Structuring Urban Experience: From the Athenian Acropolis to the Boston Common

This lecture course examines selected cities between the fifth century B.C. and the seventeenth century A.D., beginning with ancient Athens and ending with proposals for rebuilding London after the great fire in 1666. It is not, however, a survey. Rather, each of the lectures takes up one city at one golden moment of its development to exemplify a theme or themes. The course, therefore, is both chronologically and thematically structured.

The first half of the semester treats the ancient and late antique city, beginning with Athens and continuing with Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople and Antioch. This section concludes with a consideration of the effects of Christianization on urban form, the widespread decline of urban habitation in the early Middle Ages, and the rising importance of ideal or symbolic “cities of the mind.” The second half of the semester looks at selected instances of Renaissance and Baroque urban interventions, beginning with Florence, returning again to Rome, and then moving to Venice, Madrid, Paris and London. The last lecture, which will be on Boston from its founding in 1630 up to the Revolution, gives us the opportunity to reflect on to what extent new cities do or do not learn from historical patterns of settlement.

Each week is devoted to one city. In the first hour I will give a lecture that covers urban layout and topography, infrastructure, patterns and types of housing, and typologies of the major monuments. I will also cover in more depth those features relating to the themes for the week – the relation of the city to countryside, for instance, or the city as center of cultural activity, the city and ideas about space, and so on. In the second hour, students will report on assigned readings that deepen or amplify the themes for the week and the rest of the session will be given over to discussion.

Students are required to present assigned readings in class and to serve as facilitators of the discussions on a rotating basis. Each student will submit a final research paper of twelve pages (text) on a city of their choice. Some suggestions are: Amsterdam, Nuremberg, The Hague, Leiden, Antwerp, Turin, Genoa, Milan, St. Petersburg, Baghdad, Siena, Marseille, Bordeaux, Vienna, Prague, Geneva, Bruges, St. Petersburg, Lisbon, Seville, or Naples. However, the choice is yours.