Thoughts on Segregation from its Cradle

London is perhaps the most important cradle of modern urban segregation. It was here, in the late seventeenth century on the city’s West Side, that aristocrats and later wealthy merchants first sought to create class-exclusive zones, first by legislation, which failed, then by insertion of covenants into their land-use deeds that stipulated that houses built on the West End’s squares all had to look as palatial as those “on the Pall Mall”–where the city’s richest lived.

Such covenants, and the extensive jurisprudence they inspired in English courts, later inspired a key practice among race segregationists in South Africa and the U.S among other places, namely racial restrictive covenants.

Also, of course, London was the seat of the two greatest segregationist institutions in world history, the British East India Company and the British Empire. From 1700, when East India Company colonial officials first divided the South Asian city of Madras into the world’s first black town and white town, to the 19th century when British conquerors replicated segregated towns across India, China, and then Africa–and culminating in South Africa–British officials mulled over, and most often approved, segregationist policies in more places than any other government.

These thoughts will be a part of a lecture series I will begin tomorrow October 17th at Cambridge University, which will be continued at Leicester University on theĀ  18th, Sciences-Po in Paris at 10 am on 22nd, the Socialist Society of Edinburgh at 8pm on the evening of the same day, and finishing at Edinburgh University on Thursday the 23rd.

The main theme of this lecture series is why American style segregation outlived apartheid. It answers this question, much like in the book Segregation, by placing the connections that linked South Africa and the US to Britain into the context of the broader paradoxes and dialectics of the broader history of city-splitting that takes us much further back than 17th century London, to the very dawn of cities in Southern Mesopotamia.

London is a good place to contemplate even such ancient roots of segregationist urban planning. Thanks to roving architecture buffs who worked for the British Empire, the British Museum contains terrific stone carvings from ancient Assyria showing some of the earliest city walls under fierce siege. Both such walls, which divided city dwellers form the country dwellers and locals from foreigners, and the monumental architecture inside those wall,s which divided god kings from mere mortals, represent the most elemental forms of unequal divisions of urban space.

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Global Segregation: Human-Made Obstacles to Human Movement across Oceans, Borders, and Urban Space

Welcome to Global Segregation. The goal of this website is to present cutting-edge research on the world history and the global politics of human efforts to control human migration, resettlement, and residence within cities, countries, continents, and across the world.

Control of human movement across space is essential to other forms of political and economic control. As such it represents a crucial tool of historical and present-day inequity and injustice. Increased efforts to prevent people from moving to and living in places where they can gain access to opportunities also exposes the inequities of historic and contemporary globalization. While we celebrate the mobility of money and consumer goods and extol the expanded global reach of corporate power and its justifying ideologies, we have cracked down on the right and the ability of most of humankind to move and live to places where opportunities are available. Yet the right to geographic mobility, resettlement, and conveniently located housing is especially crucial within a world where opportunity is located very unevenly within cities, within countries, and across the planet.

The starting point for this website is my new book, Segregation: A World History of Divided Cities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). The website will offer periodic elaborations and updates on the themes in this book, which focuses on segregation in cities, but which also shows how urban segregation is connected to larger-scale efforts to divide the world and control human movement and residence. In addition the site will provide links to other cutting-edge scholarship and popular work on the subject of segregation and boundary-making.

Carl H. Nightingale, May 22, 2012