emphasizes the variation in the economies of early cities, highlighting the complexity of relations with the countryside (transfers of surpluses and taxes but also labour services and parasitism), as well as the variable significance of (p. 8) specialist producers, and the powerful economic interaction with ruling elites. He also points to the propensity of early cities to economic decline and disappearance, underlining the rollercoaster nature of urbanization.

Given that many early cities were political constructs, the structures of power and citizenship were evidently vital for urban development. Mario Liverani (Ch. 9) finally puts to rest the conventional comparison—predating Weber—between an Oriental city based on power and a Western city based on citizenship. Instead he argues that whilst structures of power had existed from the first urbanization, communal institutions grew up over time and were generally limited in the ancient world. Political power was frequently associated with religious and ceremonial structures that identified cities as distinct to the countryside, and interacted closely with urban society. But as J.A. Baird indicates (Ch. 10) cities were not only notable for the plurality of religious spaces (such as temples, sanctuaries, procession ways and walls) but the complex temporality and topography of religious and ritual life, serving both to demarcate social groups in the city and position it in wider urban networks, as well as projecting its image to the world. At the same time, the cultural matrix of the urban community was specific and individual—a legitimizing force for the city rather than the ruler.

Together power and culture defined the built environment of cities, and in Ch. 11 Ray Laurence demonstrates that the production of rectilinear urban space in the Roman and Chinese empires was surprisingly similar, albeit with significant differences in creative mentality. Planning was particularly important in the case of the foundation of new cities both in China and the West. But whereas planning was a manifestation of power and cultural vision, it was also a response to the serious environmental problems facing virtually every ancient city such as water supply, sanitation, rubbish clearance, and traffic congestion.

Urban Trends in the Pre-modern Era

For an extended period from the 3rd century ce there was growing instability in the existing urban systems and few indications are found of new urban development. The Graeco-Roman network of cities divided into the Eastern and Western empires and then suffered major decline, especially in the West.16 Across the Middle East Muslim Arab conquests from the 7th century led to short-term upheaval with ancient cities occupied and new ones established. Chinese cities during the Age of Disunion (3rd to 6th centuries) suffered from instability and warfare. New capitals were established and urban fortifications extended, but growth was often short-lived. The Indian picture is obscure: cities after the Gupta kings experienced variations in urban growth, some centres in the north going into decline but others in the south flourishing.17 Generally, political instability—tribal invasions into urban Europe; Muslim invasions of the Byzantine empire; political upheavals in India and China—had an impact. But the spread of pandemics, especially bubonic plague from the 3rd century, decimating populations, disrupting agriculture, and disturbing long-distance trade, equally contributed to the loss of urban traction.18

(p. 9) From the 9th century, however, the urban rollercoaster regained momentum and much of the world seems to have enjoyed an extended period of urban revival. The next three to four hundred years saw an important growth of big cities such as Paris, Baghdad, Hangzhou, and Cairo. Meantime, a massive increase took place in the number of towns, with urban centres, often market towns, founded or growing up in new regions—for instance in Europe, Japan, China, southern India, East Africa, and Central and South America. In Ch. 12 Marc Boone examines the recovery of European towns up to the 14th century with the Mediterranean and Low Countries leading the way, though with towns spreading to hitherto under-urbanized regions such as northern and eastern/central Europe. Crucial was the commercialization of agriculture and intensification of trade, the ambition of rulers, the impact of an expansive Church, and the emerging cultural and intellectual identity of cities. For China, Hilde De Weerdt (Ch. 16) stresses how this period witnessed the development of the social, economic, and cultural specificity of towns, complementing their administrative role. Strong, rapid, dramatic, and uneven urbanization resulted from major demographic shifts, marketization, and commercialization—due to government policy as well as private initiative. In Ch. 14 Dominique Valérian considers the complex nature of the ascendancy of Islamic cities from the 8th century, drawing on late Roman and Byzantine legacies but also powered by militarization under Muslim rule and by their function as a key vehicle in the affirmation and diffusion of Islam. Absence of civic autonomy (except for short-lived episodes) was offset by informal power structures and organizations within the city such as neighbourhoods and waqfs. Strong urban growth in the high Middle Ages, especially in Syria and Egypt, was boosted by heavy rural and ethnic immigration and by international overland trade that benefited from the rise of the Mongol empire stretching from the Middle East to East Asia.

In sum, this second great wave of global urbanization was driven by a number of powerful forces evident in many countries: the widespread growth of populations, helped by a diminution of epidemics; increased agrarian output (due to a combination of more intensive and extensive farming); greater political stability—most notably the creation of the Mongol empire; and linked to this and other developments, the revival and efflorescence of intercontinental trade.19

