Human Geography Origin of Towns-Gordon Childe Youtube Lecture Handouts

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About Childe & His Ideas

  • Man Makes Himself (1936)

  • What Happened in History (1942)

  • ‘The Urban Revolution’ – first published in Town Planning Review (Childe, 1950)

  • V. Gordon Childe (1892–1957) was the most influential archaeologist of the twentieth century

  • He first time applied social models to archaeological data concerning the major transformations in the evolution of human society

  • He employed two key concepts to organise his discussion: the Neolithic Revolution and the Urban Revolution.

  • Childe – Urban Revolution & Mumford – Urban Implosion

  • In archaeology the temf'Urban revolution' was introduced by Gordon Childe to describe the transition from the pre-literate agricultural -societies to more complex civilized societies

Cultural Concept of Archeology

  • Childe pioneered a new approach in archaeology in his classic, The Dawn of European Civilization, originally published in 1925. Childe stressed that each culture should be delineated individually in terms of constituent artefacts and that one should not be content with building up bare space-time subdivisions.

  • Childe interpreted the prehistory of Europe in terms of a complex mosaic of cultures, represented by maps and tables, in The Dawn.

Cultural Evolution

  • Small groups dependent on plants and animals

  • Domestication

  • Agriculture

  • Expansion of farming (Neolithic)

  • Migration and trade

  • Complex social systems and political states

  • Conquest

  • Rise and Fall of dynasties

Systematic research on cultural evolution began with a group of nineteenth-century anthropologists, of whom the most prominent were Herbert Spencer and Lewis Henry Morgan. Morgan (1878), for example, classified modern non-Western cultures into categories of increasing social complexity that he called savagery, barbarism and civilisation.

Revolution – Neolithic and Urban

  • Gordon Childe chose the phrase ‘revolution’ deliberately in order to compare the major social transformations of prehistory to the Industrial Revolution – real revolutions that affected life

  • The Neolithic Revolution describes the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. The shift from a total reliance on wild resources to the use of domesticated foods led to a number of fundamental and far-reaching changes in human society. Occured at 7-8 centers.

  • Neolithic Revolution combined technological breakthroughs with social transformations, the Urban Revolution was almost entirely a transformation of social institutions and practices

  • ‘Urban Revolution’ to refer to this interconnected series of changes; he did not limit the term to the development of cities. For him, cities were just one component of the overall process by which complex, state-level societies came into being.

  • So Childe primary saw the underlying causes of the urban revolution as the cumulative growth of technology and the increasing availability of food surpluses and capital. Food surplus is the necessary but not sufficient pre-condition for the urban revolution

Urban Revolution – Primary State Formation

Urban Revolution

Urban Revolution

Urban Revolution

Urban Revolution were even more drastic and fundamental than those of the Neolithic Revolution, since former freedoms and independence were replaced by servitude, taxes, rules and regulations. The earliest urban society developed in Mesopotamia, and excavations at Ur in the 1920s

10-Point Model

  • increased settlement size

  • concentration of wealth

  • class-stratified society

  • large-scale public works

  • writing

  • representational art

  • knowledge and science of engineering

  • foreign trade

  • full-time specialists in non-subsistence activities

  • political organization based on residence (territory) rather than kinship

  • Childe’s model is not so much about cities or urbanism per se as it is about the series of interrelated social, economic, political, and cultural changes that led to the earliest states and cities.

  • Trait 1 says, in effect, that the early states were urban societies; they had large, dense settlements, or cities

  • Trait 2 notes the more complex division of labour in early states, and says that many specialists lived and worked in cities.

  • Trait 3, the production of a social surplus by commoners to pay for government and the division of labour, gets to the heart of the economic and political transformations that brought about early complex societies.

  • Trait 5 is the formation of social classes, seen as perhaps the greatest change in people’s lives that can be attributed to the Urban Revolution

  • Trait 10 describes the political organisation of society: the state. Whereas political power in more egalitarian societies was widely distributed among people and families, in states, power became centralised around key institutions such as the ruler and other components of government.

Other Views

  • Importance of Childe: 1) as the first substantial social synthesis of archaeological data on the earliest states and cities, this model marked a major advance in scholarship in the mid-twentieth century; and 2) Childe’s model forms the basis for almost all subsequent theorising on the development and operation of the earliest states and cities.

  • Lewis Mumford divided ancient cities into enclosed and open forms, and Edward Soja used the dichotomy of dense versus dispersed.

  • Adam T. Smith suggested that ‘the “organic” designation of irregular cities often mistakes cultural variation in aesthetics for decentralisation of urban planning’