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What is urban history?

What is urban history?

Ewen, Shane

Urban history is a well-established and flourishing field of historical research. Written by a leading scholar, this short introduction demonstrates how urban history draws upon a wide variety of methodologies and sources, and has been integral to the rise of interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to history since the second half of the twentieth century. Shane Ewen offers an accessible and clearly written guide to the study of urban history for the student, teacher, researcher or general reader who is new to the field and interested in learning about past approaches as well as key themes, concepts and trajectories for future research. He takes a global and comparative viewpoint, combining a discussion of classic texts with the latest literature to illustrate the current debates and controversies across the urban world. The historiography of the field is mapped out by theme, including new topics of interest, with a particular focus on space and social identity, power and governance, the built environment, culture and modernity, and the growth and spread of transnational networking. By discussing a number of historic and fast-growing cities across the world, What is Urban History? demonstrates the importance of the history of urban life to our understanding of the world, both in the present and the future. As a result, urban history remains pivotal for explaining the continued growth of towns and cities in a global context, and is particularly useful for identifying the various problems and solutions faced by fast-growing megacities in the developing world

Paperback, Hardback, Book. English.
Published Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2016

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Statement of responsibility: Shane Ewen
ISBN: 0745652689, 0745652697, 9780745652689, 9780745652696
Note: Formerly CIP.
Note: Includes bibliographical references (pages 129-157) and index.
Physical Description: vii, 173 pages ; 22 cm.
Series: What is history
Subject: Cities and towns Historiography.; Urbanization Historiography.


  1. Introduction: why urban history?
  2. The development of urban history
  3. Cities, spaces, and identities
  4. Governing cities
  5. Cities and the environment
  6. Urban culture and modernity
  7. Transnational urban history.

Author note

Shane Ewen is Senior Lecturer in History at Leeds Beckett University.


"This is a wide-ranging survey which reveals urban history in a European as well as a British context. It is deeply informed, with ideas, approaches and anxieties explained, and shows how urban history opens the way to many histories, illustrated by an innovative section on transnational histories."
Robert Morris, Edinburgh University

"Strongly recommended. Truly international in scope, this much-needed introduction to the field offers a balanced survey of the issues that have engaged urban historians over the past century. It will be welcomed by historians and non-historians alike."
Richard Harris, McMaster University