Minorities, gender, and contested urban spaces, 1750-1950
Online symposium, 8 April 2022
The last decades have seen a growing number of studies proving that the modern metropolis did not function as a “melting pot”, encouraging assimilation and homogeneity among its disparate inhabitants. Instead, the city provided a spatial grid that revitalised ethnic and religious diversity. Pushed and pulled towards urban amalgamations around the globe, migrants established a variety of spaces linked to worship, education, community, and culture in their new homelands. Naturally, developments in technology, infrastructure and welfare changed cities between 1750 and 1950, but the spatial inscription of diverse migrant cultures simultaneously transformed the urban fabric and evoked new urban meanings. Consequently, urban spaces became sites for contestations about migration groups’ belonging, visibility and role in the “delight” (Walter Benjamin) and “danger” (Lewis Mumford) that defined the modern city.
How were the processes of constructing and contesting belonging in modern urban settings experienced and shaped by minorities (particularly those predicated on gendered power dynamics for example women, transgender, non-binary, and queer people) within migration groups? As we know, gendered experiences are diverse: while department store spaces were created to encourage white European bourgeois women to explore the streetscape, and flaneuses and female philanthropists defined their surroundings through literary and physical spaces, poorer and non-white women, and those who did not conform to gendered expectations, experienced that same urban space in very different ways. In an urban landscape which was often planned by, and constructed to fit, male inhabitants, inhabitants who did not conform to those gendered, physical, class, and national expectations shaped their own worlds. These people were often subject to double, or even triple, layers of marginalisation: as migrants, as gendered minorities, and by their class.
Using transnational and cross-disciplinary frameworks, this symposium – and subsequent special issue – asks how researchers can understand and conceptualise gendered, migrant and minority urban experiences. Understanding space as both located in the physical urban grid and as a collection of practices, experiences and meanings, this symposium aims to connect studies on urban space, gender and minorities from across the ‘modern’ era and across the world. We believe that such a cross-fertilisation can inform understandings of gendered marginalisation, as well as advocacy and agency among doubly marginalised groups, in times of global urban transformations. We ask which urban spaces were within the reach of gendered minorities, and what limitations did they come across as they settled in new urban environments. What forces did gendered minorities encounter within both their ethnic or religious minority groups and larger society? How did these people wield their agency, contest their place in, and shape, the modern city? And how can we as historians find their voices, and extrapolate the roles of gender, ethnicity and religion in experiencing and shaping the modern city?
We welcome papers from postgraduates, early career scholars, and established researchers that explore intersections of gender, minorities and urban space across different geographical, temporal, and cultural contexts from topics related, but not limited, to: