Call for Papers: Cities and disasters: urban adaptability and resilience in history

Note:  Call for Papers submission deadline extended to June 24, 2016.

The Centre for Metropolitan History, in association with the National Institutes for the Humanities in Japan (NIHU) will be holding a major conference on 3-4 November 2016 which seeks to explore the ways in which cities across time and geographical regions have experienced, and been shaped by, natural disasters and other ‘shocks’. With more than half the world’s population now living in cities, the pressures facing governments, inhabitants and infrastructures are greater than ever. The idea of ‘resilience’ is now at the forefront of debates about urban development, planning, and the future of cities. This is provoked on the one hand by rapid urbanisation and population growth in the developing world in particular, and on the other by growing awareness of the effects of climate change.
Long-term historical perspectives are largely absent from these contemporary policy discussions, yet historians of all periods and countries have much to contribute, because of the enduring nature of city systems (patterns of movement and trade, ideologies of authority, rule and cosmography) and of their capacity to adapt, and to encourage innovation. The individual experiences of cities that grew rapidly in the ancient, medieval and early-modern eras can, for instance, contain important lessons for today’s ‘mega-cities’.
The 350th anniversary of London’s ‘Great Fire’ of 1666 provides an opportunity to reflect more widely on the impact of urban disasters, to bring together scholars working on different periods and countries, and to bring to bear different perspectives (literary, material/archaeological, architectural, historical, cultural, linguistic etc.). The scope of the conference is intended to be broad, but some cross-cutting questions that might be explored include:

  • What have been the responses of cities and their inhabitants to natural disasters? How have individuals used different cultural forms to explain and understand the effects of disasters?
  • How adaptable have cities and their populations been, and what does this mean for our understanding of ‘recovery’ as a phase in urban and wider economic development and for the sustainability of cities as a mode of social, political and economic organisation?
  • To what extent have survival or preventative strategies been implemented as part of coherent visions of how cities should function, and how has this affected civic and communal values?
  • How do we characterise the cultural and intellectual dimensions of urban resilience historically and today? How have these been affected by major changes, such as those brought by the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the industrial revolution/modern urbanisation?

We invite proposals for papers (20 minutes in length) that address these and/or other questions. Proposals should include an abstract (200 words maximum) and a short (half page) CV, and should be sent to

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