During the 14th and 15th centuries urban growth lost some of its momentum again and in some areas of the world may have gone into reverse. Demographic decline is evident for a number of the world's leading cities, while few new urban centres were founded. Economically, the disruption of intercontinental, especially overland, trade between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe may have led to the reduced importance of urban industries, though urban services expanded. Influential was the return of plague pandemics from the early 14th century, spreading from China via central Asia to the Middle East and Europe, depressing urban populations, agriculture, and long-distance trade. Also significant was the break-up of the Mongol empire and other forms of political instability in Europe, the Middle East, and India. Yet the picture was varied on the ground. In Europe (see Ch. 12) depopulation meant city buildings became uninhabited and economic life disrupted; but the main urban networks survived, and there was a growth of (p. 10) new services, cultural industries, and luxury trades, as cities in north-west Europe started to outshine those in the Mediterranean.20 In the Middle East (Ch. 14) the impact of plague, devastating military campaigns by the Turko-Mongol Temür (Tamerlane), and the realignment of international trade had a variable effect, Egypt doing better than the Levant.21 In China by contrast (Ch. 17) the political and economic instability during the Yuan–early Ming transition was short-lived, and by the 15th century Chinese cities had recovered much of their earlier dynamic. In Japan too the 14th and early 15th centuries saw urban expansion and new towns established (Ch. 18); and in Latin America Mayan, Aztec, and Inca urban networks appear to have grown in the Yucatán and Guatemala, in the Mexico valley, and in present-day Colombia (see Ch. 20).

The urban rollercoaster lurched forward again during the 16th to 18th centuries. Why? One common factor was renewed agricultural improvement and the increasing sophistication of agrarian trade. Another was the rise of global maritime trade between the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe that provided impetus for industrial production and urban consumption. No less important was the new consolidation of state power in Asia, the Middle East (under the Ottoman and Safavid empires), and in Europe (with the advent of more effective, often centralized states), and the extension of European rule to the Americas.

Notable was the proliferation of large cities in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Many new towns were established—in China, Japan, but also in Europe and Latin America—and there was the development of a necklace of interconnected international port cities from Havana to Manila, Guangzhou, Nagasaki, Batavia, Bombay, Amsterdam, London, and Philadelphia.22 The resurgence of urban growth was particularly remarkable and sustained in China under the later Ming and Qing (as William Rowe explains in Ch. 19), marked by an upsurge of periodic markets and market towns, while the great port of Guangzhou flourished in the 18th century as a hub for international trade.23 (See Regional Map ii.5.) Urbanization was underpinned by the production of bulk staples linked to agricultural commercialization, the expansion of interregional trade and large-scale exports of manufactured goods such as silks and ceramics. Under the Mughal empire from the 1520s northern and central India enjoyed ‘a veritable golden age of urbanization’, with town formation, the growth of a clearly defined urban hierarchy and an urbanization rate of perhaps 10 per cent: all this helped by political stability, expanding internal trade, and buoyant overseas commerce with Asia and Europe, as Indian cottons clothed many of the world's better-off (see Regional Map ii.4).24

By the end of the 18th century the Chinese urban system seemed to be treading water, despite the proliferation of small commercial cities and towns, while in India political fragmentation and instability after the fall of the Mughal empire, together with Western political and commercial penetration of coastal regions disrupted the urban system and privileged colonial port cities at the expense of inland towns.25 Probably the world's most dynamic urban system of the early modern era was in Japan. According to James McClain (Ch. 18), after the end of the 16th century civil wars the Japanese urban system was restructured with the creation of a new administrative capital, Edo (Tokyo), which was home to over a million inhabitants by the 1720s, the (p. 11) rise of important provincial castle towns, and the advent of many market towns (see Regional Map ii.5). At the start of the 18th century the urbanization rate may have reached over 15 per cent. Here little impetus came from overseas trade (strictly regulated from the 1630s) but from agrarian innovation, commercial integration, infrastructure investment and political stability.

The Middle East likewise enjoyed strong urban growth into the 18th century under the dual dominance of the powerful Ottoman and Safavid (Persian) empires, which provided greater security and opportunities for manufactures and international commerce with Asia and Europe (see Regional Map ii.2). Istanbul's population rose to 700,000–800,000 in the late 17th century, and other cities like Aleppo and Izmir also flourished (see Ebru Boyar, Ch. 15). During the 18th century the commercial significance of the region suffered competition from the oceanic trade routes, and some industries lost out to European imports: but there remained significant urbanization and urban prosperity until the last decades of the century.26 As Bruno Blondé and Ilja Van Damme analyse in Ch. 13, Europe experienced the most volatile change, as the urban revival of the 16th and early 17th centuries, signalled by the rise of capital cities in all regions and the foundation of hundreds of new market towns, was succeeded by urban stagnation or decline. Deceleration was caused by economic and political instability, extensive warfare, and high levels of epidemic disease. Recovery in the late 18th century was limited and marked by urbanization from below, including the renewed dynamism of small towns having agrarian and industrial functions and boosted by general population growth (see Regional Map ii.1). Only in England (and later in the southern Low Countries) do we find a new kind of urbanization powered by innovative technology, improved transport, more intensive and productive agriculture, and heavy investment in international trade, most evidently with the Americas but also with Asia. Nonetheless, right across Europe cultural life and material culture were urbanized.27

Across the Atlantic, Spanish conquistadores, (as Felipe Fernández-Armesto explores in Ch. 20) built on limited but important networks of pre-Columbian cities to create one of the most extensive systems of new towns—ports, mining towns, and administrative centres—in the world (see Regional Map ii.6). Initially focused on the extraction of bullion for export to Asia and Europe, by the 18th century the region's thousand or so towns were more concerned with local and international trade in agrarian goods (sugar, tobacco, cocoa, coffee).28 In contrast, up to the end of the 18th century major North American cities were relatively few, all Atlantic ports like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston; and a more developed urban hierarchy including smaller market centres was confined to New England and some of the mid-Atlantic states (see Ch. 27 and Regional Map ii.7). In 1800 a maximum of 6 per cent of people lived in urban communities as most European immigrants settled in rural areas.29 In Africa urban growth as in the past was unstable and mainly clustered in coastal areas: in the Niger area and Gold Coast, influenced by European traffic in slaves, ivory, and imported goods and also by state formation; in East Africa succoured by Islamic and Portuguese trade to the Middle East and across the Indian Ocean; and in the south focused on the Dutch settlement at Cape Town with its global transit activity.30

