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Meaning and Experience: Urban History from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period

Author(s): Diane Favro

Source: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 58, No. 3, Architectural
History 1999/2000 (Sep., 1999), pp. 364-373
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society of Architectural Historians
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Urban History from Antiquity

to the Early Modern Period



Universityof California,Los Angeles

U jrban

Historyis contestedterritory.Architectural

historians, sociologists, historians, geographers,

economists,and archaeologists,among others, lay
claim to this field. While interdisciplinarityis generally
touted andpraised,the realitiesof Americanuniversityevaluation systems,the confininggraspof historicalperiodicity,
and the focused mission statementsof many journalshave
often hindered crossoverwork. The traditionaldistinction
has been betweenurbanhistorianstrainedin the broaddiscipline of historywho take the human aspect of the city as
their central focus, and architecturalhistorianswho begin
with the physicalaspects.'Only ten yearsago M.J. Daunton
challengedhistorians"tobringarchitectureinto their analysis: it is too importantto be left to architecturalhistorians
who tear it from its context and treat it as a self-contained
discipline."2Fortunately,the bastionsof isolationismwithin
various fields are noticeablycrumbling,sparkedin part by
calls for diversity,inclusionism,and a globalviewpoint.The
resultis an enlighteningexchangeandacknowledgment,even
if sometimes grudgingly made, of research and methods
between differentdisciplinesand, in fact, an outrightblurring of territorialdistinctions.Overall,studies of historical
cities now reveala predilectionfor treatingdisciplinaryand
chronologicalboundariesas permeable.Architecturalhistorians preoccupiedwith the physicalityof cities increasingly
considerurbanenvironmentsholistically,a trendthathasled
to a reinvigoratedinterestin the meaningand experienceof

Following the lead of studies examining the modern

city, broad surveys of urban history display a heightened
self-introspectionaboutthe disciplineand experimentation
with diverse methods and positions.3 For example, Mark
Girouard skillfully blends the methods of humanists and
social scientists in Citiesand People,subtitledA Socialand
History(1985). The two masterfulmetahistories of Spiro Kostof's, The CityShapedand The CityAssembled(1991, 1992),aremodels of comparativeculturalstudies
and thematictypologies. Boastfullyaffirminghis role as an
urbanhistorian,Kostof announceshis intention to consider
"form as a receptacle of meaning."Yet these are not formalist tracts. Kostof persuasivelyargues, "We 'read'form
correctly only to the extent that we are familiarwith the
preciseculturalconditionsthat generatedit." Stressingthat
culture is constructedrather than fixed, he explores commonaltiesin urbanform,meaning,and processacrosstime,
space, and civilizations.In TheCityShaped,Kostof assumes
a bird's-eyeview, examiningcomprehensiveurbanconfigurations,includingthe grid, "organic"patterns,skylines,and
he examinesthe
diagrams(Figure 1). In TheCityAssembled,
primacy built form and
the city as a containerof urbanactivity,unravelingthe broad
patternsexaminedin the firstvolume. Throughout, Kostof
deplores absolutetaxonomiesand abstractedtheories, preferring to highlight the messiness of haphazard,makeshift
urbanprocesses.Thus, he analyzesboth the originalintentions behind Romanurbangridsand the Islamicand Chris-

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Topographyas a determinantof urban

61 Riverinesettlement

63 Naturalharbor

64 Defensivesite
6. Linearridge


66 Hilltop town
67 Sloped terrain




; .....


Figure 1 Analyticaldrawings representing topographyas a determinantof urbanform; figures 62-67 in Spiro Kostof, The CityShaped (Boston,
1991), courtesy RichardTobias

tian medievalmotivationsfor subsequentdistortions.The

focus on processand reception,ratherthan the often idealized moment of creation, has percolated to architectural
history from other disciplines, including art history and
urban geography.The conception of cities as nonstatic is
hardlynew; Plutarchearlyin our millenniumdescribedthe
city as "aliving thing"(Moralia559). What sets these books
apartis the clear,unifyingmessagethat cities transcendhistory, constantly redefining themselves and only rarely
becoming obsolete. Kostof ends the last volume with the
words, "urbantruth is in the flow."
Concernwith the broadflow of urbanhistorycompels
the inclusion of cities from diverse cultures,as evident in
Kostof'sbooks. In many other urban-historysurveys,however,multiculturalgesturesremaininadequate.The expansive Citiesand Civilizations(thirty chaptersand over 1,000
pages)by PeterHall (1998)includesonly one chapterfocusing on a non-Western example.No comparableextensive
surveysof non-Westerncities standas counterpoints.Similarly, a preference for privileged periods also remains
stronglyin evidence.Hall conventionallyfocuseson "golden

urbanages,"with little discussionof less popularor liminal

periodsthat do not comfortablyfit withinperiodcategories.
Duringthe lastfifteenyears,threeclearparadigmshifts
have emerged in books concentratingon cities before the
twentieth century. First is the acknowledgmentthat the
belief in a unilinearmarchtowardmodernizationhas compromised interpretation.Second is the inclusion of small
and relativelyunfamiliarcities. Third is a growingdissatisfactionwith the confiningrestrictionsof periodicityand an
acknowledgmentof the permeabilityof temporalboundaries. Christopher R. Friedrichs aptly represents these
realignments in The Early Modern City 1450-1750 (1995).4

