Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History

Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History

Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History

Making Cities Global: The Transnational Turn in Urban History


In recent decades, hundreds of millions of people across the world have moved from rural areas to metropolitan regions, some of them crossing national borders on the way. While urbanization and globalization are proceeding with an intensity that seems unprecedented, these are only the most recent iterations of long-term transformations--cities have for centuries served as vital points of contact between different peoples, economies, and cultures. Making Cities Global explores the intertwined development of urbanization and globalization using a historical approach that demonstrates the many forms transnationalism has taken, each shaped by the circumstances of a particular time and place. It also emphasizes that globalization has not been persistent or automatic--many people have been as likely to resist or reject outside connections as to establish or embrace them.

The essays in the collection revolve around three foundational themes. The first is an emphasis on connections among the United States, East and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and South Asia. Second, contributors ground their studies of globalization in the built environments and everyday interactions of the city, because even world-spanning practices must be understood as people experience them in their neighborhoods, workplaces, stores, and streets. Last is a fundamental concern with the role powerful empires and nation-states play in the emergence of globalizing and urbanizing processes.

Making Cities Global argues that combining urban history with a transnational approach leads to a richer understanding of our increasingly interconnected world. In order to achieve prosperity, peace, and sustainability in metropolitan areas in the present and into the future, we must understand their historical origins and development.


Thomas J. Sugrue

It has been nearly two decades since the Organization of American Historians released its La Pietra Report, an influential call for the creation of a transnational or global approach to the nation’s history. the report, drafted by distinguished intellectual and urban historian Thomas Bender in consultation with nearly one hundred major scholars, offered this exhortation: “The lived and experienced connections in transnational space need to be explored— both the channels that facilitate movement and the ruptures, discontinuities, and disarticulations that structure inequalities and constitute the basis for national and other forms of differentiation.” Coming after years of scholarship dominated by place-based case studies in social and cultural history, La Pietra issued a radical historiographical challenge, calling on Americanists “to rethink the scales, temporalities, and networks of historical transformation.”

La Pietra marked a watershed in the field. in recent years, major history departments have conducted searches for faculty specializing in the “United States and the world.” Graduate programs regularly offer transnational or global history tracks, reflecting a reorientation of the profession. Intellectual historians, following Daniel Rodgers, traced Atlantic crossings of ideas of social reform. Scholars of region, immigration, and ethnicity, fields that enjoyed a revival in the early twenty-first century, turned their attention to borderlands and diasporas, rejecting old notions of assimilation and Americanization. Questions of imperialism, colonization, and decolonization moved to the cutting edge of cultural studies. But, with a handful of noteworthy exceptions, urban historians came late to the transnational wave.

Urban history as a field has long been concerned with “scales, temporalities, and networks,” three keywords in the La Pietra Report. But for the majority of American urbanists, the scale was intensely local. For good reasons . . .

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