Assignments and Exercises

Assignment I:

Crossing the Grain: Stepping out a bit from our chronological progress through time, while we are still looking at ancient and medieval cities, small groups of three or two students will engage in a first-hand, observational exercise in the present-day suburbs or city.

Each group will choose and walk a transect -- a path perpendicular to a major suburban or urban thoroughfare such as Lancaster Avenue or Market Street -- that crosses through different textures and urbanistic conditions. We'll show you beforehand where you can find some very detailed 19th-century maps covering most of Lower Merion and Center City Philadelphia. These will show you building footprints and property lines from over a century ago along the route you will walk. Traveling to your chosen point of origin, take a fifteen-minute walk perpendicular to the thoroughfare, observing shifting patterns in building form and landscape configuration, and changes (or not) from the earlier footprint.

This is not a research exercise; based on what you encounter, try to discern three to five different types of building/landscape configurations. What you'll hand in is a single folding (or assembled) sheet measuring 17 by 11(amendment: or two, if you prefer) showing your route, and keyed to photos, sketches, and/or footprint plans of the 3 to 5 examples of different current conditions placed next to the historic appearance of the same sites. In one accompanying 2-3-page paper, describe the essentials of each observed type, discuss what seem to have been the changes to the place, and try to account for the types. Why do they take the form they do?

Format: All written work should be double-spaced in Times New Roman 12, it should be proofread before being submitted, and for matters of style or bibliography (not for this assignment), students should consult the MLA Manual or Chicago Manual of Style.

Due: 10 Feb.


Assignment IIa:

Urbanism in Narratives: Almost every narrative begins with some explicit or implicit framing of the story within a place, what the theater calls the "mise-en-scène." It is a setting, whether fictional or real, that frames the action, and typically informs it in some very specific way that is essential to the story -- although modern reinterpretations often transpose the drama to a more modern analogue meant to bring it closer to modern experience, as in the film Clueless (1995) playing off Jane Austen's novel, Emma (1815). These settings typically portray some sector of urbanistic space that is well-defined, specific, and culturally understood (or even collectively misunderstood) by the audiences for whom it was intended. Urbanistic here, as in our course, does not just mean within the city, but also suburban spaces, rural spaces, or specific parts of these or the city that offer a specific sense of identity to the characters, in terms of their class position, economic position, relation to the peers, and position relative to the larger actors in the society of their time. That place can be conveyed in interior spaces alone, where they portray a certain typicality, in the characters' trajectories of movements among places, or even in their verbal allusions to a wider world around them.

In this assignment, find two narratives that seem richly set in place and time, whether in a film, novel, or even a short story. In a four -to six-page paper, explore those settings in terms of urbanism. What do they bring to the narrative? Do they tell us something about the characters? Do they point to a specific time, place, and social "place" within that? Do they offer us a richer sense of how it was to inhabit these places? Does the contrast of similarity between the two underscore resounding qualities in the places referenced? Pose and consider these or other questions that you think a reader would find engaging regarding these settings, connecting them with locations, typologies, forces, and historical periods that we've discussed in the course.

Due: 14 Apr.

Assignment IIb:
Other Cities, Other Models: In this course, despite our efforts to reach beyond European and American cities, we've left out a lot of major urbanized parts of the world, and probably cities that represent other forms, generative forces, streetscape and building typologies, and even other ways of understanding cities.

Adopting a large city, especially one from Asia and Africa, that seems to offer distinct differences from those we have focused on in class, each team of two students will probe questions of difference in forms and their evolution, as well as the effects of forces and effects that we have seen in other examples. This exploration may be informed by personal experience, but it needn't be based on first-hand familiairity with the places in question; it should be based on research in published scholarly literature, citing very brief excerpts that help account for physical form.

The result will be a four-to-six page paper, and the ideas will be presented in a narrated graphic form to the class as a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation. Students interested in this option must consult with Professors Sandler or Cohen in advance regarding their choice of city and for guidance on their presentation.

Due: 14 Apr. on paper, and for presentation in class on 21 Apr.

One-hit Wonders: One of the goals of the course is building a conversance with the breadth of materials that bear on our subject, getting a sense of one's way in the landscape of the literature -- both on the shelves, in books, journals, and reference materials, and in bits. Over the course of the semester, each student will involve themselves in at least one brief small-team exercise that should involve no more than one hour of preparation for presentation verbally and or graphically to the class. These will vary, but most will involve library research or web searching, either in probing for good readings on upcoming topics, good web resources, or responses to specific questions that come up, such as comparative ones on city population, size, density, or urban/non-urban population at different points in time.

Teams will self-nominate (at least intitally) for exercises to be reported on in the following class, sometimes with bibliographical results, web links, and/or simple graphic results to be offered in PowerPoint.

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