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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 13: The City •

The City

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty

Photo: Emilio Marin


The following sites are a small sample of the websites on urban history that are available. Museums and archives also have websites which may contain useful information. You will find a listing of these on the more resources page. You can also use intute to locate other websites.


BBC History: London's burning: the great fire

The BBC History web page "London's Burning: the Great Fire" is an exploration of the events leading up to and resulting from the great fire of 1666. Ignited at Pudding Lane at the bakery of Thomas Faynor (coincidentally, baker to Charles II), the fire destroyed 373 acres of the city, and left a hundred thousand people homeless. This well-researched essay, written by professional journalist Bruce Robinson, outlines the political background leading up to the fire, introducing the Popish plot believed by many Protestants to have been the cause behind the burning of London. The essay discusses topics such as xenophobic reaction to Catholics and foreigners, as well as post-Restoration concerns.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Borough market privileges: the hinterland of medieval London c.1400

Through the section of British History Online which covers the Borough Market Privileges – the hinterland of Medieval London c.1400 project, 2,300 records relating to markets and trading rights around the capital can be accessed for free. Including information about tolls, licences, debts and goods, it is of use to those studying the economic life of London, southern England and beyond in the late Medieval period. Taken from printed primary sources, mainly the Calendars of Close and Patent Rolls and borough records, the evidence is presented chronologically in a simple table with basic search facilities. The records focus on the period 1370 to 1425, but some relate to the wider period 1200 to 1500. The project was headed by Professor Derek Keene at the Centre for Metropolitan History in 1996-97 and was funded by the Aurelius Trust. The data is published here for the first time. Only relevant information has been included, for example, if a charter also granted other concessions, these are not listed.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Centre for Metropolitan History

The Centre for Metropolitan History (CMH) was established in 1988 and promotes the study and appreciation of London's character and development. The Centre aims to act as a forum for the exchange of ideas on metropolitan history through its seminars, conferences and meetings. It also aims to undertake and promote research into all aspects of London from its beginnings to the present day. Work on providing access to bibliographic data and information on research in progress is also being undertaken. This website provides details of the work of the Centre and its aims. The type of information available includes an online newsletter, copies of annual reports, publication details and outlines of research projects being undertaken. Details of seminars and conferences held by CMH are also provided. The site also gives access to online data. There is for example an online Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516. The site makes use of frames.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

London Metropolitan Archives

The London Metropolitan Archives website provides a variety of information about the facilities that they have to offer. There is some general information about the London Metropolitan Archives and a section with the latest news. Details are given on the location, opening hours, enquiry service and reprographics service. Information is provided on how to make the most of a visit to the archive and also of their family research service. Information leaflets on sources available from the London Metropolitan Archives can be downloaded (in PDF) from the site. These include leaflets on family history, history of nursing, patient records in London hospital and Middlesex Deeds Registry. The site does not provide an online catalogue.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

London Journal

The London Journal is an interdisciplinary journal relating to London's history, economy, sociology, geography, architecture, art and literature. The journal is concerned with London's historical development, contemporary London and London's future. Tables of contents (Volume 20 No. 1 1995 onwards) and abstracts of articles (Volume 24 No. 1 1999 onwards) are available from the site. The London Journal website also provides information about subscribing to the journal.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

London's Past Online

London's Past Online is a bibliographical database of publications on the history of London. The database can be searched by discipline, subject, author, title, journal name, date, place and person. There is also a facility to save searches. The bibliography contains over 30,000 records and will greatly facilitate research by students, postgraduates, archaeologists, local historians and academics as well as anyone with a passing interest in the history of London and urban development. For further ease there is an explanation of field names and how to use the database. The bibliography has been produced by the Centre for Metropolitan History (Institute of Historical Research, University of London) in association with the Royal Historical Society (RHS). The database received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) within the Resource Enhancement scheme.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Museum of London

The Museum of London website provides a host of information about the museum and its collections. The site has details of permanent collections and of past and current exhibitions. The Museum's galleries deal with all aspects of London life. This site provides a taster for the galleries and exhibitions, which include life on and around the Thames from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum has a strong interest in the archaeology of London and this is reflected on the website. There is a section devoted to the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC), which includes a searchable catalogue of London archaeological sites and general information on archaeology in London. The learning section contains information and resources for teachers. Other features of the website include details on opening hours, location, events and news. The site includes a database of oral sources, and contemporary opinions on London and by Londoners. Parts of the site (especially useful for visitors) can also be viewed in German, Spanish, French, and Italian.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

People in place: families, households and housing in London 1550 - 1720

The People in Place: families, households and housing in London 1550 - 1720 website is the online presence of the AHRC funded project of the same name. The result of a prestigious collaboration between the Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research and Birkbeck College, both University of London, and the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, this well presented and easy to use resource allows the user free access to the methods and findings of this project. Concentrating on three areas of London - Cheapside, Aldgate and Clerkenwell - the project considered issues including birth, marriage and death, apprenticeship, housing and disease; it will be useful for anyone interested in the history of London, as well as social and economic historians. The People in Place page sets the project in context. The Research Project page discusses its aims, methodology and sources. Users will find the Project Resources page particularly interesting, as it provides a bibliography, details of the research papers produced and links to the project dataset. The website is well illustrated with maps and graphs.

