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Mapping spatial cultures: contributions of space syntax to research in the urban history of the nineteenth-century city

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2020

Sam Griffiths
Space Syntax Laboratory, UCL Bartlett School of Architecture, UK
Laura Vaughan
Space Syntax Laboratory, UCL Bartlett School of Architecture, UK
E-mail address:


The theory and methods of space syntax can help to rebalance the prevailing cultural perspective, which views maps as ideological representations, with an analytical approach that emphasizes maps as sources for understanding space and spatial relationships embedded in built forms. The quantitative descriptions of urban street networks produced by space syntax analyses can be used to formulate and test hypotheses about patterns of urban movement, encounter and socio-economic activity in the past that can help in the interpretation of other historical source materials to give an overall account of urban spatial culture. In this article, the authors explain how space syntax, a theory and method originally developed in the field of architectural research, is making a distinctive contribution to research in social and urban history. The key principles of the method are explained by clarifying the relationship of space syntax to HGIS (Historical Geographical Information Systems) and through a worked example of research undertaken into political meeting places. A survey of research into the urban history of the nineteenth-century city using space syntax is used to highlight a number of important methodological themes and also demonstrates the range of innovative contributions that this interdisciplinary approach is able to advance. A final, theoretical, section reflects on maps and the practice of ‘mapping’ from a space syntax perspective.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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12 Researchers from UCL's Space Syntax Laboratory hosted two panel sessions at the Urban History Group Annual Conference at Robinson College, University of Cambridge (March/April 2016) and one at the Royal Holloway, University of London Conference (March 2017), and also presented research at the European Association of Urban Historians Conference in Helsinki (August 2016) and Rome (2018) to select a few instances of this interdisciplinary nexus.

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14 The authors would like to acknowledge Dr Katrina Navickas, Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire, for her integral role in developing the political meetings research presented in this section and for permission to represent her data in this context.

15 The research project: ‘Applying space syntax methods to historical data: mapping popular political meetings in 19th century British cities’ is part-funded by an Architectural Research Fund grant (2016) from the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture and is expected to conclude in 2019.

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21 It is intended that the detailed methodological process and findings from the political meetings research project should be published in full in the near future.

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42 Griffiths, ‘The high street as a morphological event’. Elsewhere in Suburban Urbanities, Vaughan illustrates the nature of historical continuity with a painting from c. 1830 by John Constable that shows Sir Richard Steele's cottage, Hampstead in the foreground and St Paul's Cathedral in the background, to highlight both the process of urban change – Hampstead was an outlying suburb at the time, while today it is considered part of London – and the continuity of urban elements despite that change. The continuity of the road section depicted as the locus for drinking culture in a succession of inns and pubs ‘signals a kind of path dependency that is one of the ways in which cities such as London have managed to adapt to change’, Vaughan (ed.), Suburban Urbanities, 5–6.

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