(p. 12) Patterns of urbanization across the world towards the close of the pre-modern era are illuminated by Regional Maps ii.1–7 and Table 1.2. We can see that city growth is increasingly a global phenomenon, embracing the Americas and South Asia. But even allowing for the problematic population data average rates are relatively low (compare with the equally fragile figures in Table 1.1). Crucial here may be the fact that while the pre-modern era saw the advent of tens of thousands of new small and medium size towns across the world, the number of very large cities (around 1 million) remained tiny: only one or two in the 18th century (Edo and later London).

Table 1.2 Estimates of Urbanization c.1800

% urban








Middle East




South East Asia






North America


Latin America


Sources: Ch. 35: P. Clark, European Cities and Towns 4000–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 128; further information from Leo Lucassen.

Urban growth from the 16th century was propelled by widespread demographic expansion—despite the continuing high incidence of epidemic disease in all major cities. Population growth frequently outran economic expansion and in most cities, as in earlier periods there was endemic poverty (and social inequality), housing shortages, poor nutrition, and morbidity. Recurrent population deficits, as mortality exceeded fertility rates, confirmed the critical reliance on large-scale immigration. As Anne Winter explains in Ch. 22, which compares pre-modern Europe and China, migration was a pervasive feature of urban life. If more forced migration occurred in Asia than Europe, in other ways the typology of mobility was broadly similar, distinguished by: short distance migration of poorer folk often from the countryside; more long-distance intercity movement by merchants, officials, and the like; and ethnic and female migration. Patterns of integration in China may have been less institutional than in Europe with its municipal controls, more dependent on native place associations.

In Ch. 21 Bas van Bavel, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Eltjo Buringh, and Maarten Bosker present a model to compare and contrast the urban economic experience of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East with insights into American development. Here they emphasize the importance of political institutions, particularly more open participatory government and greater urban autonomy, in contributing to the faster economic growth (p. 13) of European cities by the 18th century. They also point to the same factors influencing the rise of the Atlantic urban region in the early modern period, laying the foundations for the first Great Divergence between East and West (see also Ch. 34.) Wim Blockmans and Marjolein ’t Hart (Ch. 23) examine the foundations of urban power in cities which they attribute to a city's independent capacity for resource extraction, and its nexus in the wider framework and balance of power in a society. Relative autonomy and municipal institutions made European communities distinctive, but non-European cities could also develop a voluntaristic public sphere and exploit the opportunities provided by weak rulers. What is evident is that the new consolidation of state power in Asia, the Middle East, and in Europe (with the rise of more effective, often centralized states), and the extension of European rule to the Americas and beyond were crucial to global urban development in the early modern era. Cities became the privileged hubs of expanded state power.

Peter Burke in Ch. 24 highlights the shared experience of cities in pre-modern times as they were perceived and sought to promote their urban identity, whether in terms of the built environment (gates, squares, religious, civic, and other buildings); eulogies and chronicles; or descriptive literature. Though Burke points to the special importance of urban public space in the West, and the contrast between the print cultures of the East Asian and European city and the manuscript culture of its Middle Eastern counterpart, he stresses how parallel trends were influenced by intercity rivalry and increased commercialization. At the heart of contact and exchange between the world's cities were the great ports which played an instrumental role in the transition to proto globalization serving not only intercontinental commerce but acting as gateways to inland and regional trade networks. Chapter 19 by Leonard Blussé focuses on the major ports of South East Asia such as Melaka (later Portuguese Malacca), Spanish Manila, and Dutch Batavia which provided from the end of the 15th century a crucial pivot for that vibrant commerce in manufactures, processed goods, and raw materials between China, India, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe. Complex multicultural communities shaped by power (and increasingly Western colonialism), the ports were vital for the dissemination of religious ideas, representations, and institutions.

Urban Trends in the Modern and Contemporary Period

The end of the 18th century and first part of the 19th opened the door to urban restructuring on a global scale. Before, Asian cities had been among the biggest, most advanced, and most dynamic in the world, but by the early 19th century West European cities were picking up the baton. The so-called Great Divergence was not only of major significance for global economic history but also for the development of urban systems across the world (see Ch. 34). Thus, urbanization began to accelerate in Europe, led by Britain and (p. 14) Belgium, whilst Chinese, Japanese, and Indian rates stabilized or stagnated. But before the 1850s the urban transformation in the West was selective. True, European capital cities like London, Paris, and Brussels grew strongly and there was an upsurge of specialist towns, including new industrial centres, global port cities, and early leisure towns, and the invasive export of colonial towns. Yet European cities retained many traditional features and in consequence they were slow to adapt to the mounting social pressures of urbanization.31 In 1850 the vast majority of humankind still lived outside cities and towns and, even those who were town dwellers for the great part inhabited communities that were essentially pre-modern in organization and environment.

The era from the late 19th century to World War II marked the onset of the third great age of urbanization. According to Andrew and Lynn Lees in Ch. 25, European cities forged ahead on many fronts: in accelerating urbanization rates (reaching 43.8 per cent by 1910); in the proliferation of big cities (123 by 1910, three times the number in 1850); and the creation of new models of urban culture, society, and active municipal governance which had a powerful influence across the world. Though Western Europe led the way, Europe's less urbanized regions in the north and east soon began to catch up.32 Across the Atlantic, as Carl Abbot analyses in Ch. 27, North American cities began to proliferate, leapfrogging from the East Coast to the Midwest to the West Coast, just as the number of great centres increased, along with multiplying specialist industrial and other towns. If the shape of the urban system were already framed before 1870, it was filled in over the next half century. As in Europe, the period up to the early 20th century saw North American cities resolve many of their basic problems of governance and public services and become beacons of modernity. But already by World War II that distinctive car-driven decentralization of American cities was speeding ahead with the proliferation of suburbs, alongside the growing racial heterogeneity and social deprivation of city centres.33

Why was this such a period of urban transformation in the West—as the Great Divergence finally took hold? Both in Europe and North America urban growth was propelled by an increase in natural population as mortality rates declined. Nonetheless rural to town migration remained important, just as international ethnic movement was increasingly significant, especially from Europe to the cities of North America, but also within Europe. Economically, the spread of new technology and rising productivity was vital, but so too was the expansion of the service sector in response to rising urban living standards. Again world commerce, with free trade policies dominant at least until near the close of the 19th century, surged forward, powered by steamships and railways. Not least, the ascendancy of strong national governments in Europe and the United States served to protect and bolster the interests of Western cities in the global marketplace, supporting protectionism when it suited them; elsewhere governments were often weak or under colonial sway.34

Outside Europe and North America, urban systems were slow to expand. In Asia, as Rowe shows (Ch. 17), late Imperial China saw only limited changes with traditional administrative structures, ancient regional patterns, and inter-regional trade countering the dynamic effects of international trade and Western urban models, both centred on (p. 15) the coastal area of the treaty ports35. Under the Chinese Republic (after 1911) the new impetus for Western-style innovation—in industry, urban planning, and culture—was largely stymied by political instability, warfare, and Japanese competition (as Kristin Stapleton argues in Ch. 28). Likewise, South Asia (according to Prashant Kidambi, Ch. 30) experienced urban stagnation during the long 19th century, albeit with spurts of growth—mostly concentrated in imperial ports like Bombay and Calcutta. From the 1930s, however, urbanization was fed by urban economic growth and large-scale migration (in flight from rural deprivation). Likewise under imperial rule, South East Asia similarly enjoyed only limited urban expansion before World War II (Ch. 31).

Japan was the exception. After the Meiji Restoration (1868) urban change was initially slow, but, according to Paul Waley (Ch. 29), from the end of the 19th century Western-style industrialization, along with state reforms, energized modern urbanization—building on the advanced urban system of the early modern era. By the 1920s urbanization rates had reached 18 per cent, the big cities were growing fast (Tokyo, for instance, numbered nearly 4 million at the time of the 1923 earthquake), while the urban infrastructure was modernized with the introduction of town planning and social welfare reforms.36

In the Middle East the impetus for urban growth during the 19th century, exemplified by the revival of Istanbul, Cairo, and Baghdad, stemmed from Ottoman administrative reforms (including the recognition of some municipal autonomy), favourable terms of trade, infrastructure improvements, and the powerful impact of European metropolitan models on urban development and planning (see the analysis by Mercedes Volait and Mohammad al-Asad in Ch. 32). After World War I European colonial rule, political instability and international protectionism stifled most urbanization, though the biggest cities continued to expand. In Africa, as Bill Freund explains (Ch. 33), urban growth remained highly selective, during the 19th century mainly limited to areas of European commercial and colonial intervention—most obviously South, North, and West Africa. Nonetheless, from the 1930s one finds accelerating urbanization across the continent as scrappy colonial towns turned into expansive cities, their growth fuelled by heavy migration from the countryside. In Latin America, the post-independence decades suffered general stagnation, but as Alan Gilbert contends in Ch. 26, from the late 19th century booming Atlantic trade, foreign investment, and European immigration, as well as state formation, led to an urbanization surge in the south and the rise of Buenos Aires, Rio, and Santiago as modern cities; elsewhere urban growth and change were modest in scale. Around 1930 Latin America's urbanization rate still stood at only 14 per cent, but thereafter accelerated sharply. Crucial factors were general demographic increase and the emergence of urban manufactures, encouraging rural movement to town.37

Inaugurating a time of dramatic change, the late 20th century saw the onset of a new urban world. The transformed pattern of global urbanization by 2000 is visible from Table 1.3. It is also highlighted by the Regional Maps iii.1–8. First, after World War II urban growth rates began to rise sharply in East Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, though Africa trailed behind until recent years; by comparison European and North American urbanization rates broadly stagnated from the 1970s—reflecting the onset of the (p. 16) Second Great Divergence in economic and urban development. Secondly, and no less striking, a significant proportion of the accelerated urban growth in the expanding countries was concentrated in a score or so of mega-cities (above 10 million) from Shanghai to Cairo and Mexico City;38 relatively few new towns were founded. Thirdly, the earlier specialist cities—industrial towns and global port cities—suffered serious set-backs, not only in Europe and North America but (where they were established) in Asia too. Lastly, there has been a major expansion of urban services, though with a significant shortfall of provision in many developing countries; even in North America and parts of Europe the major municipal advance of the post-war decades stalled from the 1970s and 1980s, affected by privatization, segmentation, and fragmentation of provision.39

Table 1.3 Estimates of Urbanization c.2000

% urban








Middle East




South East Asia






North America


Latin America


Sources: Ch. 34; P. Clark, European Cities and Towns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 359.

