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

This lecture course examines selected cities between the 5th century BC and the 17th century AD, beginning with ancient Athens and ending with the rebuilding of London after the great fire in 1666 and the founding of Boston. It is not, however, a survey. Rather, the lectures take up one city at one “golden moment” of its development and propose a theme or themes for discussion. The course, therefore, is both chronologically and thematically structured.

The first half of the semester addresses 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, London, and Boston.

Course format:

Lectures, lecture/discussions, and discussions. Each lecture is normally devoted to one city. It covers urban layout and topography, infrastructure, patterns and types of housing, and typologies of the major monuments and treats 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. The lecture/discussion sessions introduce additional material (sometimes a new city, sometimes a more in-depth treatment of one of the assigned readings) and then move to discussion of the lecture and readings. The discussion sessions sometimes compare two cities and sometimes deepen or amplify the themes and ideas covered in the lecture(s) and readings. Students are required to prepare for the discussions by reviewing the relevant lecture(s) (PowerPoints are on the course site), doing the readings, and thinking about how the readings relate to the weekly topic.

Throughout the semester, you will be working on what will become a final research paper of 12 pages of text plus endnotes, illustrations, and a bibliography on a city of your choice during its “golden age.”

Please note this course will meet online through 9/15. The course lectures will be pre-recorded and posted on the course site for asynchronous viewing. All discussion meetings will meet live on Zoom on the following dates: 9/2, 9/9, 9/16, 9/23, 9/30, 10/7, 10/14, 10/21, 10/28, 11/4, and 11/11. The instructor will meet individually with students in person during office hours before 10/7. Additionally, the class meetings in which there are student reports will be in person: 11/16, 11/18, 11/23, 11/30, and 12/2.