Quantitative Methods for the Comparative Analysis of Cities in History
Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper No. 9. This paper has been published in Frontiers in Digital Humanities: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fdigh.2019.00017/full
25 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2019 Last revised: 10 Jun 2020
Date Written: May 27, 2019
Comparative studies of cities throughout history are one of the greatest sources of insight into the nature of change in human societies. This paper discusses strategies to anchor these comparisons on well-defined, quantitative and empirical characteristics of cities, derived from theory and observable in the archeological and historical records. We show how quantitative comparisons based on a few simple variables across settlements allow us to analyze how different places and peoples dealt with general problems of any society. These include demographic change, the organization of built spaces, the intensity and size of socioeconomic networks and the processes underlying technological change and economic growth. Because the historical record contains a much more varied and more independent set of experiences than contemporary urbanization, it has a unique power of illuminating present puzzles of human development and testing emergent urban theory.
Keywords: Urbanization, scaling, economic growth, data, Zipf’s law, Instability, Resilience
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