Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cities outside of history?

Mayapan, a Maya city
Did cities exist in the New World prior to the European conquest? Of course they did! If you have any doubt, take a look at some of my books or my articles as posted on my website (and much other work on Mesoamerica and the Andes). But according to a new reference work, the Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History (Peter Clark, editor, 2013, Oxford University Press), either there were no cities in the ancient New World, or else those cities were not part of "World History." Hmmmmmm. I don't much like either choice.

The first section of that work, called "Early Cities," has five survey sections:
Where are the cities of the Aztec, Maya, or Inka? What about the Zapotec or the Moche, the Toltec or Tiwanaku, the Mixtec or Chimu? Would it have been that hard to solicit some chapters on these urban traditions? It would be hard to argue that there were cities in ancient Africa and South Asia, but not the ancient New World. Was this a deliberate exclusion of the New World as unwelcome in a volume on "world history," or was this just laziness and ignorance?
Tiwanaku, and Andean City

So I did some checking. The chapter "Introduction" (by Peter Clark) contains this sentence:

"in Latin America Mayan, Aztec, and Inca urban networks appear to have grown in the Yucatán and Guatemala, in the Mexico valley, and in present-day Colombia (see Ch. 20)."

So it looks like the editor, Peter Clark, does acknowledge "urban networks" in the New World (although they don't warrant chapters of their own). But take a closer look. What could he mean by the phrase "appear to have grown"? This seems to suggest that perhaps they did not grow (and, by implication, that these societies were non-urban). And the geographic terms show a real ignorance of
Tenochtitlan, Aztec imperial capital
the distribution of New World urban traditions. Maya cities thrived not only in "the Yucatan" (an archaic phrasing, apparently referring to the Mexican state of Yucatan, or perhaps the Yucatan Peninsula) and Guatemala, but also in Chiapas, Belize, and Honduras. The homeland of Aztec cities was the
"Valley of Mexico", not "the Mexico valley"; yes this is a minor point, but one term is correct and the other is incorrect. And the Inka did NOT flourish in Colombia. The Inka were based in Peru, and their empire (and its imperial cities) reached into Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, but NOT Colombia. Now maybe I am being overly-picky here, but I think the phrase quoted above shows a serious ignorance of New World societies, geography, and urbanism.
Machu Picchu, Inka royal retreat

The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History does not completely leave out Mesoamerica and the Andes. The chapter referenced in the quote above, chapter 20, is by Felipe Fernández-Armesto; the chapter is called "Latin America." The main focus of that chapter is Latin America AFTER the Spanish conquest, but Fernández-Armesto does begin with a competent section called "Indigenous traditions" that does review the Maya, Aztec and Inka urban traditions. This chapter is from a section titled "Pre-Modern Cities."

According to the scheme set out in this reference work, the New World joins "World History" only after
Monte Alban, Zapotec city
 1492, when the Europeans arrived. The native urban traditions are not worth chapters or sections of their own; rather, their only value is to set the scene for the development of the colonial societies after European conquest.

This isn't the only time I've seen works in the field coming to be known as "World History" that are ignorant of native New World societies. Perhaps this is the difference between comparative schemes by anthropologists (these are almost always truly world-wide in coverage) and those by historians (many such works see "history" as only pertaining to the western tradition, its antecedents, and sometimes places like Africa or Asia.)

To  my mind, the Wide Urban World covers the entire world, through time from the earliest cities to the present. If we really want to comprehend cities and urbanism, a broad perspective is essential. Archaeologists have long appreciated the value of an inclusive comparative framework, and scholars of contemporary urbanization are starting to look to ancient and premodern cities as a source of ideas to better understand cities and their problems today and in the future (I'll blog about that before long). In contrast, it seems like some scholars of "world history" have not yet gotten the news. Do you want to know, for example, about the role of cities in imperial expansion? Why not take a look at the ruins of Pikillakta and other cities built by the Wari Empire of the Middle Horizon Andes. This is only one of many examples of New World urbanism that can illuminate broader questions in ancient and modern society and urbanism, as part of the wide urban world.

Piquillakta, administrative city of the Wari Empire

Some sources on Pikillakta and the administrative cities of the Wari Empire:

 Isbell, William H. and Gordon McEwan (editors)
1991    Huari Administrative Structures. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC.

Jennings, Justin (editor)
2010    Beyond Wari Walls : Regional Perspectives on Middle Horizon Peru. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

McEwan, Gordon
1996    Archaeological Investigations at Pikillacta, a Wari Site in Peru. Journal of Field Archaeology 23: 169-186.

McEwan, Gordon F.
1987    The Middle Horizon in the Valley of Cuzco, Peru: The Impact of the Wari Occupation of the Lucre Basin. BAR, International Series, vol. 372. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.

Schreiber, Katharina J.
1992    Wari Imperialism in Middle Horizon Peru. Anthropological Papers, vol. 87. Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

2001    The Wari Empire of Middle Horizon Peru: The Epistemological Challenge of Documenting an Empire Without Documentary Evidence. In Empires: Perspectives from Archaeology and History, edited by Susan E. Alcock, Terence N. D'Altroy, Kathleen D. Morrison, and Carla M. Sinopoli, pp. 70-92. Cambridge University Press, New York.