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During this Zoom seminar, Emma Hart (St Andrews) will offer some new perspectives on cities in the Atlantic world during the early modern period. All are welcome to attend.

Detail Summary
Date 21 January 2021
Time 15:30 -16:30

Urban historians like to classify the towns that they study, just as urban inhabitants themselves have always made efforts to rank and describe their places of residence. These preoccupations have given rise to a clutch of well-known urban typologies; port cities, capital cities, resort towns, provincial towns, “first rank” cities, market towns, industrial powerhouses. Without doubt, such labels are very useful. For historians, the way city people chose to describe their place of residence reveals much about how they wanted it to be viewed. When the label is applied by scholars, it can be used to understand a city’s role in the larger urban systems of which it was a part.

Nowhere has this been truer than in the case of port cities, which emerged as the hubs of an Atlantic system of trade and exchange in the era after 1500. These port cities – Liverpool, Bordeaux, Rotterdam, New York, Bahia, Luanda and many others – are most often contemplated as gateways to an Atlantic of connections and communication. The impact of this connectedness on the city itself takes centre stage in the discussions of historians, who focus on the diverse populations, commodities, and cultures that arrived with the vast increase in shipping.

Using the port city paradigm has delivered a rich understanding of the city’s role in the articulation of an Atlantic world. But, I will argue, it also has limitations that historians have not sufficiently recognized. In my talk I will highlight some possible shortcoming of the dominance of the port city paradigm, while also probing whether the idea of the global city, or imperial city, might offer more fruitful frameworks for our exploration of these important places.

About the speaker
Emma Hart is a Professor of Early North American History at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her research focuses on the urban, social, and economic history of colonial British North America. She is also a founding member of the Global Urban History Project and the author of two books; Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World (Virginia, 2010) and Trading Spaces: The Colonial Marketplace and the Foundations of American Capitalism (Chicago, 2019).