History at Leicester

The Habitable City

British Academy Grant (£29,680)

October 2012 - September 2015

Dr Toby Lincoln

With fifty percent of China’s population living in cities, the world’s most populous nation is now its newest urban society. The sheer number and size of its cities, together with the rapidity of their growth may seem unprecedented, but the origins of China’s emergence as an urbanized society lie in its past, while its causes and course resemble other countries and regions. This project explores the urban history of China by focusing on how cities have been thought of as habitable places, fulfilling basic human needs such as shelter, provision of food and water, safety, transport, and work. While concentrating on the Chinese experience, it also draws on the long tradition of urban history in the UK and Europe. In doing so, it explores how the idea of a habitable city may provide a basis upon which to build a theory and methods for a truly global comparative urban history.

This project is a partnership between the Centre for Urban History (CUH) at Leicester and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), one of China’s leading research institutions, which has a particular expertise in urban history. The two principle collaborators are Toby Lincoln in Leicester and Xu Tao in Shanghai. Throughout the life of the project Dr Lincoln will explore the development of urban sociology and urban planning in China, and place this within an international context. Dr Xu focuses on the Shanghai volunteer force, which illustrates how the city defended itself in times of war. Other scholars will investigate a variety of issues, including the development of public welfare, the rise of a new consumer culture surrounding sport and leisure, changes in living standards of the poorest in Chinese cities and gendered experiences of healthcare. A series of conferences and research visits will allow these individual projects to be discussed and common themes to be discovered, which will then guide future publications. Beyond this, CUH and SASS will act as a focal point, bringing together scholars from China, Taiwan, Japan, the UK and Europe. The resulting network will not only provide the basis for future collaborations but allow scholarly exchanges between East and West. This will raise the visibility of CUH and SASS around the world, and cement their reputations as major global centres for the study of urban history.

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