He convincinglyarguesthat historians'preconceptionof a
systematic,unrelentingevolutionfrompremodernto modern conditionshas minimizedconsiderationof some localized eventsanddevelopmentsoff the prescribedprogressive
path, and also fostered a distortedview of progressitself.
Friedrichs examines cities ranging in size from 1,000 to
500,000 and includesnumerousexamplesfrom outsidethe
standard canon (e.g., Zell am Harmersbach,Germany).
With equallyexpansivechronologicalparameters,he conMEANING AND EXPERIENCE

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sidersthe longuedurie.Moving beyondindividualcasestudies in specificperiods,Friedrichsidentifiesan "urbancharacter" shared by European cities over three centuries,
thoughcautiouslyacknowledgingthe methodologicalproblems of synthetic comparison.In the first chapter,readers
accompany a woman on a meticulously researchedwalk
through Munich in 1574; in the last they trace the documented wanderings of a young girl through London in
1631. By focusing on urban experience, these narrative
"bookends"revealthe enduringcommonaltiesexhibitedby
earlymodernEuropeancities, in contradistinctionto more
obviousstylisticandformaldissimilarities.Thus Friedrichs,
like Kostof, directsattentionto the flow,findingmeaningin
the life of cities.5
In the 1980s, a perceivedlack of meaning in contemporarycityscapeswas heightened by the inability of postmodernismto fill this gap despiteits historicalpretensions.
Reacting to this situation, architecturalhistorians joined
urbandesignersin a searchto understandhow culturalcontent was embeddedin urbanform.This path of inquiryhas
now become a superhighwayapproachedfrom on ramps
originatingin semiotics,criticaltheory,culturalgeography,
in diagrammaticlayouts, are obvious conveyors of meaning, a topic explored by Kostof, among others. Recent
research has expandedthe quest for abstractmeaning to
encompassin-depth analysisof urbanrepresentationsand
the sense of a place.
Depictions of urbanenvironmentsin maps, art, texts,
andexhibitionsdistillcontemporaryideasaboutcities.During the periods before expanded communications these
images frequently reached larger audiences than did the
by Baxandall'ssecond thoughts about transgressing the
boundarybetween "art"and "society,"architecturalhistoriansin recentyearshaveundertakena freshcombinationof
art and cultural,social, and intellectualhistory when considering urban images. This interdisciplinaryapproachis
leading researchersdown new paths of inquiry,each with
unique researchadvantagesand liabilities.
Like the universalizingapproachof Kostof, consideration of two-dimensionalmaps and vedutifocuses attention
on cities as a whole, ratherthan on components.Such representations,however,offer far more than the opportunity
to glimpsethe city as a whole. Filteredthroughthe eye and
mind of the image-maker,patron, and viewer, they reveal
contemporaryinterpretationsas well as ideological biases.
PlanninghistorianJohnW. Repshas championedthe use of
topographicurbanviews and city plans for understanding
earlyAmericancities. Displayingminutedetail,these urban


/ 58:3,






of a greatcityby InigoJones, in M.ChrisFigure2 Representation

tine Boyer,TheCityof CollectiveMemory(Cambridge,
p. 89, courtesyMITPress

imagesprovidevaluabledataon buildingsof everysize and

stature, yet initially researchersused them primarilyto
study urbanpatternmakingand technicalaspectsof urban
observation.More recently, Reps and others have moved
beyondthe seductivenessof the printsto explorethe potent
connections among urban form, culture, and image.6In
Bird's-EyeViews(1998), Reps considersthe authorialpose,
background,andcommercialaspirationsof the printmakers
andclients,aswell asthe impactof the viewson the residents
of the cities depicted.M. ChristineBoyeranalyzesa broader
Memory(1994).Takrangeof imagesin TheCityof Collective
ing Halbwachs'spresentistinterpretationof collectivememory, she investigates how different eras conveyed
vistas(FigRenaissanceurbantableauxto eighteenth-century
ure 2). These premodernexamplessupportBoyer'slengthy
examinationof panoramas,photographs,travelliterature,and
museum villages from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.Conversely,the investigationof modernurbanviews
disclosesissuesandmethodologiesapplicableto the studyof
earlierimagery.Boyer considershow the pictorializationof
cities revealsthe biasesof the commissioningpatrons,most
of whom preferredcontrivedhistoricalnarrativesand sanitizedurbanviewsundefiledby the dirtinessof political,social,
and economic realities.The popularityof city views promoted the commodificationof the city as an objectof mass
entertainment.Boyertraceshow this phenomenonresulted
on the one hand in orderly,aestheticizedvisions of the city
programmedwith purifiedhistorical content, and on the
other,in contrivedtheme-park-likeenvironments.
A counterpoiseto authorialintentionis foundin books
examiningimagesof urbanlife and nonmonumentalbuild-