The survey chapters in Part III chart the complexity of the changes. As we can see from Ch. 27, the North American system has experienced major upheaval since the late 20th century: the decay of old industrial cities; the relentless suburbanization of cities (a solid majority of North Americans living there by 1990);40 and problems of municipal finance and governance. No less striking were regional trends: the stagnation of the urban Midwest and the North East, but the new vitality of the Sun-Belt cities of the West and South, buoyed up by immigration, leisure, and defence industries; and the rise of mega-regions (for instance the Boston–Washington corridor and Chicago–Toronto–Pittsburgh cluster) (see Regional Map iii.8). Across the Atlantic, European cities (see Ch. 25) recovered rapidly from World War II and the planned city enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1980s however de-industrialization, mounting social problems associated with unemployment and ethnic immigration, suburban growth, and financial retrenchment have posed major challenges for European cities. Even so, for much of the period up to 2010 they maintained (by global standards) relatively high levels of social cohesion and stability, prosperity, and civic identity.41 By comparison to cities elsewhere European cities are generally striking for their modest size (see Regional Map iii.1).

(p. 17) In the Middle East (see Regional Map iii.2) the scenario is highly regionalized (see Ch. 32). In the Gulf region virtually new cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been created, boosted by gushing oil revenues and powerful state intervention, while in Turkey cities have benefited from increased industrialization and tourism. Elsewhere, most expansion has been concentrated on state capitals and tourist centres (often dual historic and modern cities). Too often, urban development in the post-war era was distorted by the hegemony of state capitals, political instability (warfare and disruption of elites), and the nationalist policies of authoritarian regimes. From the 1990s, however, a new wave of globalization linked to economic liberalization has stimulated renewed urban growth and modernization.42

In China, as Stapleton demonstrates (Ch. 28), the post-war era saw the Communist Party try to remodel and reconstruct cities on the Soviet model and rebalance the urban system away from the coast towards the interior (with, for instance, the establishment of Soviet-style industrial towns). But since the political reforms of the 1980s such policies have been reversed; economic planning has been decentralized and state and foreign investment channelled towards burgeoning port and industrial centres on the south coast: thus the creation of Special Economic Zones at Shenzen and Pudong has triggered the rise of mega-cities with high levels of immigration, housing shortages, pollution, and other problems (see Regional Map iii.5 ) In South Asia too the post-war decades under nationalist governments (with anti-urban sentiment in vogue) led to a slowdown in urban expansion but economic liberalization since the 1990s has contributed to accelerating urban economic growth (see Regional Map iii.4). According to Kidambi (Ch. 30), states have played a vital part in building new capitals and industrial towns, influencing economic policy and restricting civic autonomy. In South East Asia, a similar pattern of delayed development is visible. Since the 1980s, as Howard Dick and Peter Rimmer point out (Ch. 31), there has been an explosion of sprawling large cities, with twenty boasting over a million inhabitants in 2010, including three mega-cities, Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok, with over 10 million (see Regional Map iii.6). Here international trade and state investment have played critical roles, as well as migration from an overcrowded countryside. By comparison, Australian cities have seen more modest but affluent growth, erected on a colonial heritage, Western capital, and immigration, and exploiting the new commercial and industrial opportunities offered by a dynamic East Asia.

In Japan urban development during the late 20th century has been long term and sustained (see Ch. 29 and Regional Map iii.5). Overcoming the destruction caused by World War II, the Japanese landscape was transformed from the 1950s by urbanization and industrialization. Growth was initially based quite widely, though mainly in the Tokaido corridor from Tokyo to Osaka. However, from the 1980s the focus concentrated on the Tokyo metropolitan area, marked by intensive vertical as well as horizontal building development. Sponsored strongly by the state, Tokyo has become the hegemonic capital of Japanese high finance, commerce, and industrial direction, controlling an empire of factories that are increasingly located outside Japan: in consequence some of the leading provincial and older industrial towns in the country have stagnated or declined.43

(p. 18) Outside Asia the most dynamic urbanizing region has been Latin America (see Ch. 26 and Regional Map iii.7). Expansion has been fed by large-scale rural migration to town (up to the 1980s) and structured around the runaway rise of a cohort of six or seven mega-cities—mostly capitals and ports—that have benefited from foreign investment, expanding manufactures, and international trade. Though metropolitan growth is slowing, still in numerous countries the leading city contains a quarter or more of the total population. Metropolitan concentration has left the vast majority of smaller cities and towns marginally integrated into the wider international economy. As elsewhere, the outcomes of mega growth have been mixed: improved living standards, primarily but not exclusively among the urban middle classes, have to be set against widespread pollution, traffic problems, and the urbanization of poverty. In post-colonial Africa (see Regional Map iii.3 ) urban growth was at first strong, driven by high state investment in new capitals and public infrastructure, by exports of raw materials, and by heavy rural immigration; but by the 1980s it had largely ran out of steam due to governmental failures, the changing terms of trade, declining Western support, and falling migration (see Ch. 33). However, recently urbanization has revived in much of Africa, despite limited urban investment or growth of production. Rather, newcomers to the city are attracted by urban entertainment and culture and the superior health and education facilities, as well as government activity, concentrated there.

