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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.
A new opportunity, and a new challenge, presents itself to urban historians. In order to obtain a deeper understanding of historical urban space and spatial relationships, the contributors to this Special Issue deploy new techniques of spatial analysis using mapping tools to explore the density, frequency and proximity of various features of towns and cities. The contributors focus on case-studies at various urban scales – from major commercial centres (New York, Rome, Paris and London) – to smaller towns in the urban hierarchy. They also range across the tenth to the twentieth centuries and so challenge a common assumption that mapping the town is essentially an approach best suited to the modern period. Individually and collectively, the authors demonstrate how the urban morphology of the city developed and how durable that spatial patterning can be.
The spatial growth of German cities in the years of upheaval in the nineteenth century has been, and remains, the subject of intense historical research. However, the origins of the socio-economic processes underlying these transformations actually predate the epochal transition into the modern era. This article deals critically with the popular conception of a ‘town–country dichotomy’ by comparing, on an empirical basis, urban, semi-urban and rural settlements in a sub-region of the north-west of Germany in the mid-eighteenth century. With the aid of a Geographical Information System (GIS), the cartographic and serial material of the ‘Brunswick Land Survey’ is evaluated in terms of its relevance to a socio-topographic comparison of the spatial micro-structures of the three respective settlement segments. The comparison focuses on the general morphology of the settlement segments, the conditions accompanying the growth of the settlements and the spatial structures of the agricultural activities pursued. In addition, it identifies the factors which led to the erosion of differences between town and country.
Based on the different type of ecclesiastical institutions, an analysis of the plots owned and developed by the different orders reveals that some spatial characteristics endure in the modern city. The degree of fragmentation and the nature of subsequent urban development is shown to be a function of the type of church established in the medieval period. The examples are based on detailed plot analysis in Paris.