CCGL9070 Global Issues

The Birth of the City and the Shaping of Societies

This course is under the thematic cluster(s) of:

  • Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth (SCCE)

Timetable for Lectures

Course Description

Cities are said to be our greatest inventions. They are demonstrations of human ingenuity, power, and capacity to manipulate resources and the environment. Cities also play crucial roles in transforming human settlement patterns and habitats and in shaping human development on both individual and collective levels

In this course, we will start by examining how the unprecedented urbanization since the 18th century has turned our planet into ‘Earthopolis’. We will discuss how cities have become the epicentres by which our human species exerts its widespread, and potentially irreversible, impact on the planet earth, initiating a new geological era identified by many scientists as ‘Anthropocene’. We will guide you to explore the circumstances and process through which different urban civilizations achieved major milestones in the urban form, governance, and culture, shaping the ways we live, work, and play in cities today. We will engage creatively around ideas of sustainable urban development, basic questions of policy and planning, and questions of human flourishing particularly in the urban context. The course will arrange a field trip for you to visit a local cultural, ecological, high-tech, or housing development site so that you will gain a first-hand experience of a metropolitan area in the making.

We invite you to join us in this exciting exploration of the making and remaking of cities from the rise of cities in ancient West Asia since the 4th millennium BC to the conurbation of metropolises and mega-regions in today’s world. By exploring the making of historical, modern, and contemporary cities in different cultures, this course aims to help you develop a critical and comparative understanding of the key issues, motivations, principles, institutions, and processes involved in city-making and how urban forms and functions interact with urban societies, together exuberating visions, beliefs, values, and power whilst shaping individual and collective identities, and experiences. The course will help you gain a deeper understanding of a rich social and cultural diversity in our urban heritage, learn from the rise and fall of urban societies, recognize the ongoing process of city-making, and develop a critical appreciation of the unprecedented scale, multi-functions, and commensurate responsibilities of modern and contemporary urban development. By understanding the basic principles by which cities are planned, designed, and governed in different parts of the world, you will obtain insights for optimising your urban experience. The course will also facilitate your cultivation of an interdisciplinary, historical, and planetary perspective on our urban trajectories so that you will be better equipped to contribute to global and local sustainable development.


[There will be a compulsory fieldtrip scheduled during Reading Week.]

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a city-scale perspective of society and an integrative understanding of city-making in terms of historical backgrounds and urban form, governance, culture, and life.
  2. Navigate through traditions and innovations, and similarities and differences among diverse urban societies in the historical periods covered.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of participation in city-making on international, regional, and local levels.
  4. Demonstrate skills related to creativity, communication, and teamwork in order to improve the quality of urban living for themselves and others.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 9
Fieldwork / Visits 5
Reading / Self-study 40
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 45
Assessment: Group project and presentation 10
Total: 129

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Participation in lectures and tutorials 10
Short essays 20
Group project and presentation 40
Research paper 30

Required Reading/Viewing

  • Childe, G. (1950). The Urban Revolution. The Town Planning Review, 21, 3–17.
  • Clark, P. (Ed.). (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Selected chapters]
  • Lincoln, T. (2021). An Urban History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Selected chapters]
  • Mumford, L. (1961). The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformation, and Its Prospect. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. [Selected chapters]
  • Nightingale, C. (2022). Earthopolis: A Biography of Our Urban Planet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Selected chapters]
  • Pittman, H. (2019). The First Cities. In S. Tinney & K. Sonik (Eds.), Journey to the City: A Companion to the Middle East Galleries at the Penn Museum (pp. 46–75). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum.
  • Smith, M. E. (2007). Form and Meaning in the Early Cities: A New Approach to Ancient Urban Planning. Journal of Planning History, 6, 3-47.
  • Tudeau, J. (2019). Building in Assyria: A Philological Perspective. Harrasowitz Verlag. [Selected chapters]
  • Woolf, G. (2020). The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Selected chapters]
  • Yoffee, N. (Ed.) (2015). Early Cities in Comparative Perspective, 4000 BCE–1200 BCE. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Selected chapters]

Films to watch for the entire course

Online resources

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor S.Y. Chen
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2427
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor S.Y. Chen
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2427