SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H211 Cities in History

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2
Cities have long been engines of wealth and power, as well as magnets for migrants, from the countryside and overseas. Cities, far more than countries, are the environment within which many of us live our lives: nowadays more than half of the world’s people live in cities. And cities are increasingly detached from if not at odds with the nation-states in which they are located. The city is therefore attracting increasing attention – from activists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers, as well as academics and other commentators – as key sites of opportunity and intervention. The debate can often be short-sighted, however, simplifying cities to celebrate or condemn them, ignoring their complexity and variation over time and place. This course therefore will provide an introduction to the history of cities, and thereby a foundation on which students can build their own research into the urban past and present. It will proceed chronologically, exploring different types of cities as they have evolved over time, then tracing the impact of industry and empire from the late 19th century. Throughout, it will focus on cities in Asia and Africa, nowadays the fastest growing cities in the world, whose urban histories and presents do not always mirror the Euro-American stories of London, Paris, and New York, which tend to dominate debate.


  • This Module is capped at 45 places
  • Students enrol via the on-line Module Sign-up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Dept. administrator

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students will:

LO1. Distinguish what makes a research question historical, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to a problem and of the possibilities and limits of various kinds of sources.
LO2. Produce and refine such a question through the identification of, engagement with, and critique of existing historiography, using the conceptual tools of the module to reframe prior learning.
LO3. Integrate material from a variety of sources, both primary and secondary, in order to explore a research question and hypothesis.
LO4. Present the findings of the research in a way that demonstrates a capacity to think conceptually, while developing competency as a historian.

Scope and syllabus

1. Introduction
2. The city as market
3. Cities and power
4. The Islamic city
5. Port cities

6. Colonial cities
7. Modern cities
8. Planning cities
9. Writing cities
10. The global city

Method of assessment

Written exam worth 50%, Research proposal for AS2, incorporating a literature discussion and preliminary bibliography of 500 words worth 10%, Short research paper of 2,500 words worth 40%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules