Online Symposium: “Epidemic Urbanism: Reflections on History”

Online Symposium: “Epidemic Urbanism: Reflections on History
Thursday (May 28, 2020) and Friday (May 29, 2020):  11am-1pm Eastern Time

Mohammad Gharipour, PhD (Morgan State University, Baltimore) 
Caitlin DeClercq, PhD (Columbia University, New York)

Epidemic illnesses—not only a product of biology, but also social and cultural phenomena—are as old as cities themselves. The recent pandemic of COVID-19 has put into perspective the impact of epidemic illness on urban life, and exposed the vulnerabilities of the societies it ravages as much as the bodies it infects. How can epidemics help us understand urban environments? What insights from the outbreak, experience, and response to previous urban epidemics might inform our understanding of COVID-19? 

This online symposium will bring together academics from a range of disciplines to present case studies from across the globe to demonstrate how cities in particular are not just the primary place of exposure and quarantine, but also the site and instrument of intervention. The presentations cover a range of illnesses and epidemics, geographies, time periods, urban interventions, observations on the impact of these epidemics on society and urban life, and insights to understand, critique, or complexify the conception of and response to COVID-19. Each presentation shares the story of a city, an outbreak of illness, and the city’s response to the epidemic. In so doing, this symposium will use history as a medium to provide a better understanding of the current crisis by addressing the following: 

  • What notable interventions or actions were implemented? With what effect?
  • What impact did the epidemic have on urbanism, urban design, and urban planning?
  • What impact did the epidemic have on architecture in the short and long term? 
  • What impact did the built environment have on the epidemic, or the experience of illness? 

Register online by May 24th, 2020 at Confirmed registrants will be emailed login information and instructions to access this online symposium.


Day 1: Thursday, May 28 (11am-1pm, US Eastern time)

A. Urban Governance: Politics and Management

1. Logistics of the first Quarantine in Central Europe, 1510 (Katalin Szende)
2. Plague and Government in the 17th century Cities of Mughal India (Mehreen Chida-Razvi)
3. Plague, Social Dislocation, and Urban Change in the 18th century Istanbul (Fariba Zarinebaf)
4. Cholera and Short-termism in York, England, 1832 (Ann-Marie Akehurst)
5. The Sanitation Campaign against Cholera in Naples, 1860-1910 (Sofia Greaves)

B. Urban Infrastructure: Permanence and Change 

1. Sanitation and the Construction of Hospitals in Lisbon, 1492 (Danielle Abdon)
2. Plague and Open Gates in Madrid, 1597-1602 (Ruth MacKay)
1. Lazarettos, Quarantine, Hospitals, and the plague of Marseille, 1720 (Fleur Beauvieux)
2. The Plague and Domestic Displacement and Destruction in Bombay, 1896 (Emily Webster)

Day 2: Friday, May 29 (11am-1pm, US Eastern time)

C. Urban Life: Culture and Society

1. Black Death, Funerary Customs, and the Cemetery in the 14th century Cairo (Stephane Pradines)
2. Quarantine and Cultural responses to Plague in the Prague Ghetto, 1713 (Joshua Teplitsky)
3. Hygiene and Urban Life in the District of Death in the 19th century Istanbul (Fezanur Karaagaclioglu)
4. Tropical Disease and Prisoners-of-War in the American Pacific, 1941-1944 (Desirée Valadares)

D. Urban Design and Planning: Interventions and Implications

1. Urban design and Social Epidemiology in the Bubonic Plague epidemic of Palermo, 1576 (Carlo Trombino)
2. Urban Restrictions and Responses to Plague in Bristol, 1665-1666 (Andrew Wells)
3. From Cholera to Reform Housing in London, 1850–1900 (Irina Davidovici)
4. Cholera and the Practice of Quarantine in late 19th Century Tokyo (Susan Burns)
1. Climatic Zoning and the Eradication of Malaria from Mauritius, 1948-1951 (Nicole de-Lalouvière)

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610