Cities are significant as the locus of people’s direct engagement with the material reality of the everyday world. At the same time, cities are produced through multiple imaginaries, as people struggle to define, explain, and mediate their lived experience. Cities and urban imaginaries exist in a dynamic, iterative relationship: both change over time, laying down residues in landscape, memory, and artifact. In order to study cities, then, we must simultaneously study the idea of the city, for every urban place is at once real and imagined.

This course considers cities at the intersection of the material and the ideal, as the productive tensions between reality and imagination drive urban change. In the end, this is not just a course about cities in history; it is also a course about history in cities—a reckoning of the varied stories that wind through the urban landscape. One of our main goals is to investigate the idea of “histories of urbanisms,” which suggests a plurality of historical narratives as well as of subject matter. Another significant goal is to examine the temporality of the city, and the ways in which the material and the ideal layer, shape, fracture, and transform urban experience.

Term Project

The term project for Urban History Lab is a magazine that was produced together as an annual record of the course. The purpose of the magazine was to provide a venue for students to work collaboratively and to engage in critical analysis, reflection, and conversation about specific topics related to the broad themes of the course. Students were encouraged to cast their net widely for topics and cities from all over the world and in all time periods.