Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Urban Revolution, now online

V. Gordon Childe at Skara Brae in Orkney
The journal Town Planning Review is making articles from its special 100th Anniversary issues, (the "Centenary papers") available online without charge. Take a look. This journal published V. Gordon Childe's very important and influential paper "The Urban Revolution" in 1950. When I heard they were soliciting papers for this anniversary celebration, I suggested that an update on the Urban Revolution would be appropriate. They agreed, and in 2009 published my paper, "V. Gordon Childe and the Urban Revolution: An Historical Perspective on a Revolution in Urban Studies." Now you can access that paper, and the other centenary papers, for free at the journal. One thing I pointed out in my article was that Childe's 1950 article was one of the most widely-cited papers published by an archaeologist, even though it was in a planning journal rather than an archaeology journal.

Pyramid at Teopanzolco, an early Aztec city
Many people remain confused about just what is meant by the phrase "Urban Revolution." Childe did NOT use the phrase to describe the origins of cities. Rather, he used it as a label for the transition from smaller-scale societies to urban, state-level societies. In other words, the Urban Revolution refers to much larger societal changes, such as the growth of social inequality, the formation of centralized governments, the origins of writing, and the development of specialized economies. And, of course, the rise of the first cities. Childe's point was that the Urban Revolution signaled a series of fundamental and related social changes, and not just the origins of cities.

While Childe's model of the Urban Revolution remains important and influential today, I now tend to see urbanism as a broader phenomenon that just cities in state societies. I think that a number of non-state level societies (many chiefdoms) have urban centers, and that the various characteristics of the "Urban Revolution" in fact developed at different rates in different areas. That is, they did not come as a single package, all developing at the same time. But still, the end result of the transformation from small-scale societies to early urban states  was a radical new kind of society. The Urban Revolution was, in my mind, the single greatest social transformation in the history of our species.

Check some of my former posts on the Urban Revolution, check out Childe's paper, and take a look at mine too:

"Myths of the Urban Revolution"

"Was the Urban Revolution really a revolution"

 Childe, V. Gordon  (1950)  The Urban Revolution. Town Planning Review 21:3-17.

Smith, Michael E.  (2009)  V. Gordon Childe and the Urban Revolution: An Historical Perspective on a Revolution in Urban Studies. Town Planning Review 80:3-29.  You can get this paper on the TPR site, or on my website.

Ur, one of the earliest cities

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