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Searching for Urban Spaces in 18th Century England: A Reconsideration of "Urban Renaissance"

Akiko Shimbo
Part-time Lecturer, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

The British Library is used by researchers in all areas from over the entire world. Students on doctoral courses at universities in London, and especially history majors, spend a great deal more time here than at school. What significance does researching the history of other countries, including the United Kingdom, have? While I was writing my doctoral thesis in the same language and under the same conditions as British students, there was no room to think about my nationality or origin, but, on the other hand, I occasionally had a sense of observation of living in that country and conducting fieldwork on its history. Recently, rather than British history, Western history or foreign history, I have simply felt that I have been studying "history."

Reading Searching for Urban Spaces in 18th Century England: A Reconsideration of "Urban Renaissance" (2012) edited by Tadashi Nakano, Ichiro Michishige and Tatsuyuki Karasawa, made me think again about these points. This book is a collection of papers consisting of nine chapters discussing various aspects of urbanization in 18th century England based on the concept of "urban renaissance" by Japanese experts.

First, what is urbanization? In Chapter 1 "The Range of Urbanization in 18th Century England," while it discusses three generally considered definitions of urbanization: demographic urbanization seen from a rise in population, structural urbanization emphasizing the concentration of urban (non-agricultural) activities, and behavioral pattern urbanization, there is also a focus on "qualitative" urbanization that preceded industrialization and accompanied the growth of diverse towns as a special feature of 18th century England. The concept of "urban renaissance" in the theme of this book is effective in explaining this feature. The same chapter also summarizes this concept made by the British historian Peter Borsay in a discussion about the development of provincial towns in 18th century England. "Urban renaissance" means the newly born "urban lifestyle and social style, the provision of goods, services and information for these, and amenities and the entire social, cultural and physical environment that were constructed and maintained in order to provide for and support them". In other words, the process in which "urban lifestyle" was formed is "urban renaissance."

The chapters that follow start with Chapter 2 in which there is a discussion of 18th century English cities as a consumption space that can be called one stage of the urban renaissance. Chapter 3 looks at urban finance that supports urbanization in Norwich. Chapter 4 discusses the new form of sociability in King's Lynn. Chapter 5 deals with regional rule of citizens with a discussion based on the records of the court of Burgesses of Westminster. Chapter 6 examines the diversification of power in London. Chapter 7 focuses on the diversification of the occupational structure and consumption trends in Wolverhampton. Chapter 8 examines epidemics and sanitary reform. Finally, Chapter 9 considers commercialization including markets and the city landscape.

The diverse chapters are characterized by cities and towns themselves consisting of various aspects and the benefits of collaborative work that bring fruits to historical research. As in the question raised at the beginning of the book, knowing the history of cities and towns full of vitality in this way in a different country in a different era, especially the ties and actions of the people living there, can provide examples in searching for a vision for our own cities.

The thing that caught my attention was the buildings with mixed architectural styles spanning several periods in Ludlow in Shropshire that is touched upon in the introduction "Past and Present of Urban History" to the book by the British historian Penelope Corfield. We are sometimes aware of the moments that we are living in history. One of these is when we sense the cities that have changed day by day but survived and the people who lived there. This may happen not just when we are in our own cities, but also in other regions and even in distant countries.

Searching for Urban Spaces in 18th Century England: A Reconsideration of "Urban Renaissance" (May 2012) edited by Tadashi Nakano, Ichiro Michishige and Tatsuyuki Karasawa (Tosui Shobo, Publishers & Co., Ltd.)

Akiko Shimbo
Part-time Lecturer, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

Akiko Shimbo acquired a Ph.D. in history at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2007. She has been in her present post since April 2012 after working as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University (April 2010 to March 2012). She specializes in 18-19th century British cultural, social and design history. Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England 1754-1851: Design as Interaction is a special book based on her doctoral dissertation at the University of London. This book is scheduled to be published by Ashgate Publishing (UK). Her papers include "The Role of Dialogue between Producers and Consumers: The Design Process of Custom-Made Furniture in Late Eighteen-Century England" (Design History: Journal of the Design History Workshop Japan, No. 9, 2011), among others.