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ings in order to present historyfrom the bottom up. As an

outgrowthof the "new"social historyof the 1980s, anthropologists, sociologists,social historians,and especiallygeographersreconceptualizedviews of urbanspace in terms of
socialrelations.7Again,the best examplesdealwith the early
modern city. Thus, in Silver Cities(1984) Peter B. Hales
exploreshow urbanphotographssimultaneouslyadvanced
prevailingsocialandarchitecturalvalues(asin the idealizing
images by C. D. Arnoldof the World'sColumbianExposition in Chicago),andpresentedcontrastingcritiques(aswith
the grittyrealistphotographsby social activistJacob Riis).
For earliercenturies,dissectionof textualand pictorial
urbanrepresentationshas not yet attainedthe sophistication
or sheerquantityof those centeredon the modem city.Most
work in this area remains entrenchedin other disciplines,
with limitedsuccessfulinterdisciplinarycrossover.In A DistantCity(1991), arthistorianChiaraFrugoniconsiderswhy
andhow literaryandpictorialrepresentationsfrom the Italian Middle Ages reflected contemporaryattitudes toward
the secularcity. She championsthe familiarbelief in a progression from conventions (medieval)to realism (Renaissance) in both verbal and pictorial representations, yet
broadensthe discourseto evaluateurbanexperienceas well
as built form in such worksas the Sienese pictorialcycle of
cities by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Unfortunately the maxim
"She who practicesinterdisciplinaritypleases no one" still
rings true. Navigating the disputedterritorybetween textual dissection,art analyses,and examinationsof the physical realm, Frugoni found many land mines, especially
regardingher interpretationof the masterworkby Lorenzetti.8Hilary Ballon'sTheParisofHenriIV(1991) is a more
successfulexampleof integration.Drawinguponvariousdisciplinesto conducta carefulanalysisof Parisianmaps,views,
and panegyrics,she demonstrateshow the graphiclayout,
renderingconventions,and text of cartographicrepresentations conveyedboth the monarchicalidealsof Henry IV and
his growingawarenessof the city as a comprehensivewhole
that could be submittedto a unifieddesign. As a result, the
reader comes to understandboth the human aspirations
behind city making,and the advantagesto the architectural
historianof exploitingculturalhistory.
In contrastto the interdisciplinarity
ofFrugoni andBallon standpersistentexamplesof scholarlyterritoriality.The
well-researchedworksby classicistsCatherineEdwardsand
MaryJaegerably considerthe structureand meaningof literarytextsreferringto the ancientcity,yet displaya disciplinarymyopiaregardingthe builtrealm(see Edwards,Writing

refer,leavingthe readerwith littleunderstandingof the actual

environments.9Furthermore,they do not incorporatemethods or issues from other disciplines,includingarchitecture,
where the influence of narratologyand criticaltheory has
resultedin the interpretationof urbanenvironmentsas legible texts.Earlysemioticreadingsof modernurbanenvironments in the 1970s have been followed by analyses of
premoderncities.10In FromSignsto Design(1990), Charles
Burroughsrevealsthe readabletext embeddedin the built
environment of Early Renaissance Rome, articulating a
model of culturalmediationandproductiondistinctfromthe
standardnotion of patronageas a unilateraltransaction.11
Distinctly different from pictorial and literarydepictions, three-dimensional(often temporary)re-creationsof
historicurbanenvironmentsofferthe appealandimmediacy
of tangibility.In addition, even more than conventional,
durablebuildings,they were generallycreatedspecificallyto
disseminateculturalideas.The full-scaleenvironmentscreatedfor earlymodem internationalexpositionshavegarnered
the attention of researchersin the last two decades. Outstandingamongthese is Zeynep Qelik'sDisplayingtheOrient
(1992). Basing her analysis upon rich photographic and
archivalsources,she showshow the "oriental"
at expositionsconveyednot only the exoticismof "theother"
but also the self-craftedidentityfashionedby Muslim sponsors. Significantly,the atavisticenvironmentspresentedat
fairsattemptedto replicatenot only the actualbuildingsand
composites of architecturalforms in the sponsoringcountries, but also the full-bodiedexperienceof visiting foreign
cities, repletewith nativesat work, indigenousanimals,and
evocative sounds and smells. Such explorationsof threedimensionalurbanre-creationsin the modern period have
stimulatedrenewedinterestin premodernurbanexamples.12
A number of researchersare exploring city models from
antiquity, emphasizing the urban simulacra displayed in
Roman triumphsand the famousre-creationsof cities displayed in Nero's Domus Aurea.13Others are analyzing
Renaissancetemporarydisplaysto determinetheir contemporarymeaningand subsequentimpacton urbandesign.14
Study of the intensified perception of three-dimensional urban re-creations has refocused attention on the
sensorial and social experience of past cities. Anthropologists and cultural geographersfirst pioneered researchin
this area,seeking,as CliffordGeertz advocates,the "authorUnable to conductinterviewswith the
ity of being there."'15
originalusers of historicalenvironments,architecturalhistorianshave favoredvision over sensory,emotive, or social

Rome: TextualApproachesto the City [Cambridge, 1996], and

Jaeger,Livy's WrittenRome [AnnArbor,1997]).The authors

experiential receptors. In The Architecture of the Roman

Empire. II: An Urban Appraisal (1986), William L. Mac-

rarelyconsiderthe physicalform, to which the ancienttexts

Donald examinesbuildingswithin the visualcontext of the


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- - - - 7P~mr,7
-- -

Figure 3 Axonometricview of
17 in WilliamL. MacDonald,
The Architectureof the Roman

