Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Pierre Purseigle

Urbanization is a defining feature of modernity and its history. Although the majority of the world population did not live in towns and cities before 2008, the experience of urban life illuminates the making of the modern world. Centres of political power, cultural influence, and economic activities, towns and cities have long played a critical role in global history. Though most if not all of us have personal, direct, and long experiences of city life, defining urbanity as an object of historical inquiry is all but straightforward. Urban history nonetheless continues to be a vibrant and stimulating field of study.

Core reading

N. Kenny, The Feel of the City: Experiences of Urban Transformation (Toronto, 2018).


N.H. Kwak, ‘Understanding “urban” from the disciplinary viewpoint of history’, in D. Iossifova, C. Doll, and A. Gasparatos (eds.), Defining the urban: interdisciplinary and professional perspectives (London - New York, 2018), pp. 53–62.

The following texts may be found in R.T. LeGates and F. Stout (eds.), The city reader, The Routledge urban reader series (London ; New York, 2016).

F. Engels, “The Great Towns” from The conditions of the working class in England in 1844 (1845), 55-62

L. Wirth, “Urbanism as a way of life” from American Journal of Sociology (1938), 116-123

D. Harvey, “The right to the city”, from New Left Review (2008), 272-278

L. Vale, “Resilient cities: clarifying concept or catch-all cliché”, 621-628

Seminar questions

· How should historians define the urban?

· How can historians account for the experience of urban life?

· Is urban history a field of historical inquiry or a sub-discipline of history?

· How can the study of towns and cities contribute to transnational, comparative, or global histories?