Project Details


Service Access in Premodern Cities Service Access in Premodern Cities We propose a study of inequality in access to urban services in two samples of premodern cities: one archaeological, the other historical. This is a transdisciplinary project that uses insights from a number of disciplines to address the deep history of contemporary urban processes and patterns. By examining past cases in regard to service inequalityan important feature of contemporary urban societywe strikingly expand the comparative framework of urban studies. Only through broad historical and comparative research can scholars distinguish universal urban patterns from unique occurrences, or general trends from idiosyncratic events. We build on the foundation of a four-year transdisciplinary research project funded by Arizona State University. Our two research questions are: (1) to what extent does the spatial distribution of public facilities, such as open space and public architecture, reflect inequality in residents access to services in premodern urban neighborhoods? (2) what contextual variables determine the degree of inequality in service access? These questions have not been addressed systematically for cities before the modern era, yet they hold the key to understanding many aspects of urbanization. Our analysis will not only illuminate the historical antecedents of contemporary urbanization, but also will explore the causal dynamics of urban life from a broad temporal and regional perspective. We will digitize archaeological and historical maps and carry out spatial analyses of facility locations. Intellectual Merit. This will be more extensive comparative analysis of premodern cities than previously undertaken, and it will pave the way for continued systematic research. Urban settlements were key locales of social action in premodern states, as they are today. The pervasiveness and causes of inequality in access to urban services cannot be understood solely through modern contexts. In particular, we seek to evaluate the roles of four categories of indirect variable in generating patterns of access to services: scalar effects (sizes of cities and neighborhoods), wealth effects (elite presence and patterns of wealth inequality), governance effects (non-state institutions, grass-roots processes), and political context effects (state type, centralization of power, popular participation in government). We expect to see both variety and recurrent patterns. Comparative analysis will help us propose trends of change that can guide continuing research. We take a transdisciplinary approach to urban scholarship, one that has been honed by four years of joint research on related urban topics. Our basic scientific orientation starts with contemporary urban issues and investigates their manifestation in past cities across a broad tapestry of history and space. We employ concepts, methods, measures, and insights from research on contemporary cities, adapting these as needed for historical and archaeological cities. The expanded temporal and spatial range of this project (in comparison to prior urban research) will push the context of related research toward an interdisciplinary focus. This project exemplifies the kind of social science research promoted in the document, Rebuilding the Mosaic, published by NSFs Social Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate. Broader Impacts. Apart from mentoring of our Post-doctoral Scholar and Graduate Research Assistants, this project will give research experience to undergraduate students, both as interns and for honors theses. Arizona State University has high numbers of Hispanic and Native American students, and we will continue to include them (our prior project included students in these categories). Our results will be disseminated widely in venues beyond traditional scholarly publishing. Our data will be uploaded to the tDAR repository ( and made available for downloading to stimulate further systematic research. We will expand our project website ( to present our findings. Our results will have implications on several levels for research and policy on contemporary urban life. The systematic knowledge we create about premodern cities will inform research on contemporary cities and our results will impact scholarship and policy far beyond the historical and archaeological disciplines that provide our basic data. REU Supplement: Service Access in Premodern Cities
Effective start/end date6/15/135/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $404,674.00


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