00~0. 00

Empire,vol. 2 (New Haven,

1986), courtesy YaleUniversity

~ lop


ancient city. Eschewing a chronological or stylistic analysis

of building types or urban plans, he considers the nuances
of visual perception and its impact on cognition. Such a formalistic approach reveals pan-Empire urban commonalties
in the choreography of major streets, characterized by MacDonald as "urban armatures" (Figure 3). By allowing the
architecture to speak for itself, apart from the cacophony of
voices imposed by users, patrons, and regional traditions,
MacDonald is able to emphasize the visual, theatrical
framework of flowing spaces and moving surfaces that
enlivened and epitomized the Roman city.16Marvin Trachtenberg takes the art, or rather the science, of visual perception as the starting point for the urban analysis of a late
medieval city in his award-winning Dominion of the Eye
(1997). He convincingly argues that trecento Italian urban
designers, along with artists and sculptors, were familiar
with optical theory. They created irregular piazzas not
because they lacked training in Euclidean geometry, but
because they sought to privilege certain views by manipulating the spectators' visual field (Figure 4).17 Expanding his
argument beyond the formalistic approach of MacDonald,
Trachtenberg explores the intellectual, artistic, social, political, and economic underpinnings for such visual manipulation. He undertakes what one reviewer has labeled "a
neo-Marxist-Foucauldian" reading to argue that the public
piazza served as an acknowledged apparatus for the spatiovisual production of power.'8 Yet, despite the broad integration of sociopolitical issues into the discourse on visual
perception, the diachronic experience of the original
observers and shapers of optimum urban views remains elusive. The reader longs to know how urban planners and
patrons implemented their optically based designs over sev368


/ 58:3,



eral decades and how reactions differed among spectators

from differentclasses.
Throughout currentstudiesof the premoderncity,the
voices of lower-class residents, women, and children are
muted. While art historianshave extensivelyexaminedthe
impact of social stratificationson art, architecturalhistorians dealing with early cities have only just begun to considerthe complexinterplayof urbanform and diversesocial
classes. In part this lacuna is the result of limited source
material documenting the perceptions of these groups.
Scholarsare now criticallyreexaminingarchives,pictorial
sources,diaries,and archaeologicaldatato give voice to the
unheard.19 Initial investigations into the reactions of
nonelite residentstend to considerproscribedsubjectssuch
as specific building types; however, panurbanstudies are
beginning to appear,as seen with the narrativesof females
walkingthrough the city presentedby Friedrichs.20
Optical studies of urban experiences, coupled with
recentdevelopmentsin receptiontheoryandculturalanthropology, have renewedinterestin both dailyand exceptional
ritualsin the premoderncity.In RomanPompeii(1994), Ray
Laurenceexploreshow the quotidianprocessionsof elite residents and their clients impacted the distributionof residencesandcivicbuildingsthroughoutthe city.21Researchon
RenaissanceandBaroquecivic festivalsrevealshow complex
social factors shape architecturaldevelopment and imbue
urbanspaceswith historicalmeanings.The expansivedocumentation and exhibition programof the Centro di Studi
sullaCulturae l'Immaginedi Romahasgreatlyboostedstudy
in this field, as representedby the interpretivecatalogueon
Renaissancefestivalsedited by Marcello Fagiolo.22In this
anthology,the authorsconsiderhow festivalsintegratedthe