Behind this reordering of global urban systems in the late 20th century we can identify a number of core determining factors: relative declines in industrial output, technological leadership, and labour productivity in European and North American cities; major population growth in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, leading to large-scale movement from the countryside; expansive global trade, boosted by transport advances and renewed liberalization, but now restructured and more evenly balanced towards non-Western countries; and the growing problem of state–city relations in many parts of Europe and North America.44

A number of these and other issues crucial to understanding the modern and contemporary city are explored in detail in Chs. 3443. On the economic front, Ho-fung Hung and Shaohua Zhan in Ch. 34 compare the rise of urban industry first in England and later Europe in the 19th century and then in China in the late 20th century and discuss possible explanations, among them: the growth of an engineering culture in the West, the rise of dynamic business elites, and state support for business including urban production and overseas trade. At the same time, they stress the importance of inputs from the rural economy, through transfers of surplus agrarian capital to the urban industrial sector, through the role of smaller towns as growth centres, and the importance of cheap workers from rural immigration. However, as many chapters show, modern urban growth since the 19th century has owed as much to the service sector as to manufacturing.

To the present day, cities remain confections of movers. Leo Lucassen (Ch. 35) discusses the importance of migration and ethnicity in modern urban development and pinpoints traditional aspects (links to villages), the high volatility of mobility, the importance of temporary movement, and the fundamental problem of social integration (with (p. 19) a balance of informal assimilative agencies and state policies at play). As Gilbert explains in Ch. 36, migration to cities clearly has a fundamental impact on urban social inequality, serving as one of the vital causes of poverty turning into an urban phenomenon (though with wide variations between regions). At the same time, Gilbert also shows the complex effect of globalization and international capital flows, and contends that while social polarization and segregation have increased, large-scale communal agitation and protest have not. This he attributes to modestly rising living standards and improved welfare provision by states and urban governments in developing countries.

Three further chapters explore the challenges and opportunities presented by modern urbanization. Martin Melosi (Ch. 37) discusses the way that environmental problems in the 19th century—difficulties of sanitation, water supply, pollution, and waste disposal—created by large-scale city growth helped to generate new professional and municipal services, new concepts of social justice, and decisive medical outcomes, including falling mortality rates. Just as environmental issues served to galvanize urban governance in Europe and North America before World War I, he shows how mounting environmental pressures in the fast growth cities of Asia and other developing countries are engendering serious strains but also emerging solutions, often but not invariably borrowed from the West. In Ch. 38, Marjatta Hietala and Peter Clark examine concepts and realities of urban creativity. Using evidence from leading modern innovative cities like Berlin, New York, and Tokyo, as well as from more specialist technology centres such as Bangalore and niche cultural cities like Kingston, Jamaica and Stockholm, they critique the conditions for creative success, among them the important role of agglomeration, labour mobility and diversity, education, the interaction of technology and cultural industries, internationality, and public support. They argue that not all these factors are present in the same place, and stress the role of intercity competition in shaping creative developments, and the significance for leading centres of a reservoir of creative resources fuelling new generations of innovation. While representations have been crucial for massaging the reputation and cultural influence of cities from earlier periods (Ch. 24), Hannu Salmi argues in Ch. 39 that, since the early 20th century, cinema—whether in Europe, Hollywood or more recently Bollywood, and Nollywood (Nigeria)—has been vital in promoting enhanced urban awareness and identity, and defining the image of cities both as glittering theatres of modernity and also as shock cities. Along with new types of media including television and the Internet, film has helped forge the dazzling influence of the city across a globalizing world.

Yet modern urbanization needs to be unpicked. From the late 19th century a growing proportion of the urban population lived in suburbs, and by the late 20th century this became the norm in many parts of the world, though with Europe one of the few exceptions. As Jussi Jauhiainen explains in Ch. 42, suburbs date back to ancient times, but the 19th and 20th centuries saw an incredible explosion of suburbanization. Thus we find self-build shanty towns mushrooming at some time outside almost every major global city—from Paris and Athens, to Bombay, Cairo, and São Paulo—frequently ‘improved’ after the first generation. And many kinds of planned suburbs: terraced and (p. 20) villa suburbs; industrial suburbs; garden suburbs; gated communities; and endlessly sprawling semi-planned suburbs (America's suburbia). Suburbs not only generate problems of social inequality and segregation, they also threaten urban finances, the viability of civic governance, and the efficacy of urban strategic planning. In Ch. 41 Xiangming Chen and Henry Fitts shed light on another almost unstoppable urban phenomenon of the modern era: the growth of metropolitan cities and city-regions, most notably in the United States, East and South East Asia and Latin America (see Regional Maps iii.8, iii.5–7). Their analysis focuses on patterns of social and spatial inequality, the impact of globalization and the problems of governance and finance of such sprawling, over-extended entities, and the implications for transport and infrastructure. Around half of the early 21st-century mega-cities of Asia and elsewhere were previously colonial cities established by the European powers.

