Town Hall Squares as Spatial Focal Points of Urban Life in the 19th and 20th Century (EAUH 2016)

Town Hall Squares as Spatial Focal Points of Urban Life in the 19th and 20th Century (EAUH 2016)

European Association for Urban History (EAUH) / Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg (FZH) - Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg (Christoph Strupp) / Institute of History, University of Oldenburg (Malte Thiessen)
University of Helsinki
Vom - Bis
24.08.2016 - 27.08.2016
Christoph Strupp, Forschungsstelle fuer Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg (FZH); Malte Thießen, University of Oldenburg

Call for Papers (EAUH 2016) / Specialist Session S 28:

Town Hall Squares as Spatial Focal Points of Urban Life in the 19th and 20th Century

European Association for Urban History, XIIIth International Conference on Urban History, Helsinki, August 24-27, 2016


We invite paper proposals for a session at the EAUH 2016 on town hall squares in the 19th and 20th century.

Political, social and cultural activities take place in cities in various forms. In terms of spatiality, these activities are not spread out evenly across the city but condense and intensify at certain locations. The proposed session wants to take a closer look at one of these urban focal points: the town hall square. Town halls are representative buildings with a prominent architectural character, located in the city centre, and usually accompanied by large open areas in front of the buildings.

The central character of town hall squares dates back to pre-modern times, but this session focuses on their instrumental uses and adaptations in European and non-European cities in the 19th and 20th century. Town hall forecourts have been the scene of official rallies, political demonstrations, commemorations, festivals and celebrations as well as commercial events such as street markets, outdoor concerts, sports events, or tourist sightseeing. Activities there can count on a high level of public and media interest, which makes access to the town hall square a contentious issue: Who is entitled to take advantage of a place so close to urban political and economic power and for what purposes? Has the character and function of the town hall square in larger cities changed over time with growth and urban sprawl? Has the increased separation of housing, work, and leisure weakened its status, or on the contrary, rather strengthened the need for a central site of urban interaction and communication? Besides the immediate political dimensions, we are also interested in the consequences of changes in consumer culture especially in the second half of the 20th century when hotels, restaurants, or department stores located at town hall squares often lost their status as „first addresses“. Finally, aspects of urban planning such as traffic routes, redesignation of adjacent representative buildings, or town hall squares as sites of memorials may also be addressed.

Methodologically, the panel is inspired by approaches to urban history as a history of social practice. By looking at activities at town hall squares and their changes over time, we want to open up new perspectives on the links between urban spatiality, power relations, and communicative and commercial activities in the modern city. Through case studies we want to shed new light on the relationship between urban space and identity in different national and regional contexts. We hope to combine research from political, social and cultural contemporary history with submissions from urban studies and the history of architecture and city planning. The focus of the papers should be on temporal change and development, not on the description of a single event or the status quo at a certain point in time.

Please submit your abstract (maximum 300 words) via the conference website ( by October 31, 2015 and send it by e-mail with a short resume to the session organizers Dr. Christoph Strupp (Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg, Germany), e-mail:, and Prof. Dr. Malte Thießen (Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany), e-mail: Any questions you might have can also be directed at the organizers. We will inform you by December 15 whether your proposal was accepted.


Please note that there will be a conference fee for all participants and that travel and accommodation costs cannot be covered by the organizers. For further information on the EAUH conference, please visit the conference website at:



Christoph Strupp

Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg
Beim Schlump 83, D-20144 Hamburg