The Bolles collection on the history of London

Part of the Perseus Digital Library, the website featuring the "Bolles Collection on the History of London" is an excellent online resource for historians of London, cartographers and those researching the literature of London. It features works by Henry Mayhew, Walter Thornbury, Thomas Milbank, and Charles Dickens. Edwin C. Bolles' collection on the History of London spans the founding of the city to the nineteenth century. There are over 8,000 images, and 35 texts, as well as informative maps of the English and British capital. This site is an excellent resource for those with a passing interest in London, or for researchers. The site is shut down daily for over an hour for additions and maintenance work and at the time of cataloguing was experiencing problems. It is a tremendous resource that links to other sections of the Perseus Digital Library.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

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Other UK cities

Cardiff: the building of a capital

The 'Cardiff: The Building of a Capital' website is published by the Glamorgan Record Office, and holds a database of some 40,000 building regulation plans for the city of Cardiff. The plans are for both private and public buildings, with details of schools, cinemas, sports stadia, hotels, public houses, coffee bars, air raid shelters, shops, workhouses, hospitals, officers, factories, churches, mosques, synagogues, and houses, and span from 1857 to the 1960s. The plans can be searched by description, road, architect, developer, date, building type, or plan reference number. In addition to this there is a short history of Cardiff's growth during the 19th and 20th centuries, illustrated with primary source material from the building regulation plans archive. This section covers looking at who moved to Cardiff, why they did, where they lived, and how worship, education and leisure were catered for.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Mapping the Medieval Urban Landscape: Edward I's new towns of England and Wales

This is the website for the Mapping the Medieval Urban Landscape Project, an Arts and Humanities Research Board funded project which was completed in May 2005. The aim of the project was to look at towns founded by Edward I in the late 1200s to attempt to understand the processes by which urban landscapes were created in the Middle Ages. The project looked at 12 towns in Wales and England: Aberystwyth, Harlech, Criccieth, Caernarfon, Newborough, Beaumaris, Conwy, Rhuddlan, Caerwys, Flint, Holt, Overton and Winchelsea. The attractive and easy to use website consists of a number of pages describing the project aims, background, methodology, the people involved, details of the pilot study at Winchelsea and an impressive clickable map of England and Wales allowing you to view maps and a small amount of information on each of the study towns. Fuller reports on the findings of this project are not available here but will be disseminated via the website of the Archaeology Data Service in due course. Not all of the links work.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Medieval English towns

Medieval English Towns provides historic information on the cities and towns of medieval England, especially those in East Anglia. Information is provided for a selection of towns including Norwich, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Colchester, Maldon and York. Also available is a study of governance in six East Anglian towns together with extensive links to further resources: bibliographies; general urban history; architecture; urban economy and society; and a large number of links to online resources about London and other particular English towns, as well as selected sites related to medieval cities outside of England.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City movement

This website publishes on online study of British town planning in the twentieth century, paying particular reference to Welwyn Garden City. The study is well-written, and is illustrated with a number of photographs and plans. It is divided into three main chapters, general planning, residential planning, and density progression. The first chapter looks at the garden city movement, and includes information about Letchworth Garden City, Welwyn Garden City, and Hampstead Garden Suburb. The second and third chapters discuss the subject of the postwar New Town housing project, and the changing priorities in this area caused by the destruction of the Second World War. Also available on the site is a bibliography for further reading.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

The Glasgow story

The Glasgow Story is a rich online resource on the history of this Scottish city. It is published by a partnership of Glasgow based institutions and organisations, including the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, and is funded by the New Opportunities Fund. The site is based around a large number of well-written essays on Glaswegian history, which document the city from its beginnings until the present day. These, and a substantial number of images sourced from libraries, museums and archives, can be searched by keyword. Alternatively users can access the resources by period, or by theme. These include everyday life, culture and leisure, learning and beliefs, trade and communication, industry and technology, buildings and cityscape, neighbourhoods, and personalities.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

