Academic journal article Urban History Review

Taking Stock: Perspectives on British Urban History *

Academic journal article Urban History Review

Taking Stock: Perspectives on British Urban History *

Article excerpt


Drawing on an unprecedented volume of recent scholarship on the urban history of Britain, this paper seeks to identify areas for future academic research. These include a closer alignment of intellectual disciplines to cross-fertilise approaches to the historical study of towns and cities; a more resolute engagement by urban historians with audio and visual sources and a generally more coherent archival policy for the contemporary period; further integration of Irish perspectives into the study of British urban history; and a more imaginative analytical framework than town typologies by which to understand the process of urban change. In addition, a number of other areas are suggested, and the article concludes on a positivist note by reflecting on the extent to which the field of British urban history has been consolidated and rendered accessible to specialist historians and general public alike.


En s'appuyant sur une quantite imposante de travaux recents portant sur l'histoire urbaine britannique, l'article s'attarde a cerner des sujets potentiels de recherche universitaire. Parmi ceux-ci, l'auteur suggere : un recoupement des disciplines intellectuelles en vue d'enrichir les approches de l'etude historique des villes; un recours assidu de la part des historiens aux sources visuelles et sonores, et une politique d'archivage vraiment coherente pour la periode contemporaine; une integration poussee des perspectives irlandaises dans l'etude de l'histoire urbaine britannique; et un cadre analytique plus imaginatif que les typologies des villes pour comprendre le processus des transformations urbaines. L'article aborde un grand nombre d'autres thematiques et se termine sur une note factuelle en mentionnant dans quelle mesure le domaine de l'histoire urbaine britannique a gagne en solidite et en accessibilite, tant a l'egard des specialistes de l'histoire que du public en general.


Stock-taking can be both practical and therapeutic. The process allows for calm reflection and forward planning, while its more routine features permit a degree of order to be established. (1) For Britain, uniquely, the publication of the Cambridge Urban History of Britain (CUHB) in 2000 provides such a stock-taking opportunity. (2) Weighing in at ten kilograms, reviewers have begun to have their say about the 75 individual chapters of a work that extends to 2800 pages written by over 90 of the most active and widely published urban historians of British towns and cities. What follows is not a review of this milestone in British urban history, although inevitably some comments do contain something of retrospective character. (3) The tone intended is more a succession of reflections or musings about the directions of British urban history, prompted not only by the publication of the CUHB but also by the 30th anniversary of Urban History. (4) In "Taking Stock" here, the focus is on areas of British urban scholarship that offer scope to advance the field and already seems to be commanding further attention.

Where does the recent publication of almost ten kilos of urban history, thirty years of journal articles in Urban History, and over 35,000 citations (5) leave the subject matter? What does the future hold for the historical analysis of British towns and cities? It is worth stating, first, that since the publication of Dyos' "agenda" and what he described as a "ragged field" (6) forty years ago, an extraordinary volume of analysis and synthesis in urban history has taken place and the CUHB is testimony to the leadership and scholarly stimuli generated since the 1960s. Secondly, given the exponential volume of output of towns and cities since 1968, it is invidious, even mischievous, for one person to suggest research agendas for others, especially when these now extend far beyond the fields of competence of a single individual. Pressed by the editors to do so, however, advice has been sought from a number of individuals in the field and from surveying the archive files of Urban History (7) as well as by trawling book reviews and the annual review of periodical literature in Urban History. …

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