Clark, Glenn, Judith Owens and Greg T. Smith (eds.). City Limits: Perspectives on the Historical European City.
City Limits: Perspectives on the Historical European City.
Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010. 396 pp.
ISBN 978-0-7735-3651-7 (cloth).
ISBN 978-0-7735-3652-4 (paper).
City Limits is an interdisciplinary exploration of early modern (i.e., 1300-1800) European cities and historical urban experience through the humanities, including history, literature, art, music and architecture. The outgrowth of a Canadian academic conference held in 2004, it is a rich and rewarding book for all concerned with urban life in its many manifestations. The historical European city that is portrayed here is a dynamic ever-developing phenomenon with limits that change over time and which are experienced differently by the many varied groups that inhabit it.
The editors group the chapters around the three general themes of (1) placing the city; (2) gender, mobility, and the city; and (3) redressing boundaries. These parts, the editors concede, are somewhat arbitrary as there are many points where they intersect--as do their respective chapters. Nevertheless, the chapters of Part 1 concern themselves with producing and sustaining various aspects of urban identity, while Part 2 focuses on personal identity, the identity of cities and the fragmentation of both civic and personal identity, including gender. Part 3 is composed of papers looking at the city in terms of competition, challenge and resistance. Together, the three parts attempt to explore the cultural experience of the city, a dimension of urban history that the editors feel has been relatively unexplored.
The introduction, section prefaces and postscript are all concise, informative, and place the chapters in proper context. Although largely well-written and ably edited, not all chapters will engage each reader to the same extent. With collections of this type, a chapter that is fascinating to one set of readers is too narrowly focused for another; after all, most individual conference sessions are narrowly constructed. However, when one takes a broader view and reads the whole collection, there is a lot to be learned and appreciated from those outside one's own area of interest or expertise. The very first chapter, Christopher R. Friedrichs' "What Made the Eurasian City Work? Urban Political Cultures in Early Modern Europe and Asia," reminds the reader that urban history is by no means entirely European, and the author explores the different ways in which early modern European and Asian cities worked by focusing on their separate socio-political limits. To compare them, he notes that one must overcome a limit to historical imagination.
That is, not only does the city provide limits, but so does the inhabitant (and the reader).
In Part 2, Pam Perkins' "Exploring Edinburgh: Urban Tourism in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain," looks at the juxtapositions of this Scottish city and those of the "Grand Tour" of the continent for the prosperous English elite, as well as of the picturesque Old Town and the elegant new part of the city. She and points out that the mix of a colorful and violent past with the intellectual sophistication of the Enlightenment gives Edinburgh at this time its unique appeal.
Urban tourism also emerges in Part 3 in Saskia Coenen Snyder's fascinating, "Madness in a Magnificent Building: Gentile Responses to Jewish Synagogues in Amsterdam, 1670-1730." Here another type of city limit is apparent: the reactions of Christian tourists to the prominent synagogues built there in the 1670's are seen by this author to be largely reflections of the ideas about Jews that tourists from Holland, Britain, France and Germany brought with them from their own cities. That is, some city limits are set by the observer.
Many other chapters could be mentioned here, but the few contributions discussed above offer a sense of the breadth and variety of the whole volume. Boundaries are crossed in the collection and by the reader, so that one's understanding and appreciation of the city become richer and more textured. In this regard, City Limits would be an excellent addition to the collection of any urban scholar, whatever the field.
Dr. David J. Edelman, Eur Ing SIA/AICP
Professor of Planning
University of Cincinnati
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|Author:||Edelman, David J.|
|Publication:||Canadian Journal of Urban Research|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2010|
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