Writing Cities

Exploring Early Modern Urban Discourse
$27.95 / €23.95 / £19.95
Kindle edition is available through Amazon
Publication date: 
280 pages

Only one out of ten early modern Europeans lived in cities. Yet cities were crucial nodes, joining together producers and consumers, rulers and ruled, and believers in diverse faiths and futures. They also generated an enormous amount of writing, much of which focused on civic life itself. But despite its obvious importance, historians have paid surprisingly little attention to urban discourse; its forms, themes, emphases and silences all invite further study.

This book explores three dimensions of early modern citizens’ writing about their cities: the diverse social backgrounds of the men and women who contributed to urban discourse; their notions of what made for a beautiful city; and their use of dialogue as a literary vehicle particularly apt for expressing city life and culture.

Amelang concludes that early modern urban discourse increasingly moves from oral discussion to take the form of writing. And while the dominant tone of those who wrote about cities continued to be one of celebration and glorification, over time a more detached and less judgmental mode developed. More and more they came to see their fundamental task as presenting a description that was objective.


Chapter 1. Authors: Assembling an Ensemble
Chapter 2. Facades: Defining Urban Beauty
Chapter 3. Dialogues: Talking the Town
A Personal Epilogue


"Professor Amelang has shared his thought process to get the ball rolling and encourage other urban historians to seriously consider working in this vein. What the reader comes away with is the impression that here is a historian sharing his enjoyment in seeking to understand how people thought about urban spaces and their movement through them, both in their practical aspects and in thier play upon the imagination."
"If you are interested in learning about early modern cities, James Amelang’s Writing Cities will guide you expertly through town. You will explore new pathways in quest of a wide range of sources that Amelang has collected over years of research. Filled with copious endnotes and a 42-page bibliography, they are the midpoint for a future comprehensive book and a valuable gift to present-day scholars. Amelang’s itinerary explores the authors, themes, and formats of early modern urban writing. We look at the social backgrounds of diverse authors and their views of what made a city beautiful from the late middle ages to 1800. Amelang also highlights the dialogue as a vehicle that reveals the dynamic give and take of urban society. At the end of our tour, we recognize what was singular or shared in the views of contemporaries who wrote about their cities."