HomeVisible and invisible: perceiving the city between descriptions and omissions

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Published on Monday, August 27, 2012 by Elsa Zotian


The conference will focus on the many ways in which the city has been described, narrated, portrayed and quantified in words, numbers and images over the centuries. Description and representation techniques from ancient and medieval times onwards provide an opportunity to initiate a comparison between different cities and contexts, seeking different ways of perceiving the urban whole in its full complexity.



This macro-session will deal with the complex dialectic between quantitative representations of the city and their use as sources in interpreting historical development. This issue is not highly visible among historians today, but it is crucial in attempting to properly apply the modern tools of scientific inquiry. On the one hand, the historian has an essential need for source criticism, which, in this case, can take leave from a thorough analysis of how the data was generated, of the interest that motivated its collection, of the categories used in its processing, of how it has been used in every age. Quantitative data is a valuable tool for comparing models and hypotheses on urban transformations and phenomena.

On the other hand, there is the question of how today’s historians can use the information contained in figures and tables to answer inevitably varied questions; applying, in this case, categories and models derived from contemporary thought on the evolution of cities over time.
The various sessions will address this issue through an approach that begins with individual items or specific problems but takes into consideration the views of everyone using data (historians of architecture, the city and the region, population, the economy, and society) as well as those who study the historical methods of construction (urban and economic historians, historians of the social sciences, science, and technology).
This theme could be articulated in the following four sections:

A) Quantitative sources: continuity and fractures

The theme focuses primarily on the long-term evolution of quantitative sources (tax, military and police data, health records, public registries and statistics in a broad sense), and on how they have influenced historians’ interpretations of the city.
Proposed sessions should address solutions of continuity and the relationship between the emergence of new phenomena and the invention of new tools and the criteria for measuring them, as well as the consequent availability of sources.

B) Numbers and city politics

This section will address the conditioning exercised by quantitative data, its dissemination or, if applicable, its concealment, on territorial policies and the evolution itself of urban phenomena. The influence of numbers can be compared to that exerted by other descriptive and argumentative tools, with reference, as well, to the interest
groups that have used them.

C) Between city and territory: measuring urban systems

This session will serve to place the “numbers of the city" within a broader territorial framework, so as to reconstruct the origins of both moments of crisis and expansive dynamics within a single urban context. It will also consider the origin or destination of flows of people and resources in an attempt to reconstruct a "zero-sum" picture of the changes in regional hierarchies. The tools that are useful in defining the changing boundaries of urban systems and their internal hierarchy will be discussed on the basis of case studies or methodological considerations.

D) New technologies, new models and new sources

The section addresses the problem of quantifying phenomena of urban transformation combined with the new technologies for processing historical and archaeological data (3D, GIS, VR). Instead of focusing on technology in and of itself, emphasis will be placed on its use and on the different methodologies and approaches to sources this implies. It appears crucial to ask how these tools can add new knowledge to historical research, from the perspective of the costs and benefits of their use.

To submit

Proposal for Session “Numbers” must be sent to Giovanni Favero (gfavero@unive.it) not later

than October 7th 2012.

When proposing a “Session” please give a title, the names of possible participants, a short text (max. 1000 charachters) and a brief curriculum vitae of the coordinator.

The conference will take place in Catane (Italy), on the 12-13-14th September 2013


Scientific Committee

  • Salvatore Adorno, Università di Catania
  • Donatella Calabi, Università Iuav di Venezia
  • Aldo Castellano, Politecnico di Milano
  • Augusto Ciuffetti, Università Politecnica delle Marche
  • Giovanni Luigi Fontana, Università di Padova
  • Enrico Iachello, Università di Catania
  • Paola Lanaro, Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia
  • Francesca Martorano, Università Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria
  • Paolo Militello, Università di Catania
  • Luca Mocarelli, Università Bicocca di Milano
  • Roberta Morelli, Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”
  • Massimiliano Savorra, Università del Molise
  • Donatella Strangio, Sapienza Università di Roma
  • Rosa Tamborrino, Politecnico di Torino
  • Carlo Travaglini, Università di Roma Tre



  • Catania, Italian Republic


  • Sunday, October 07, 2012


  • cities, medieval times, historiography


  • Giovanni Favero
    courriel : gfavero [at] unive [dot] it

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Giulia Vertecchi
    courriel : gvertecchi [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Visible and invisible: perceiving the city between descriptions and omissions », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, August 27, 2012, https://calenda.org/209381

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