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Publication Detail
Mapping spatial cultures: the contribution of space syntax to research in social and economic urban history
  • Publication Type:
    Conference presentation
  • Authors:
    Griffiths S, Vaughan L
  • Date:
  • Name of Conference:
    Meeting of the European Association of Urban Historian
  • Conference place:
  • Conference start date:
  • Conference finish date:
The relationship of many historians with maps remains ambivalent. While geographers often view maps as an outcome of the research process, historians tend to consider them primarily as representations of a given social and cultural milieu. Although such critical scrutiny is entirely proper, an exclusive focus on the map as representation can, ironically, expose an epistemological blindspot when it comes to using maps empirically as historical sources for past cities and the people who lived in them. If, however, maps are not viewed in purely representational terms then how they should they be interrogated as sources without risking simplistic or deterministic interpretations of what built form means? This paper argues that the theory and methods of space syntax offer a useful approach to map analysis in urban history that can help address this question and overcome the ‘blindspot’. The quantitative descriptions of the configurational structure of urban form produced by space syntax analyses of maps and plans can be used to formulate hypotheses, for example about possible patterns of urban movement, that can help in assessing the significance of non-cartographic historical sources, especially when these exist at the resolution of the street or building plot (for example census or business directory data). It also has a broader contribution to make in conceptualizing the city in terms of spatial cultures, examining urban social dynamics through the way in which built form and social mores combine to effect patterns of movement, co-presence and encounter. In this paper the author introduces his own research into the historical spatial cultures of Sheffield and London and a range of recent urban historical research developed in the Space Syntax Laboratory in UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture.
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