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The site-specific associationsof meaning are also featuredin the burgeoninginterdisciplinaryfield of placestudies, which distinguishes "place"as the setting in which
society and spacearemutuallyconstituted.24 An individual's
sense of place is composedof both culturalimpositionsand
sensorial,biological responsesto physicalenvironments;it
is this potent connection that imbues "place"with power as
a receptacle of memory. In a multivolume publication on
French constructionsof memory,PierreNora underscores
the ability of physical sites and constructions, as well as
moments and ideas, to establish themselves as lieux de
memoire.25Architecturalhistoriansarenow joining cultural
geographersin consideringthe memory of a city'slife to be
a manipulableconstructclosely tied to physicallocales. In
The Antiquarianand the Myth of Antiquity(1993), Philip
Jacks traces how humanistscrafteda revisionisthistory of
" \""
Rome's ancient foundation based on polemics and the
power of the place.The retextualizedlife storyof Rome was
groundedin pastevents,civicinstitutions,and,especially,in
the potent power emitted by the geniuslociassociatedwith
classical sites. Patricia Fortini Brown also explores the
potent nexusbetween place and historyin Venice
andAntiquity(1997). She revealshow the Venetians,lackinga classical past, were unable to build on ancient geniuses of place;
insteadthey exploited architecturalstyles and motifs, reinFigure 4 Analysis of viewing angles of Piazzadella Signoria,Florence,
terpreting extant Byzantine buildings and elements, and
crafted in the trecento; figure 94 in MarvinTrachtenberg,Dominionof
commissioningclassical-styleprojectsto impose an approthe Eye (Cambridge,1997)
priateheritageonto their city.
The introspective posture of contemporary fin-deof
siecle researchhas promptedinterest not only in how past
the spacesof dailyactivity)with the aimsof the wealthysec- cultures recontextualizedurban places in history, but also
ularandpiouspatronsof the events.23Overwhelmedby hun- in how contemporaryresearcherscan use the past to infludredsof festivitiesstaged each year,Rome'spiazzasbecame ence the design of today'scities. Current debates over the
elite battlegroundsfor the affectionof the urbanpopulace construction of memory and the recentering of space in
and of historyitself addressedin highly exaggeratedwritten publicdiscoursehaveresultedin the envisioningof a history
descriptions. The events also impacted urban design. driven by human agency to nurture social life and inspire
environments collective change. In The Powerof Place (1995), Dolores
for a prescribed,fleetingmoment,while festivalissuesof vis- Hayden takes an activist position; she calls for the reinibility and theatricalityinfluencedthe design of buildings, scription of urban sites with more inclusive histories
spaces, and cities themselves. In Turin1564-1680 (1991), empowering contemporaryurbaninhabitantsthrough the
Martha Pollock analyzes how the urban ceremonies in a articulationof apantemporal
cultural-politicalvoice. Identinorth Italiancity servedas interactivepoliticalmetaphorsof fying a need in Los Angelesfor spacescounterto traditional
the absolutistgovernment,while simultaneouslyexploiting public centers and memorials,she establisheda nonprofit
and celebratingthe city'smilitaryform. In all these recent organization that sought ways to commemorate the past
studies,the close connectionsamong events, meaning, and activitiesof women andother marginalizedgroupsand their
the physicallocaleset them apartfromearlierresearchfocus- places of action within the city (Figure 5). The book
ing on the socialand culturalimplicationsof rituals.As with describeshow the organizationinvolved the communityin
experientialanalyses,the next step is to expandthe examina- the consensualrecontextualizationof sites by creatingmaps,
tion of dailyand exceptionalritualsto includenonelite input walkingtours, and communityart projects.Hayden'spuband reactions.
lic history projectscould stand as the realizationthe "new


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historians based in architecture schools, reveal experimentation with presentation media. For example, in his two volumes on urban history, Kostof made a leap forward in
conveying visual information about the city by commissioning new types of analytical plans and drawings to present ideas about urban context, views, skylines, legal
limitations, and evolution (see Figure 1). As we enter a new
millennium, computer technologies offer urban historians
exciting new research and pedagogical tools. Historical
information can now be firmly linked to the context of past
cities using compact disks, videos, and Web sites. An excellent example is Princeton's Nolli Project under the direction
of architectural historian John Pinto, a sophisticated Internet application that uses the famous eighteenth-century map
of Rome to organize research and literary, bibliographic, and
visual information about the city's physical environment.29
Especially promising are developments in the four-dimensional modeling of historic cities. Virtual reality (VR) models allow researchers to move through past environments in
real time and literally to experience urban evolution. VR
models also support diverse software applications, including
lighting and structural analyses. Few comprehensive VR
models of entire historic cityscapes are yet available, and
those for mass markets are often overly simplified; nevertheless the great potential of these tools is evident in several
pilot projects (Figure 6).30In this pioneering phase caution
is necessary. The seductiveness of the computer models
(much like the visual attraction of historic urban prints) can
easily override research considerations. Models should
always be created to serve specific historical goals, and not to
provide what the computer field characterizes as "eyecandy." In particular, VR modeling offers three distinctive
advantages for the field of architectural history. First, the
creation of the models generates new findings by requiring
data and interpretations distinctly different from those for
written histories, including extensive structural and contextual information. Second, the modeling itself compels
researchers to view the city through a different lens, especially relating to the kinetic aspects of historic environments.
Third, in contrast to books, electronic databases and mod-

SHistoric Park
















Figure 5 Map locating historic sites in downtown Los Angeles targeted for memorials by the Power of Place Project;figure 5.1 in
Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place (Cambridge,Mass., 1995),
courtesy MITPress

memory walks through the city" attuned to the chaos and

social complexity of real life called for in Boyer's The City of
CollectiveMemory. Like Hayden, Boyer emphasizes the need
to recontextualize memory images from the past as a means
to improve the future.26The exploitation of urban histories
for the betterment of urban design and society at large is
laudable, yet readers must be aware that in activist urban
histories polemics may subsume inclusiveness and subjectivity. Caveats aside, the reengagement of history in the discourse on the practice of architecture is encouraging,
especially after the negative reactions to the superficial historicism of postmodernism over the last decade.27
Developments in the profession itself are now also
offering improved tools for the study and presentation of
architectural history.28 Urban histories, especially those by


/ 58:3,


els are not static, and can be continually updated and refined.
Equally exciting is the gradual dissemination of architectural history into precollege education. Inspired by
changing curricular goals and by the enormous popularity
of David Macaulay's 1974 book City, publishers of children's
books have issued a number of works exploring historic
environments and urban evolution."31In addition, interactive games such as CaesarII are teaching the next generation
about the creation and four-dimensional experience of past
environments. The Internet has encouraged an explosion


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Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Figure 6 Rome RebornWeb site

with linksto virtual-realitymodels as
well as verbal,visual, and cartographicsource materials;

Encyclopedia Articles:

Ancient Sources

Antoninus and Faustina, Richardson

Antoninus and Faustina, LTUR


Plan, Section, Elevation


VR Models:



Table of Rome Explore Online Photo

Contents Reborn Rome Library Archive

of materialtargetingK-12 students.For example,the Web

site "AncientSitesCities" provideshistoricalinformation,
sightseeing tours of environments, an interactive game
and a real-timecommunityfor those interested
classical cities; "HistoryCity"encourages children to
"makehistory"by creatinginteractivedioramasin Singapore in the 1870s.32Inaccuraciesareendemicto new undertakings, yet they should be quickly rectified. Many Web
sites and educationalproductspresent misleadingor inaccurate information; professional architecturalhistorians
must assumea leadershiprole in the creationand monitoring of such data.Reachinga broadaudienceat an earlyage,
the interactiveeducationaldelivery systems are a positive
additionto the discipline.Trainedin seeing by MTV and
nurturedon the Web, the upcoming generation of urban
researchersis developingsignificantlydifferentperceptual
skills from those of the current generation and will have
decidedlydifferentexpectationsfor the field of urbanhistory.They promisean excitingfuture.


My charge for this essaywas to considertrends in architecturalhistories
dealingwith the premoderncity. Ratherthan attempta superficialassessment of worksfrom each period organizedchronologically,I took a thematic approach,drawingmy examplesfrom works publishedduring the
last fifteen years. I would like to thank Hilary Ballon, Zeynep gelik,
ChristopherMead, and Fikret Yegiil for their helpful critiques of this
1. This distinctionis often cloudedby terminologicalproblems,since historians,architectural
to practice"urbanhistory."Attemptsto establishclarifyingcategories(such
as "urban-designhistory"or "environmentalhistory")have not been successful.For an overviewof recenttrendsandproposedfuturedirectionsfor
urbanhistoryas practicedby historians,see CharlesTilly, "WhatGood is
UrbanHistory?"Journalof UrbanHistory22/6 (September1996):702-719.
2. Statementmade by urbanhistorianM. J. Daunton in a reviewof Donald J. Olsen's The Cityas a Workof Art in The EnglishHistoricalReview
CIV/412 (July1989):754. A year later,anotherurbanhistorianexpressed
admirationfor the works of two architecturalhistorianswho, in "a brave
act,"attemptedurbanhistory,thoughhe assertedthat such invasive,interdisciplinaryacts "will not (and should not) transform[urbanhistory]";
Joseph L. Arnold, "ArchitecturalHistory and Urban History.A Difficult

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Marriage,"Journalof UrbanHistory17/1 (November 1990):77. Of course,

territorialityis also evident in our own field as voiced by Cho Padamse:
"The tendencyof historiansto ignore the planningandbuildingof cities in
favourof social, economic, institutionaland political modes of analysisis
deplorable."Mimar 12/42 (1992): 85.
3. See the articlesby Nancy Stieberon modernurbanhistory and Zeynep
?elik on non-Westernurbanhistoriesin this issue.
4. Friedrichs'sbook inauguratesa new seriesfrom LongmanPublishing:A
History of Urban Society in Europe,under RobertTittler as generaleditor. The series aims to synthesizethe presentstate of scholarshipon cities
by historians,yet, if the first exampleis indicative,it promisesample coverage on the physicalaspectsof cities for architecturalhistorians.
5. Friedrichs describes the urban environment encountered by these
observers,but does not re-createtheirsensorialreactions.Suchan approach
is distinctlydifferentfrom both Michael Baxandall's"periodeye" associated with an era'sparticularvisual taste, and from the optical and haptic
experientialreactionsanalyzedby architecturalhistorians.For an example
of the latter,see the re-createdwalksin Diane Favro, The UrbanImageof
6. For example, Reps pairs urban images with contemporary written
accounts of the cityscapes in Citiesof the Mississippi:Nineteenth-Century
(Columbia,Mo., and London, 1994).
Imagesof UrbanDevelopment
7. Currentinterpretationsof the moderncity havebeen significantlyinfluenced by Henri Lefebvrewho stressedhistoricalspecificityin his description of spaceas a socialproduct;his theoryhas less frequentlybeen applied
to premodern urban analyses:Productionof Space,translatedby Donald
Nicholson-Smith(Oxford,1991);Writingson Cities,editedandtranslatedby
Eleonore Kofmanand ElizabethLebas(Oxford,1996). For a geographer's
interpretationof social space,see the collectedessaysof Doreen Masseyin
Space,Placeand Gender(Minneapolis,1994).
8. Detractorscenteredin literarycriticismcontend that Frugoni does not
fully considerthe intendedaudience.Those from arthistoryfind faultwith
her definitionof realism.For example,RandolphStarnarguesthat Lorenzetti'simages should be read in terms of Roland Barthes's"realityeffect,"
ratherthan consideredto represent,as Frugoni proposes, a realisticportrait of a medievalcity state, or the passiveillustrationof ideas about government written down by ancient authorities:RandolphStarn,Ambrogio
Lorenzetti,ThePalazzoPublico,Siena(New York,1994), 8, 30-31.
9. In contrast,Ann Vasalyin her perceptiveanalysisof Ciceronianoratory
portraysancientspaces and buildingsas vital componentsboth of Rome's
physicalenvironmentandof the metaphysicalurbantopographycreatedin
the mindsof contemporaryobservers:Representations.
Imagesofthe Worldin
10. Beginningin the 1970s,researchersappliedsemioticsto the analysisof
modernarchitectureandcities:RaymondLedrut,Lesimagesdela ville(Paris,
1973);Geoffrey Broadbent,"APlain Man'sGuide to the Theory of Signs
in Architecture,"Architectural
Design47:7-8 (July/August1978):474-482.
For a more recent interpretation,see Mario Gandelsonas,ed., The Urban
Text,with essaysby Joan Copjec, CatherineIngraham,andJohn Whiteman (Cambridge,Mass., 1991).
11. MichaelKoortbojianappliesa similarmethodologyin his analysisof an
ancient city of the dead:"Incommemorationem
text and image
along the 'streetof tombs,' "in Jas Elsner,ed., Art and Textin RomanCulture(Cambridge,1996), 210-233.
12. The interestin premodernurbanmodels was furtherstimulatedby the
scholarlyand popularsuccessof exhibitionspresentinghistoricalmodels of
buildings: Henry Millon and Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani,eds., The
(New York,1994).


