IXth International Conference on Urban History

August 27-30, 2008

Lyon France
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 Session description

The University and the City – Partnership or Rivalry?

A certain universalism is an inherent prerequisite for the identity of a university. Notwithstanding its supranational dimension the university has always been connected with its locality. In this way two central, historical elements of European history meet: the town and the university. The university can shape its own town, like the British-American college and campus tradition shows, or the university communicates with the existing city, like the case was in continental Europe.

Universities have had a perceptible influence on the town. Most early universities were founded in the centre of medium size and often wealthy towns. The university created, as a self-sufficient community, a corporate identity, with academic ceremonies and symbols, an academic self-awareness and self-esteem compared to other townspeople, in particular the middle classes, and the peasantry. The complexities inherent in the interaction between town and gown were evident already during middle Ages. Two lifestyles – that of the academic community and that of the civic community – existed side by side.

During 19th century a special category, university in the capital city, was developed. Capital cities became political centres of their nations, and state universities established in capitals became leading cultural institutions for the nation-states (e.g Berlin, Athens and Helsinki). The part played by universities, professors and students in 19th century nationalism is well known. Another 19th century university model was the civic university, often sponsored by the urban bourgeoisie of big cities (e.g. London, Stockholm, Hamburg) and generally more in tune the commercial, cultural and (liberal) political interests of the city elites than were the established state universities.

With its buildings and institutes the university forms an architectural, physical whole in the urban context. Academic life manifests itself in the town in many ways; it spills over beyond the confines of its own walls – in the market-place and on the streets, in parks and other official and semi-official settings. Universities form a part of city’s urban imaginary; cities and towns with universities attract young people. In the post-war decentralization policies universities were planned to create regional growth and spread urban wealth and knowledge to different parts of the country. Establishment of a university became a privileged instrument for state regional planning policies.

The emergence of the mass university of the 1960s obviously had great impact on the university/town relationship. The universities became centres of revolt and unrest, and the relations between students and citizens became strained. Universities thus came to represent an element of instability, often leading to the establishment of a permanent or semi-permanent youth counter-cultural movement in the university towns, characterized by phenomena like house occupation, political activism and liberal attitudes to drugs.

The massification of higher education also led to the construction of university campuses outside of the historical centres to house the greatly expanded institutions, often with great impact on town planning and on urban life as a whole. In the recent years, an opposite development seems to have emerged, when universities are moved back into town centres as part of policies for urban renovation.

The intention of this session is to discuss the interaction between the university and its urban setting and surrounding from different angels and in different times in Europe. Attention should be paid to how members of academia participated in the creation of local and municipal identity and policies. We hope to receive papers dealing with for example following questions:

• What kind universities have been planned in different kinds of cities and towns?
• Who has been the main planner: the state, the local community or private foundations?
• How did the architecture of science, learning and higher educations change the urban structure?
• How was academic life developed in the urban context? How did/do professors and student participate in local political and cultural life? How did/do they live the university cities and towns?

An essential question is: did universities as intellectual communities see themselves as partners with the surrounding cities – and were they seen as such by the burghers - or was the relationship between city and university dominated by rivalry and conflict?

Session conveners:

  • Laura Kolbe
  • John Peter Collett

Session type: Specialist Session

Classification: MA/M - Middle Ages to Modern


The Battle for the Standard: Students on the Streets of Scotland, 1889-1948

Author(s): Macdonald, Catriona 

Town vs. Gown: Oxford University Press as an agent of partnership as well as rivalry in seventeenth-century Oxford

Author(s): feola, vittoria 

Two visions, one city. The evolution of spatial concepts of universities in Poland using the example of Poznań

Author(s): Marciniak, Piotr 

Universities as Centres of Political Life in Russian Cities (1861-1905)

Author(s): Shevyrev, Alexander 

University and city? - University and region! Neisse University as a regional partnership

Author(s): Hömke, Maik 

Weimar and Dresden on the rise – can knowledge-based urban development save east Germany’s university towns?

Author(s): Ziegenbein, Brigitta