In Ch. 40 Thomas Metcalf examines the range of colonial towns—from settler towns (particularly in Africa and Australasia), to imperial port cities, administrative hubs, and resort towns with their small expatriate enclaves and mainly indigenous populations. The urban creations of the different colonial powers had their own national distinctiveness but also important shared features: racial zoning, heavy policing, urban planning, petty regulation, and minimal municipal democracy. Imperial ports also figure in Carola Hein's study of port cities (Ch. 43). Crucial for economic and cultural interaction between urban societies from ancient times, Hein demonstrates how port cities became powerful players in the 19th-century development of international trade and colonization, serving as bustling gateways linking and mobilizing urban networks. But in the late 20th century mechanization and containerization engineered a dramatic shakeout, with the dominance of world trade by a select group of mega-hubs (Hong Kong and Rotterdam, for example) leaving many older ports to struggle to revitalize their economies through waterfront tourism and other service activities. One must never forget that urbanization is a game of winners and losers.

Everything in this book demonstrates that cities and towns are incontrovertible star players in the ‘big history’ of world development described by Penelope Corfield in Ch. 44. As she argues, ‘becoming globally urban is one of our great collective achievements over time’. There is no one Grand Narrative of that process. Cyclical theories of urban growth and decline, Western teleological identifications of cities with progress, and ideas of cities as revolutionary forces, all fail to comprehend the complex permutations and intricacies of the urbanizing process and its impacts. Here Corfield suggests the need to look at cities as both the product of short-term upheavals and deep-seated continuities, as places that manage, adapt to, and thrive on change. From that perspective we can see more clearly some of the critical factors that recur in the chapters of this book and that are fundamental to understanding how the city has been shaped in history: the powerful tensions between the state and market forces, between rulers and cities, and between cities themselves, ever competing with and emulating one another; the restless mobility of urban peoples; the constant remaking of social structures and cultural identity. The book shows how the making of the urban world is not synonymous with the big city, however spectacular the contemporary model, but is constructed from (p. 21) the messy aggregation of many different types and sizes of urban communities. We see from early times the shared interactive experiences of cities—well before contemporary globalizing trends. At the same time, the book explores the nature and effects of urban differentiation and pluralism at every level—regional, national, and local: as important nowadays as in the time of the early cities.

In sum, this Handbook cannot hope to offer a definitive or comprehensive view of global urban history, as was made clear at the start. Rather through the following chapters spanning from ancient times to the present, the aim is to establish a framework for analysis, to open up an arena for comparative discussion and debate, to foreground big issues and questions for further research, to highlight the infinite complexities of urbanization over the longue durée, and to shed a bright, multicoloured spotlight on a subject that will never go away.


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——— Cities in Civilization: Culture, Innovation and Urban Order (London: Weidenfeld, 1998).Find this resource:

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(p. 24) Jackson, K. T., and Schultz, S. K., eds., Cities in American History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 251–352.Find this resource:

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Lo, Fu-Chen, and Yeung, Yue-Man, eds., Globalization and the World of Large Cities (Tokyo: UN University Press, 1998).Find this resource:

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Sjoberg, Gideon, The Preindustrial City, Past and Present (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960).Find this resource:

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(2.) For important earlier studies see Peter Hall's acclaimed pioneering, The World Cities (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966) (a study of four European and four non-European cities), also his later more comprehensive Cities in Civilization: Culture, Innovation and Urban Order (London: Weidenfeld, 1998); Tertius Chandler and Gerald Fox, 3000 Years of Urban Growth (New York: Academic Press, 1974) (demographic analysis); also Paul Bairoch, Cities and Economic Development from the Dawn of History to the Present (London: Mansell, 1988) (mostly concerned with economic development).

(4.) R. Park, The City (with R. D. McKenzie and Ernest Burgess)(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1925); F. Braudel, La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen a l’époque de Philippe II, 2 vols. (Paris: Colin, 1949); L. T. Fawaz and C. A. Bayly, eds., From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 2 et seq.

(5.) M. Weber, The City, ed. D. Martindale and G. Neuwirth (New York: Collier Books, 1962), esp. 88.

(6.) Cf. Peter Burke, ‘Urban History and Urban Anthropology of Early Modern Europe’ in D. Fraser and A. Sutcliffe, eds., The Pursuit of Urban History (London: Edward Arnold, 1983), 69–82.

(7.) G. Sjoberg, The Preindustrial City, Past and Present (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960).

(8.) Fawaz and Bayly, eds., From the Mediterranean, 6; E. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978); see also C. A. Breckenbridge and P. van der Weer, eds., Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).

(9.) Cf. R. Rodger, ed., European Urban History: Prospect and Retrospect (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993); P. J. Corfield, ‘Historians and the Return to the Diachronic’, in G. Harlaftis et al., eds., The New Ways of History: Developments in Historiography. (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2010), 14–15.

(10.) S. Sassen, Global City: New York, London, Tokyo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, 2001); Fu-Chen Lo and Yue-Man Yeung, eds., Globalization and the World of Large Cities (Tokyo: UN University Press, 1998); N. Brenner and R. Keil, eds., The Global Cities Reader (London: Routledge, 2006).