/ 58:3,


13. Peter Holliday, "RomanTriumphalPainting;Its Function, Development, andReception,"Art Bulletin79 (March1997):130-147;Diane Favro,
"Rome.The StreetTriumphant:The Urban Impactof RomanTriumphal
Parades,"in Zeynep ?elik, Diane Favro,RichardIngersoll,eds., Streetsof
the World,CriticalPerspectives
on PublicSpace(Berkeley, 1994), 151-164;
MauraMedri,"Suet.,Nero31.1:elementie proposteper la ricostruzionedel
progetto della Domus Aurea,"in Clementina Panella, Un'areasacrain
Palatinoe la valledel Colosseo
primae dopoNerone(forthcoming).
14. See the essaysin BarbaraWisch and SusanScott Munshower,eds., "All
the World'sa Stage,"Papersin Art Historyfrom thePennsylvania
State University6 (1990).
15. In the last two decades,practitionersof the "new"culturalgeography
havebegunto move awayfromartifactualstudiesof materialculture,championed by the inspirationalCarl Sauerand the BerkeleySchool, towarda
more sociallyconstructedview as representedby suchworksasJamesDuncan and DavidLey,eds.,place/culture/representation
(London, 1993).For an
overviewof currenttrendsin culturalgeography,see V. Chouinard,"Reinventing Radical Geography:Is All That's Left Right?"Environmentand
PlanningD: SocietyandSpace12 (1994):2-6.
16. MacDonaldalso includesprovocativeessaysaboutbroadissuesof classicismand Baroquedesign.Sadly,sucha nonlinear,highlyoriginalapproach
still elicits complaintsfrom reviewerswho cannot easilyincorporateoverarchingurbanideas into concretizedhistoricalframeworks.
17. In her perceptive analysis of the Place Dauphine, Ballon similarly
demonstrateshow the urbandesignerssacrificedpurityof formto optimize
the experientialviewing of the urbansquare.
18. Reviewed by Michelle M. Fontaine, SixteenthCenturyJournal 29/4
(1998): 1118.
19. For example,Penelope M. Allison has reevaluatedthe earlyexcavation
notes from Pompeii to determine site distributionsof everydayobjects.
From this data she re-created activity patternsfor urban residents of all
classes, which in several instances contradicttraditionalinterpretations:
"Artefactassemblages:not the 'Pompeii premise,' " in E. Herring, R.
Whitehouse, and J. Wilkins, eds., Papersof the 4th Conference
of Italian
iii/ll (London, 1992):49-56.
20. J. C. Edmondson,"DynamicArenas:GladiatorialPresentationsin the
City of Rome and the Construction of Roman Society during the Early
Empire,"in WilliamJ. Slater,ed., RomanTheaterand Society(Ann Arbor,
21. Though somewhat disjointed in presentation, Laurence'swork is
notable for the applicationof approachesdrawnfrom urban geography,
anthropology,and architecture(includingthe spatialtheories of B. Hillier
andJ. Hanson) to the study of the ancientcity.
22. Among the volumeson festivalspublishedby the Centro are:Maurizio
Fagiolo dell'Arco,La FestaBarocca,CorpusdelleFestea Roma,vol. 1 (Rome,
e l'Ottocento,
1997);MarcelloFagiolo,Il Settecento
CorpusdelleFestea Roma,
vol. 2 (Rome, 1997).
23. Many works on urban rituals and events take the form of anthologies in
order to reflect the inclusive nature of spectacles themselves, and to present
a broad typological and methodological range; e.g., Alexandra E Johnston
and Wim Hiisken, eds., Civic Ritual and Drama (Amsterdam, 1997); Bettina
Bergmann and Christine Kondoleon, eds., TheArt ofAncient Spectacle(Washington, D.C., 1999). Book-length studies of how a single ritual impacted the
form of an ancient city are rare; for a comprehensive example, see G. M.
Rogers, The SacredIdentity ofEphesos: The Foundation Myths ofa Roman City
(London, 1991). For a perceptive discussion of methods for analyzing premodern urban rituals, see Glen W Bowersock, "Commentary," in Anthony
Molho, Kurt Raaflaub, andJulia Emlen, eds., City States in ClassicalAntiquity
and Medieval Italy (Ann Arbor, 1991), 549-553.


