(Movement): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

Studies in urban history have opened new critical vistas on the construction and perception of the nocturnal city as a distinct sphere of human experience. The panel invites diverse and novel methodological approaches to analysing ‘the city at night’: around temporalities of spatial use, cultural imaginaries and mediation, and the intersection of control and enablement with leisure and commerce.

The history of the night has been coming out of the shadows. Forty years after sociologist Murray Melbin urged colleagues to view nighttime and nightlife as frontiers and defining features of the human conditions, ‘night studies’ is gradually obtaining status as a distinct analytical category (Melbin 1978). Historians have studied nocturnal social and commercial activities, as well as the ritualisation of the night and its cultural (re)imaginations. Craig Koslovsky’s nocturnalization thesis, for example, suggested there has been an ‘expansion of the legitimate social and symbolic uses of the night’ across several centuries of Western history (Koslovsky 2011: 1). The contemporary ‘chrono-urbanism’ of Luc Gwiarzdzinski (2015:1), examining the ‘optimal organisation of technical, social and aesthetic functions’ of the city and its temporal reorganization, invites reapplication to the historical city.

Proposals should investigate questions around the use, construction or perception of public, private and liminal spaces at night. These may be general: how were commercial and/or leisure activities negotiated through the recognition/transgression of these spaces; how do the patterns and perceptions of thresholds in the nighttime city change over time; how do they vary within and between cities relative to, for example, urban design or demographics? Or more specific: what smells, sounds, affects and emotions were associated with specific urban sites; what relationships between narrative genres and urban nightscapes can be observed; how do digital methods of analysis afford new insights? Relevant questions can address individual cities, but we especially invite comparative studies emphasizing local and inter-regional interactions with a clear discussion of methodology.

Possible alternative themes might include:

  • Cities of light: cosmopolitan renown, and cultural tourism
  • The entertainment commute: crossing spaces and zones
  • The urban night: inclusion, exclusion, social conflict and emancipation
  • Nighttime entrepreneurship, commercial activities and regeneration strategies
  • Thresholds in urban spaces at night, real and perceived
  • Circadian city: health and the rhythms of nocturnal labour
  • Night-walking, insomnia and the solitary narratives of the night
  • Legislating, licensing and policing the night
  • The rituals, etiquettes and tribes of nocturnal urban life
  • Mediating the nocturnal city: film, photography and oral testimony

  • Spokesperson: Claartje Rasterhoff, University of Amsterdam
  • Co-organizer(s): Alex  Butterworth, University of Sussex
  • Keywords: Nocturnal city | Spatial analysis | Methodology
  • Time period: Premodern period (covering more than one period)
  • Topic(s): Social | Cultural
  • Study area: More than one continent