The Nineteenth-Century City

This is an excellent resource for both teachers and students. The nineteenth-century city is defined by maps, images, quotes, and statistics at this website. For the purpose of "The Nineteenth-Century City", the 'city' is namely London and Manchester, two of Britain's most dynamic cities during the Industrial Revolution. The nineteenth-century is organized in ten pages, each one focusing on a major aspect of the city and its dwellers. These topics are Population, the Railway, the Great Exhibition, Housing and Health, Work, Education, Law and Order, Fashion, Architecture, and Women/Wives/Widows. Maps illustrate the exponential growth of population in London and Manchester, while descriptions of conditions and statistics are taken from Henry Mayhew's study "London Labour and the London Poor". This website is well designed and a useful tool for studying nineteenth-century urban life.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

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Other European cities

European Association for Urban History

The Association was established in 1989 with the support of the European Union. Conferences are organised every two years. These biannual conferences provides a multidisciplinary forum for historians, sociologists, geographers, anthropologists, art and architectural historians, economists, planners and all others working on different aspects of urban history. The website contains calls for papers and details of previous conferences.

Institute of Urban History, Stockholm

The main purpose of the Institute is to promote research and stimulate interest in urban, municipal and local history. The website lists current research projects and publications and has links to other European urban history institutes.

Paris, ville antique

A beautifully produced interactive guide to the early history of Paris providing a guide to the archaeology and history of the French capital from ancient times to the early Mediaeval period and presented in a hypertext medium. One of the 'Grand sites archéologiques' published by the French Ministry of Culture, an English language version is promised in the future. Although Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation from the 4th-3rd millennia BC is documented at Bercy and beneath the Louvre, the history of Paris really dates from the oppidum, or defended settlement, of the Parisii mentioned (and possibly destroyed?) by Julius Caesar during the Gallic wars in 53–52 BC. The settlement was transformed by the conquering Romans into Lutetia which became one of the largest and most sophisticated cities north of the Alps but which by the 3rd and 4th centuries AD had become a fortified settlement protecting the region from barbarian invasions. Key features of this website include: a history of the town describing its natural setting and indigenous Celtic inhabitants; a guided tour of the city relating the ancient and modern topography within an interactive map; an account of the history of excavation in Paris from the time of Gregory of Tours in the 6th century AD to the more explicitly archaeological work of the Commission du Vieux Paris and the Service Régional de l'Archéologie; sections on daily life, trade, manufacturing and artistic production revealed through artefactual remains; a guide to the museums of Paris where ancient remains and artefacts are displayed. Also included is a useful concise list of key ancient sources and modern publications on the history of Paris and a chronological chart. Apart from its appeal to the general reader, this website is an attractive didactic resource for archaeology students at school and university.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Storia di Venezia

This website provides resources on the history of Venice from the city's foundation to the present day, with a particularly strong focus on Venice from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. The site also covers the broader area of Veneto, with some material relating to Friuli and Lombardy, two Italian regions with which Venice had important relations during the Middle Ages. Available material includes: biographies of leading scholars of Venetian history; articles on Venetian historiography; bibliographies on various aspects of the city's history; information on primary source material; and pertinent web links. There is a section on cinematographic representations of the city, some full-text essays (in PDF format), and an online magazine. Details of conferences, seminars, and other events are also provided. The site is written in Italian, but many of the pages can also be read in English.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

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Non-European urban history

Chicago Historical Society

The home page of the Chicago Historical Society which houses a collection of over 20 million items (artifacts, photographs, drawings, diaries, costumes, sound recordings, film, books, newspapers etc) relating to the history of Chicago, Illinois, USA. This searchable site supplies information for educators, researchers, as well as the general public, on the Society's activities - opening times, how to obtain access to the collections and research center, guided tours, lecture programmes and events - links to other museums, libraries, sources for genealogical information and general history and Chicago sites and a bulletin board. It also provides a gateway to a number of online exhibitions and research projects currently being undertaken on aspects of Chicago's history and items from the Society's collections: Great Chicago Fire of 1871; Dramas of Haymarket, 4 May 1886; Teen Chicago; Wet with Blood - investigating Abraham Lincoln; and History Files - exploring ten of the most famous people and events in Chicago history.

City Sites: multimedia essays on New York and Chicago, 1870s to 1930s

City Sites is an electronic book which uses multimedia technology to provide an innovative approach to the study of literary and visual cultures and spatial forms of New York and Chicago from the 1870s to the 1930s. For each city there is a brief visual introduction (which requires Macromedia Flash Player), ending with an interactive map. The maps provide an entry point to the ten essays which form the main part of the ebook. These include: 'Mapping the "Negro Capital of the World"'; 'Waiting for the Millennium in Times Square'; 'Jacob Riis and New York City's Lower East Side'; 'The Mysteries of Chicago'; 'White City and the Shaping of National Identity, 1883-1905'; and 'Maxwell Street and the Crucible of Culture'. The essays, written by academics from the UK, Europe, and the USA, are fully referenced and include pertinent images. Hyperlinks allow movement across the essays and to external sources. An annotated bibliography and notes on contributors are also provided. A set of four pathways (on architecture, leisure, race, and space) allows the user to follow a particular theme across the individual essays. Although the site is not difficult to use, users will benefit from reading the 'Overview' and 'Navigation' sections before exploring the essays. City Sites is part of the 3Cities research project. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Board, and is based at the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham in the UK.

