Call for papers: Patterns of Early Asian Urbanism

call-for-papers-150-21We invite you to explore together with leading scholars from around the world the theme of ‘Early Urbanism’ of pre-modern Asian cities within the much broader context of urban studies, ancient and modern. Please send us your paper or panel proposal before 1 March 2013.

The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), together with Leiden University’s Faculty of Archaeology and the Archaeology Unit of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, are hosting an international conference on the theme of ‘Early Urbanism’ of pre-modern Asian cities. This international event forms part of the activities connected with the IIAS 2013 Cambodian-Angkor Festival and the IIAS Asian Cities and Asian Heritages research clusters.

Deadline: 1 March 2013

Conference Dates
11 – 13 November 2013

Submission details

The organisers invite proposals for papers or presentations of 20 minutes in length. Abstracts of 300 words maximum and a short author biography (including institutional affiliation) should be submitted before March 1st, 2013. Proposals for panel discussions (3 to 4 speakers) are also encouraged. An academic committee will select and group the proposals into separate sessions. Those who submit a proposal will hear by April 1st whether their proposal has been accepted and into which thematic panel it has been allocated.

To submit an abstract or proposal, please follow the links below:

Individual paper:
Panel proposal:

Dutch National Museum of Antiquities
Rapenburg 28, Leiden

For further information, please contact the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS),, with subject “Ancient Asian Cities”.

About the conference

As centres which created, fostered and disseminated cultural, religious, socio-economic and political developments, pre-modern Asian cities were instrumental in generating urban culture of great diversity and the highest complexity. The conference seeks to explore Asian cities during their crucial period of urban formation and activity.

The conference aims to examine Asian pre-modern cities through three major thematic strands, covering a wide geographic expanse throughout Asia (from Pakistan to Japan) and a time depth of cultural development across five millennia (from the Bronze Age through 14th century Angkor to 18th century East Asia). The conference will provide a multi-disciplinary forum and we invite participation from the fields of archaeology, economy, geography, history, historical anthropology, philology, sociology, as well as (modern) urban planning and urban morphology.

The cultural phenomena of Asian cities will be explored through comparative studies, case studies and new theoretical approaches. The contrasted concepts of global and local features of urban growth allow us to employ a comparative perspective investigating similarities in human societies’ historical trajectory towards increasing rates of urbanization, while at the same time privileging the fact that cities are products of regional cultural traditions and dynamics.

Much scholarly attention has been directed towards the emergence and development of cities and urban agglomerates in pre-modern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East and Pre-Columbian America, where a number of recent works have stressed the socially ‘organic’ economy of these ancient cities and their dynamic modes of human interactions across urban society beyond more traditionally described patterns of religious and elite ‘top-down’ agencies. In this light, and although the main focus of this conference will be on the pre-modern Asian city and its evolution, informative comparison and contrast will be brought into debate through contributions summarizing European, Mediterranean, Near Eastern and Meso-American urban history, as for instance emanating from research carried out in the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden. There will also be scope to include ongoing discussions about the development of modern (Asian) cities.

Thus also drawing on the theoretical, methodological and empirical expertise generated by, and developed for, the study of cities from other parts of the world (and/or more recent periods), the planned conference will specifically focus on socio-economic trends in pre-modern Asian cities, the ‘life world’ of their inhabitants, and the characteristics of ‘urbanity’ that developed out of these interactions. The geographical range the conference aims to cover is ambitious: from Pakistan and Central Asia to Indonesia and Japan. The time depth is equally extensive: from third millennium BC Mohenjo-Daro in modern Pakistan via Mughal Fatehpur Sikri, medieval Beijing and fourteenth century Angkor to pre-modern Korea and Japan.


The three-day conference will be structured around three thematic foci and we encourage the submission of papers that address either one of the themes, or cross theme boundaries. Proposals that seek to draw comparisons across wider regions or open up new vistas for original research are particularly welcome.

Pre-modern Asian cities will be explored from three major perspectives:

1. Processes of urban development

This theme seeks to address factors that explain the foundation and development of cities, the period they flourished and their subsequent decline, abandonment and/or ‘rebirth’. We invite papers that address the ‘rise and fall’ of ancient/pre-modern Asian cities and examine growth and decline within wider explanatory frameworks. Proposals could address: city foundations and their raison d’棚tre; the secrets of successful cities or what made them fail?

2. The urban economy

This strand focuses on the cities’ economy, infrastructure and logistics, within urban centres and in relation to their hinterlands.

It relates to the economic functionality of the city and examines how it served its communities. It addresses the infrastructure required to supply the city with a network of traded services, professional specializations, and an efficient management. Related questions include how the population was sustained and what resources the city could draw on. Were there natural, geomorphological (river, harbour, fertile plains) or human resources (emperor, governor, army, slave market)? Was the city a pilgrimage site, or the capital of a kingdom? How was the city supplied with water, and how did water affect urban life? What was the economic mainstay (industry, trade, agriculture)? Additional topics could link urban economy to ecology and focus on sustainable urban economies and the energy cycles of cities. Topics to be explored could range from waste disposal to the re-use of urban material in building processes. Ultimately, the second theme seeks to understand the city’s ‘added value’ as a producer and distributor of goods in relation to its immediate and more remote rural hinterland.

3. The social fabric of the city

The city’s internal organization, its external social connections, and the ‘cosmopolitanism’ of cities are the focus of the third thematic cluster.

We invite proposals that relate to the city’s internal social organization. This could be explored through the concepts informing city layout and urban topography (political and/or ideological); concepts of urban planning (informal growth vs. planned interventions); how did the local and regional economy affect the layout and functioning of the city?; the cosmological patterns which might underpin the spatial structure; the spatial distribution within the city of various groups of different ethnic, religious, or economic background. In addition, the role of gender in shaping the city should be addressed, looking into urban spaces as shaped by gender-relations; finally the ‘city of images’ brings into play the visual and cognitive face of the city and how it reflects but also creates specific urban cultures.

Conference organisation

The three day conference will include plenary and parallel thematic sessions. Keynote speakers will address the main themes of the conference in plenary sessions, and introduce specific themes in parallel sessions. These lectures will help to set the parameters for the discussions to follow. The separate thematic sessions will be grouped according to the three main themes of the conference and the contents of the specific papers that are submitted. The sessions will be chaired by an expert who will lead the discussion and sum up the results of each set of papers. Those who submit a paper have 20 mins for their presentation, excluding discussions. Those who submit a panel on a specific subject receive 90 mins for 3 to 4 speakers.

The final session on the third day will review the results of the conference and discuss the implications of these new insights as well as suggest future activities.

Conference Outcome

The most tangible results of the conference will be a special Focus section of the IIAS Newsletter as well as an edited publication. It is also hoped that out of the event, a dynamic network of ancient Asian cities specialists will be forged, this in conjunction with the IIAS-coordinated Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) programme (

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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