Recent Opportunities


CFP: Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities (Washington, 5-6 May 17)

MAY 5-6, 2017

The use of the word “landscape” to describe the formation and infrastructure of cities—as reflected, for example, in current theories of landscape urbanism—largely seems to express contemporary preoccupations with the post-industrial urban condition. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution is often seen as a turning point in the emergence of the urban landscape of the modern metropolis. The large city as commonly experienced today in the world—whether vertical or horizontal, congested or diffused, and divorced from productive nature—is certainly dependent on a range of recent (or quite recent) breakthroughs in construction technology, climate control, communication, and transportation. In this view, urban landscapes appear as a historically late development and are therefore seen to embody an essentially modern and Western concept.  

Yet, features associated with contemporary urban landscapes—most notably the forms of human adaptation to and reshaping of the sites where cities develop and expand—can also be found in pre-industrial contexts in different time periods and across the globe. Pre-industrial urban settlements generally occupied land that had been used for other, mostly productive, purposes, and their development involved complex and dynamic relationships with the management of natural resources, especially food and water. While ancient cities are traditionally studied as the centers of commerce, trade, and artisan production as well as the seats of secular and religious authorities, questions of how the original clusters of agrarian communities evolved into urban formations, how they were spatially organized, and what their specific landscape characteristics were deserve further analysis and discussion. Another closely related question concerns the role of environmental factors and the presence or lack of particular natural resources in enabling this process of urbanization.

To explore these questions, the Garden and Landscape Studies program at Dumbarton Oaks is planning a symposium, Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities. Organized by Georges Farhat (University of Toronto) and John Beardsley (Dumbarton Oaks), it will be held on May 5–6, 2017. Topics will be drawn from a wide range of historical periods and a global geographical perspective; it is anticipated that presentations will represent a wide range of disciplines and include both scholars and practitioners. In order to integrate this discussion into the current debate on the sustainable city, the speakers will be asked to address the following questions:

How was the modern dichotomy between the urban and the rural historically expressed in the relationship between cities and the natural environment—especially with respect to land use, environmental control, and resource management?  

To what extent was the ability to exert control over the natural environment and its resources through territorial expansion, hydraulic management, and land reclamation a determinant factor in the design, evolution, and historical fortunes of pre-industrial cities?

 What sense can we make of the contemporary concepts of urban sprawl, biodiversity, climate change, connectivity, and integrated management of natural resources if applied to pre-industrial urban landscapes? What implications does this understanding have for current scholarship, design strategies, and planning policies in an age of ecological transition? 

 Please send proposals including a 200-word abstract and a short CV (with five most significant publications), by September 15, 2016, to Georges Farhat,, and John Beardsley,
SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
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