The Living City

The Living City website is published by the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University. It is an online resource centre for those interested in the development of public health and sanitary engineering in New York City, from 1860-1920. It is essentially a digital library of resources on urban health in nineteenth and early twentieth century America, which can be accessed in several ways. Users can search the site by keyword to locate documents and images, which include reports on the sanitary condition of the city, Sewage Commission reports, and the New York City Department of Health annual reports. The resources can also be accessed by the interactive timeline, or through specially written exhibits, with topics that include cleaning the streets, juvenile street cleaning leagues, and tenement house problems.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Office for Metropolitan History

Founded in 1975 by Christopher Gray, the Office for Metropolitan History provides research on New York City buildings, and embraces a synthetic approach to historical data, bringing together disparate sources in individual collections. Typical projects involve document recovery and reports with a wide variety of purposes, for engineers, architects, lawyers and anyone interested in the evolution of New York's built environment.

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General urban history

The Urban History Association

The Urban History Association was founded in Cincinnati in 1988 for the purpose of stimulating interest and forwarding research and study in the history of the city in all periods and geographical areas. It is affiliated with the International Planning History Society. Its website contains details of its annual conference as well as current and past newsletters of the Association.

The urban past: an international urban history bibliography

'The urban past: an international urban history bibliography' was compiled by Gilbert Stelter from the University of Guelph and was originally designed as a resource for students at this institution. The majority of the citations are to works published in English. The bibliography is divided into the ancient city, the classical city, the medieval city, the early modern city and the modern city. Each section is further divided into geographical sections, making the site easy to navigate. Some links to other Internet resources are included on the site. The site provides a helpful introduction to some of the bibliographic information available on urban history.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Urban Manuscripts Project: privately-owned urban manuscripts, 1300-1476: a database

The Urban Manuscripts Project website describes the project of that name, which aims to produce a database of urban manuscripts that were privately-owned English during the period 1300 and 1476. The stated aims within the broader scope of this project are to discover: who owned books in late-medieval towns (i.e. before the age of printing); what the books contained; who produced the books; and whether there was a distinctive urban literate culture. This database will be of great use to those researching: literacy; medieval cultural and social history; and particular individuals of the period. The final aim is to produce a printed catalogue and searchable database, allowing, for example, analysis of owner's names and occupations. The site provides a useful section of links to other similar projects. This project receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) within the Research Grants scheme.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Centre for Urban History

The website of the Centre for Urban History at the University of Leicester offers a range of online resources, as well as providing information about the study of urban history. The site is divided into three main categories, Courses, Research, and Resources. Courses provides details of the various postgraduate courses taught at the Centre for Urban History, which include taught MAs in Urban History, European Urbanisation and Social History, as well as research MPhils and PhDs, and a range of short postgraduate diploma and certificate courses. The Resources section provides general information about a range of databases and research materials available at the Centre. These include online catalogues for the Centre's library, the East Midlands Oral History Archive, the Dyos collection, and the Small Towns Project. In addition, the Research section lists staff and postgraduate research interests, relevant publications, seminar programmes, and general information about the Centre such as opening hours and the location of resources. Also included on the site is information about how to join the Centre for Urban History, and news of seminars and conferences, and brief introductions to the Centre in German, Finnish, Japanese and Hungarian.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

Architecture and the Self

The website "Concepts of 'Self' in the Theory and Practice of Post-War Architecture and Urbanism" describes a project at Essex University. The project seeks to examine the impact and influence of architecture and design on moulding human behaviour, and the concepts of the self upon which aspects of design are predicated. Particular explanations of the concept of 'self' are discussed as the project team have chosen to define it. The 'Self/Other Self' paradigms of John Locke and David Hume, have been highlighted as well as definitions of the 'Self-Sufficient Self' espoused by Camus, Plato and Descartes. These concepts are applied to the influence of the self by the environment in its political, social, and cultural embodiments. The website provides a detailed methodology of its project, and the six key areas of architecture that the conceptualisations of the self will be applied to: community politics; genius loci and critical regionalism; typology and contextualism; legibility and language; deconstruction; and the global village, Cyberspace and Megalopolis. This project received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) within the research grants scheme.

(Record courtesy of intute.)

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