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24. An insightfuloverviewof contemporaryplace studiesin culturalgeographyis byJohn Agnew,"RepresentingSpace.Space,Scale and Culturein

Social Science,"in Duncan and Ley, 261-271 (see n. 15). EdwardS. Casey
gives an expansivephilosophicaloverviewof place studies,includingmuch
on physical environments, in GettingBackinto Place:Towarda Renewed
of thePlaceWorld(Bloomington,Ind.,1993).
25. Of particularinterest for architecturalhistoriansis the third volume
dealing with physical sites and urban symbolism:Realmsof Memory.The
of theFrenchPast.Vol. III:Symbols,PierreNora, ed., Lawrence
D. Kritzman,English-languageeditor, trans.ArthurGoldhammer(New
26. Hayden and Boyer carefullydistinguishbetween memories based on
experienceand intellectualizedhistories.As early as 1972, urbanplanner
Kevin Lynch had proposedthe selection of a past to constructa futurefor
moderncities: WhatTimeIs ThisPlace?(Cambridge,Mass., 1972), 64.
27. Previously,modern architectsoften minimizedthe role of history and
memory in urbandesign. In contrast,today'spractitionershave incorporatedhistorywithin the architecturaldiscourse;authorsspecificallytarget
architectsin books emphasizingformalissues over historicalcontext;see,
for example,AllanJacobs, GreatStreets(Cambridge,Mass., 1993).
28. The availabilityof new tools should not minimize the importanceof
traditionalurbanhistorypublications.Especiallynotable are recent largescale documentationand researchprojectssuch as the monumentalfivevolume LexiconTopographicum
Romae,ed. Eva MargaretaSteinby (Rome,
1993-) which presentscurrentinformationon all the known buildingsin
29. Representative
of larger Web applications is the Perseus project, including expansive
information on texts, sites, and art from the ancient world:

and Urbanism.New York
Ballon, Hilary.TheParisof HenriIV Architecture
and Cambridge,Mass.:MIT Press, 1991.
Boyer,M. Christine.TheCityof Collective
Cambridge,Mass.:MIT Press, 1994.
andAntiquity:The VenetianSenseof thePast.
Brown,PatriciaFortini. Venice
New Haven:YaleUniversityPress, 1997.
Burroughs,Charles.FromSignsto Design.Environmental
in EarlyRenaissance
Rome.Cambridge,Mass.:MIT Press, 1990.
Celik, Zeynep.Displayingthe Orient:Architecture
of slamat Nineteenth-CenFairs.
tury World's
Angeles:Universityof California
Press, 1992.
al 1870. 2 vols.
Fagiolo, Marcello, ed. La Festaa Romadal Rinascimento
Turin:U. AllemandiforJ. Sands,Rome, 1997.
Friedrichs, Christopher R. The EarlyModernCity 1450-1750. London:
Longman, 1995.
in theMedieval
Frugoni, Chiara.A DistantCity:Imagesof UrbanExperience
World.Translatedby William McCuaig. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
UniversityPress, 1991.
Girouard,Mark. Citiesand People:A SocialandArchitectural
Haven:YaleUniversityPress, 1985.
Hales, Peter B. Silver Cities:The Photography
of AmericanUrbanization,
1839-1915. Philadelphia:TempleUniversityPress, 1984.
Hall, Peter. Citiesin Civilization.New York:PantheonBooks, 1998.
as PublicHistory.
Hayden, Dolores. The Powerof Place:UrbanLandscapes
Cambridge,Mass.:MIT Press, 1995.
Jacks,Philip. TheAntiquarianandtheMythofAntiquity.TheOriginsofRome
in Renaissance
Thought.Cambridgeand New York:CambridgeUniver-

sity Press, 1993).

. TheCityAssembled:
TheElementsof UrbanFormThroughout
London and Boston:BulfinchPress, 1992.
31. David Macaulay, City:A Story of RomanPlanningand Construction MacDonald,William L. TheArchitecture
of theRomanEmpire.II:An Urban
(Boston, 1974). Notable children'sbooks dealing with urban history are
Appraisal.New Haven:YaleUniversityPress, 1986.
Anne Millard,A StreetThroughTime,A 12,000-YearWalkThroughHistory Pollock, MarthaD. Turin1564-1680. UrbanDesign,MilitaryCulture,and
Creationof theAbsolutistCapital.Chicago:Universityof ChicagoPress,
(New York,1998),andthe Sightseersseries,which includesRachelWright,
Paris:1789 (London, 1999), and Sally Tagholm,AncientEgypt(London,
Reps,John W. Bird's-Eye
While the flexibilityof
Princeton,N.J.: PrincetonUniversityPress, 1998.
Web sites allows for constant updating, this impermanenceoften means
Trachtenberg,Marvin. Dominionof the Eye: Urbanism,Art, and Powerin
sites do not endureas well as books.
EarlyModernFlorence.Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress, 1997.
30. For examples, see the Web sites for the Rome Reborn Project
ments/Architecture/abacus/3d.htm); and LearningSites (www.learn-


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