Human Geography Origin of Towns – Lewis Mumford YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Watch Video Lecture on YouTube: Origin of Towns by Lewis Mumford - Urban Implosion

Origin of Towns by Lewis Mumford - Urban Implosion

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About Mumford & His Ideas

  • Social Change (4 types) and Cultural Change (6 types)

  • American historian and philosopher of technology and science. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture

  • Lewis Mumford under the influence of Patrick Geddes visualised a town not so much as a physical entity but as a social phenomenon

  • The city in history won the 1962 U.S. National Book Award for Notification. In this influential book Mumford explored the development of urban civilizations.

Basic Concept

  • Containers

  • Heterogeneity

  • Complexity

  • Vocational Ability

  • Communication

  • Civilization

  • Mumford points out that for the Neolithic human beings village and home were the creations of the women. Nurture, protection, fecundity were the main tasks that had to be performed.

  • Wherever containers were found we could assume that there was surplus.

  • It is heterogeneity that led to the formation of the city—the miner, the woodman, the fisherman, each bringing with him the tools and skills and habits of life formed under other pressures

  • The engineer, the boatman, the sailor and other occupational groups the soldier, the banker, the merchant, the priest. Out is this complexity the city created a higher unity

  • It is not that kinship and family connections did not matter but vocational ability. So the question is what skill have you brought and not what tribe/caste do you belong to.

  • Communication – mobilization for man power, rise in agricultural production, development of science and technology

  • Civilization - The invention of such forms as the written record, the library, the archive, the school and the university are the earliest and most characteristic achievements of the city.

Implications of Urban Revolution - Implosion

  • Contrary to rejecting what was already there the ‘urban revolution’ actually brought the earlier elements of the existing culture and increased their efficacy and scope.

  • The emergence of non-agricultural occupations, heightened the demand for food and probably caused villages to multiply, and still more land to be brought under cultivation.

  • Revolution does not mean discarding what was there earlier.

  • Mumford uses the term ‘implosion’ to describe this process. According to Mumford the many diverse elements of the community hitherto scattered were mobilized and packed together under pressure, behind the massive walls of the city.

  • The process of urbanization had further impact on villages. More urban centres meant that more population who is not producing food. The city was not revolution but built on something that was already present.

  • Kingship that was at the centre of the urban implosion. He cites archeological evidence from Egypt and Mesopotamia that it was the king who stood at the centre of the urban implosion

Features of Ancient Cities

  • Walls: primarily for military defense but also to emphasize the separation of the urban community from the countryside.

  • They contained a market but it was not in the city centre like modern cities. The main buildings were nearly always religious or political such as temples, palaces or courts. The dwellings of the ruling class or elite tended to be concentrated in or near the centre while the less privileged lived near the edges.

  • Places of work and residence were the same.

Social Change

  • Ecotechnic

  • Paleotechnic

  • Neotechnic

  • Biotechnic

  • Ecotechnic phase: Characterized by use of immobile power source like wood, wind and water, primitive technology and undeveloped means of transport.

  • Manufacturing is done on the lines of cottage industry, using ubiquitous raw materials, having a high labour input. They exhibit a scattered spatial pattern.

  • West European towns between tenth and eighteenth centuries represented this phase.

  • Paleotechnic phase: Beginning of use of coal as a source of power and development of iron and steel industry with compact urban settlements.

  • Neotechnic phase: Initiation of technological innovations with introduction of electric power, internal combustion engines.

  • Well organised manufacturing

  • Traffic congestion and urban sprawls props up.

  • West European towns is an example

  • Biotechnic phase: Most dominated phase more by biological sciences than by physical sciences. Cities are more concerned about city environment and its conservation.

Cultural Change

  • Eopolis

  • Polis

  • Metropolis

  • Megalopolis

  • Tyrannopolis

  • Necropolis

  • Ecopolis- rising village community.

  • Polis- small market town.

  • Metropolis-large city, cosmopolitan population, specialized functions, vast sphere of influence.

  • Megalopolis-bloated city where material wealth dominated the life.

  • Tyrannopolis-Tyrannical cities.

  • Necropolis-city of dead where overcrowding and environmental degradation leads to famine, war.

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