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Cities and peripheries


  • Swati Chattopadhyay

    1. University of California, Santa Barbara
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    • This article is a revised version of the plenary lecture delivered at the Anglo-American Conference of Historians on ‘Cities’, University of London, 2 July 2009. I would like to thank Jeremy White for his close reading of earlier drafts of this article and critical suggestions, Andrew Cook for his generosity in sharing his bibliography on embankments and the problem of the salinization of river water in the Gangetic plains, and Jennifer Howes for enabling me to obtain permission to reproduce the images from the British Library.


This article addresses a methodological problem of urban history faced with the current environmental crisis that urges us to think of humans as ‘geological’ agents. It suggests that the concept of the uncanny that pushes our understanding of spatio-temporality may be a useful device for approaching the methodological need to reconcile what we can and cannot experience/visualize. Viewing the mapping projects around Calcutta in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through the lens of the uncanny offers us the possibility of such a reconciliation. It enables us to see the landscape as a product of multiple spatio-temporal modes, and loosens the grip of the current urban vocabulary on our imagination of cities.