The Margins of the City? Approaches to Decentring and Decolonising Urban History, 1600 – present (Robinson College, Cambridge)

Tom  Hulme's picture
Call for Papers
March 31, 2022 to April 1, 2022
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Urban History / Studies

The aim of this year’s conference is to reassess the place of marginalised groups and histories in urban history scholarship. Recent debates on decolonising history have challenged accepted narratives of urbanisation from a variety of angles, particularly by emphasising links to histories of imperialism and race. These insights remind us that urbanisation cannot be seen simplistically as a success story of economic and social development, resulting in the emergence of urbanised society with its trade unionism, social welfare and ‘civil society.’ Instead, urban development needs to be put in a global context by taking into account how the capital, artefacts and knowledge derived from colonies contributed to the emergence of early-modern cities and the modern metropolis, and how this model of the functional city was applied to other geographies. Equally, calls to reconsider the place of non-white groups in relation to the debates over commemoration in public spaces have emphasised the importance of reconsidering the place of marginal histories within both scholarship and university curricula. Inspired by the decolonisation debate, this year’s conference encourages scholars of the urban to build upon the long-established tradition of researching urban margins, bringing them to the centre of discussions that go back to, for instance, HJ Dyos’ classic work on the ‘Victorian slum.’ Recent histories stress, for example, failures of urban planning for the most disadvantaged groups and the importance of migrant workers for urbanisation. Gender historians have successfully de-centred male-dominated narratives of urbanisation by bringing in histories of women, whilst ‘queering the city’ and historical geographies of sexuality have become well established. Papers thus might consider groups that have been marginalised in our urban societies by structures of colonialism, or on the basis of class, sexuality, gender identity, religious practice, migrant or refugee status, or disability. Papers might wish to consider patterns of urban governance and planning, marginal and imperial economies and colonial wealth, the role of ecologies and environmental concerns and the relationship of marginality to space and segregation in built environments. Gendered, racial, class and other biases that shape, and continue to condition, our creation and use of towns and cities are thus central to the histories we wish to consider, but are equally important in heritage policy and management, and in ongoing debates over the decolonisation of school and university curricula. Submissions might also consider the boundaries of the term ‘margins’, for example examining the areas of urban history that are on the margins of the field, like homes, domestic environments, transport, as well as transitory and liminal spaces. We thus encourage papers to think about marginality in the broadest and most creative manner, and welcome innovate approaches to the call.

The conference committee invites individual papers and panel proposals of up to three papers. Papers might be in the form of thematic or case studies, cutting across time and space to draw out the larger-scale historical process at work in urban history and urban studies. Contributions ranging from c.1600 to the present are welcome and can be drawn from any geographical area.

New Researchers Strand

Proposals from doctoral candidates and ECRs are an important feature of the Urban History conference and we will once again host a two-stranded new researchers’ forum. The first strand is aimed at those who are midway through a PhD or undertaking early career research project (papers should be the same length as main sessions, but need not be related to the main conference theme). The second strand provides an opportunity for first-year PhD students to present a 10 minute introduction to their topic, archival sources, and historiography. This is an opportunity to obtain feedback from active researchers in the field of Urban History, but also to introduce your work to colleagues in the field.

Abstracts of up to 300 words, including a paper or panel title, name, affiliation and contact details should be submitted to Please mark your proposal ‘Main Theme’, ‘New Researchers’ or ‘First Year PhD’ in the subject field and abstract. Those wishing to propose sessions should also provide a brief statement that summarises the session’s content. The final deadline for proposals is 29th November 2021

Bursaries. Students registered for postgraduate study can obtain a modest bursary on a first come, first served basis to offset expenses associated with conference registration and attendance. Please send an e-mail application to Dr Nick Hayes at and also ask your supervisor to confirm your status as a registered postgraduate student with an e-mail to the same address. The deadline for this is the 13th December 2021. The Urban History Group would like to acknowledge and thank the Economic History Society for its support for these bursaries.

Contact Info: 

Conference Organisers

Dr James Greenhalgh
University of Lincoln
Tel: 01522 83 7729

Dr Markian Prokopovych
University of Durham
Tel: 0191 33 44357

For New Researchers

Dr Tom Hulme,
Queen’s University, Belfast
Tel: 028 90973312