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Call for Papers: Rethinking the Histories and Legacies of Industrial Cities

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Call for Papers: Rethinking the Histories and Legacies of Industrial Cities
Workshop at the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), University of Luxembourg, from 10 to 11 December 2020. Submission deadline: 31 March 2020

The history of (European) industrial cities is often told as a tragic tale of rise and decline: from rapid industrialisation in the late 19th century and economic prosperity during the Trente Glorieuses to the structural changes of the late 1970s and the subsequent deindustrialisation of the 1980s and 1990s. At first sight, Luxembourg’s steel towns like Esch-sur-Alzette, Dudelange and Differdange seem to be perfect examples of the typical Western European industrial model. Beginning in the late 19th century, they developed from mostly rural to industrial towns, experienced rapid economic development and urbanisation, attracted a domestic and foreign labour force, flourished during the first post-war decades, and were finally faced with the steel crisis of the mid-1970s. In the 1980s and ‘90s, most mines and iron and steel works closed down, unemployment rates went up, new social problems emerged, workers’ identities seemed to erode, and once prosperous urban centres were faced with a shrinking population and empty stores on their main shopping streets. Finally, since the 2000s, the former steel towns have tried to reinvent themselves as creative and cultural centres, as seen with the joint organisation of Esch 2022 – European Capital of Culture. But if we take a closer look, we can see that the transitions were more complex than the simple rise-and-decline narrative suggests. Adopting the so-called “Luxembourg model” of close and institutionalised cooperation between employers, unions and the government, the country tried to find an answer to the European steel crisis that would go beyond the mere management of deindustrialisation. Some industrial sites remained and still point to moments of continuity and persistence. Workers’ identities did not simply erode but were maintained and re-shaped in social clubs, musical societies and private initiatives for the preservation of industrial heritage.

The workshop aims to zoom in on the history of industrial towns in Western and Eastern Europe to improve our understanding of how the people who lived in these industrial territories made sense of the developments outlined above – the boom and bust cycles of the iron and steel industry. We are interested in the narratives and counter-narratives of these industrial towns and cities: how villages turned into industrial towns, how monolithic industrial structures shaped cities and regions, how residents, municipal officials and companies dealt with social problems (housing, sanitation, etc.) and how industrialisation and urbanisation profoundly transformed the environment. How did these developments differ between countries or between smaller and larger urban areas? We also want to look at the decline and legacy of industrial cities: how the structural crisis affected not only industries but people, how relationships with urban spaces and the environment were redefined, unemployment rose and “urban prairies” emerged. However, we are also interested in stories beyond obsolescence, in histories of persistence and continuity of industrial activities and identities. Furthermore, micro-histories of individuals, the family or particular actor groups will help shed light on the relationships between workers and their families, artisans, merchants, the bourgeois middle class and representatives of companies and municipal and state institutions. By zooming in we can observe these urban actors in their social networks and groups of belonging, trace their biographical and migratory trajectories, and scrutinise how individual and collective identities were formed and transformed.



The workshop is organised as part of the research project “Remixing Industrial Pasts in the Digital Age: Sounds, Images, Ecologies, Practices and Materialities in Space and Time”. Possible themes are:

  • workers’ identities and urban diversity
  • micro-histories through individuals, neighbourhoods, clubs, local events, etc. 
  • domestic and foreign migrations to and from industrial cities
  • the emergence and handling of social and environmental problems during urbanisation and industrialisation
  • discourses and controversies regarding both industrialisation and deindustrialisation
  • economic, social and cultural transformations during growth and decline periods
  • urban and industrial landscapes
  • spaces of sociability and cultural life in industrial territories
  • artistic and media (re-)presentations of industry and local and regional identities
  • cross-border infrastructures and flows of people, goods and ideas
  • transnational relationships between industrial cities
  • the development of industrial heritage and the memory culture of (former) industrial cities.


Travel and accommodation costs of invited workshop participants will be covered by the C²DH.

The workshop will be based on pre-circulated papers (approx. 4,000 words; deadline 15 November 2020). Selected workshop contributions will be published in an edited volume.

Please send proposals (350 words) to; deadline 31 March 2020.

Organisers: Stefan Krebs and Werner Tschacher (C²DH)