(11.) Walter Christaller, Die zentralen Orte in Süddeutschland (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1933); for Christaller's influence on Chinese historians see, for instance, William Skinner, ed., The City in Late Imperial China (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1977). J. C. Russell, British Medieval Population (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1948); idem, Medieval Regions and their Cities (Newton Abbott: David and Charles, 1972); K. Davis, Urbanization in Latin America (New York: Milbank, 1946); idem, World Urbanization, 1950–1970 (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California, 1969–72).

(12.) Colin Renfrew, ‘The City through Time and Space’, in J. Marcus and J. A. Sabloff, eds., The Ancient City: New Perspectives on Urbanism in the Old and New World (Sante Fe: School for Advanced Research, 2008), 36–7, raises some of these issues but without stressing the significance of connectivity.

(13.) P. Clark, European Cities and Towns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 199, 234, 322–3; Richard G. Fox, ed., Urban India: Society, Space and Image (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1970), 200.

(14.) For more literature references for the next sections see the notes to individual chapters.

(15.) Marcus and Sabloff, eds., The Ancient City, chs. 13–15; also below, Chs. 7, 20.

(16.) G. Brogiolo and B. Ward-Perkins, eds., The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 1999); G. Brogiolo et al., eds, Towns and Their Territories between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2000), C. Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400–800 (Oxford: Oxford Unversity Press, 2003).

(17.) J. Heitzman, The City in South Asia (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008), 34–41.

(18.) On the extensive impact of plague see D.C. Stathakopoulus, Famine and Pesilence in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Empire (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), esp. 111 et seq.

(19.) Cf. N. di Cosmo et al., eds., The Cambridge History of Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), esp. 100 et seq. For the classic account of the the growth of inter-continental trade and other contacts see J. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System AD 1250–1350 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); see also D. A. Agius and I. R. Netton, eds., Across the Mediterranean Frontiers (Turnhout: Brepols, 1997), ch. 1.

(20.) See also Clark, European Cities, 34–7, 105.

(21.) See also D. Behrens-Abouseif, ‘The Mamluk City’, in R. Holod et al., eds., The City in the Islamic World: I (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 296–311.

(22.) See below, Ch. 19: for more see A. Reid, ed., Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era (London: Cornell University Press, 1993).

(23.) E. Cheong, Hong Merchants of Canton 1684–1798 (London: Curzon Press, 1996).

(24.) T. Raychauduri and I. Habib, eds., Cambridge Economic History of India: I 1200–c. 1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 434–54; Heitzman, City, 71 et seq.; G. Riello and T. Roy, eds., How India Clothed the World (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 1–22.

(25.) C. A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars 1770–1870 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 209 et seq.

(26.) E. Eldem et al., eds., The Ottoman City between East and West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 48 et passim; also S. Ozmucur and S. Pamuk, ‘Real Wages and Standards of Living in the Ottoman Empire 1489–1914’, Journal of Economic History, 62: 2 (June, 2002), 316.

(27.) For a somewhat more positive interpretation of European trends before 1800 see Clark, European Cities, 139–57, 217–19.

(28.) Cf. also Jean-Luc Pinol, ed., Histoire de l’Europe urbaine (Paris: Seuil, 2003), II, 287–352.

(29.) G. B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979); S. K. Schultz, ‘The Growth of Urban America in War and Peace 1740–1810’, in W. M. Fowler and W. Coyle, eds., The American Revolution: Changing Perspectives (Boston: NorthEastern University Press, 1979); Clark, European Cities, 136.

(30.) D. M. Anderson and R. Rathbone, eds., Africa's Urban Past (Oxford: James Currey, 2000), 4–6, 67 et seq.

(31.) A. Lees and L. H. Lees, Cities and the Making of Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), chs. 2–4.

(32.) Clark, European Cities, 229, 231–2.

(33.) Cf. K. T. Jackson and S. K. Schultz, eds., Cities in American History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 251–352.

(34.) Lees and Lees, Cities, 48–54 et passim; Clark, European Cities, ch. 13.

(35.) R. Murphey, ‘The Treaty Port and China's Modernization’, in M. Elvin and G. W. Skinner, eds., The Chinese City between Two Worlds (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1974), 20–1, 22–8.

(36.) For Tokyo N. Fiévé and P. Waley, eds., Japanese Cities in Historical Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2003), 26 et seq.

(37.) Cf. L. Bethel, ed., Latin America: Economy and Society 1870–1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 85 et seq.

(38.) Cf. J. Gugler, ed., World Cities beyond the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

(39.) T. Lorrain and G. Stoker, eds., La privatisation des services urbains en Europe (Paris: La Découverte, 1995).

(40.) K. M. Kruse and T. J. Sugrue, eds., The New Suburban History (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006), 1; for more on suburbanization see below, Ch. 42.

(41.) Clark, European Cities, 357–8, 367–9.

(42.) See also Y. Elsheshtawy, ed., Planning Middle Eastern Cities (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004).

(43.) K. Fujita and R. C. Hill, eds., Japanese Cities in the World Economy (Philadelphia: Temple University, 1993), 7–10, 66 et passim.

(44.) P. Bairoch, ‘International Industrialization Levels from 1750–1980’, Journal of European Economic History, 11 (1982), 301–10; see also below, Ch. 34, Table 34.1.