Past Urbanisms

PhD Course, the Norwegian Institute in Rome, May 27-31, 2019.

Dialogues with the Past. The Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology

Rome (Photo; GeoImaga, Astrium Services 2013)

This course, organized within the framework of the Nordic Graduate school DialPast, focusses on a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches to urbanisms in the past in a longue durée perspective and with pivotal focus given to urban networks. The chronological span of the course covers several millennia and a variety of regions bringing in examples from northern Europe, the Mediterranean area and East Africa as well as the Far East and Mesoamerica. By comparing the archaeology of urbanism from the Maya civilizations, Eastern Africa and the ancient Mediterranean to medieval Northern Europe and the broader Indian Ocean World, and determining how – and to what extent – urban networks catalysed societal and environmental expansions and crises in the past, the course will offer theoretical and methodological perspectives to PhD students, by also introducing such perspectives through the examination of case studies. By bringing in a historiographical perspective, the impact of a variety of theoretical approaches on urbanism in the past, which have and still influence the way in which we work with urban societies in archaeology and history, will be highlighted.


Contemporary urban studies stress the capacity to harness and nurture networks of information and exchange as an essential condition of urban societies. Yet archaeology is more successful at studying the planning efforts, monumental investments and conspicuous consumption, which mark the political aspect of urbanism, than in tracing the interactions. While urbanism and urban developments often have been described in terms of developments graspable in the urban material fabric, in particular the development of layout and areas within cityscapes, the “dynamic” aspects of urban development, the network dynamics, have often been neglected in the study of past urban societies. Therefore a particular focus will be given to urban networks and urban dynamics in the course. These strings of enquiry have stood at the core of the work done within the framework of the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence for Urban Network Evolutions since 2015 and have offered new insight into ways in which past urbanisms may be examined. Through an interdisciplinary approach the advances within the understanding of the historical process of urban evolutions will be framed in the course and highlighted through case studies demonstrating the ability of archaeology to characterise the scale and pace of events and processes. We will explore how networks have operated as an aspect of urban societies in the past, and how high-definition archaeology is changing our ability to trace their dynamics.

By bringing in experts on a range of regions and on theoretical perspectives, the course cover a wide range of approaches and introduce the students to numerous examples and material. Furthermore fieldtrips to locations in Rome where excavations are currently taking place will give the possibility to discuss modern excavation strategies in urban contexts.


Course work

The course will take the shape of lectures, fieldtrips, student presentations and plenum discussions. Involved lecturers will each deliver a keynote lecture and take part in the course as general discussants and motivators in theme workshops as well as guides to sites in Rome. Before the course starts, each PhD student will prepare a paper for pre-circulation, addressing her or his research project in relation to the course theme. In the course seminars, each paper will be allotted ca. 45 minutes, beginning with the student presenting a 15-minute summary of its contents. This is followed with a 10 min commentary from one of the other PhD students (selected in advance), after which she or he will chair an open discussion on the paper for approximately 20 minutes.

Contributions may relate to urban societies from prehistory to present, and may include case studies in fieldwork practice, material culture networks and comparative analytical work.



Michael Smith  Roland Fletcher  Federica Sulas  Christopher Dickenson  Michael Blömer


(Photo credit, from left to right: Arizona State University, the University of Sydney, Aarhus University) 

Professor Michael E. Smith (Arizona State University, USA)

Professor Roland Fletcher (Sydney University, Australia)

Assistant professor Federica Sulas (Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, Aarhus University, Denmark)

Assistant professor Christopher Dickenson (Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, Aarhus University, Denmark)

Assistant professor Michael Blömer (Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, Aarhus University, Denmark)



1 month or 7 ECTS


Location, Travel and Costs

The Graduate School will finance and arrange travel and accommodation, as well as supply a daily allowance during the seminar for all participating PhD students who are part of the Dialogues With the Past network as well as participating PhD students from the following Indian and South African institutions: North-Eastern Hills University, Nagaland University, HNB Garhwal University, Sambalpur University, Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria and University of the Witwatersrand. Two and two PhD students will share a room.



The Graduate school invites all registered PhD students to apply for participation. Please follow this link to apply for the course (in English only). From these applications, 15 PhD students will be admitted to the course.

For more information please contact:


Important dates

Application for participation: February 15, 2019. Confirmation on your participation will be sent out shortly after this date together with a reading list.

Submission of working papers (10 pages, Times New Roman 12, Spacing 1,5): April 29, 2019.

Appointment of discussants: May 6, 2019

Published Dec. 19, 2018 12:16 AM - Last modified Feb. 27, 2020 12:19 PM