Online Symposium: Epidemic Urbanism Reflections on History: 28 May and 29 May 2020
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. So how can epidemics help us understand urban environments? And what insights from the outbreak and experience of and the response to previous urban epidemics might inform our understanding of COVID-19?
Addressing these questions, this online symposium on Thursday 28 and Friday 29 May, 16:00–18:00 BST (11:00–13:00 US EST) will bring together academics from a range of disciplines to present case studies from across the globe demonstrating how cities in particular are not just the primary place of exposure and quarantine, but also the site and instrument of intervention.
Each presentation will tell a story of a city, an outbreak of illness, and the city’s response to the epidemic, addressing notable interventions or actions implemented and their effects. Some will discuss the impact of the epidemic on urbanism, urban design and urban planning. Others consider epidemic influence on architecture, the built environment and the experience of illness.
Presentations will cover a range of illnesses and epidemics, geographies, time periods and urban interventions. The observations on the impact of these epidemics on society and urban life seek to offer insights to understand, critique or complicate the conception of and response to COVID-19 because the symposium ultimately aims to create a space in which to use history as a medium to provide a better understanding of the current crisis and how it might shape our future.
Information and Registration:
Register by 20 May 2020.
Tania Sengupta, “Papered spaces: clerical practices, materialities, and spatial cultures of provincial governance in Bengal, Colonial India, 1820s–1860s”, Journal of Architecture, vol 25, issue 2, 2020
British colonial governance in India was built upon global technologies of writing produced through European mercantile colonialism; the extraction of the embodied Mughal administrative knowledge from a Persianette (or Tamil-proficient, as in Southern India) Indian clerical class, and its materialisation into official paper-based forms, as shown by Christopher Bayly; and a scribal-clerical ‘habitus’ as described by Bhavani Raman. This research focuses on the architecture, spaces and material culture associated with the paper-bureaucracy of the colonial government of Bengal that Jon Wilson calls one of the world’s earliest modern states.
A provincial administrative town in colonial Bengal. George Francklin Atkinson, Our Station, Plate 1, lithograph, from Atkinson, Curry and Rice (On Forty Plates) Or the Ingredients of Social Life at Our Station in India (London: Day & Son, 1859), © British Library Board, 1264.e.16
It argues that this paper-/ writing-oriented habitus also mandated a chain of materialities and spatialities (paper-records, furniture, spaces, and architectures of colonial governance). Focusing on the colonial cutcherry(office), the nerve-centre of Bengal’s zilla sadar (provincial administrative) towns, I analyse such ‘papered spaces’ as record rooms and clerical offices. The work is conceptualised around paper as a key agent of colonial governance, including the expanding spheres of its logic, which profoundly permeated the cutcherry’s material-spatial culture and experiential ‘lifeworld’. I also reflect on how colonial paper-practices intersected with other more immaterial and mobile circuits of knowledge and information spread over the town and country, and how such paper-governance was fed, for example, by spatial geographies of paper supply and printing. For the research, I combined extensive on-ground documentations of the material fabric of the buildings with archival research (governmental papers, period literature and art) in India, Bangladesh and Britain.