The London Context

 

The great world city of London which is the focus of our conference is the product of some two thousand years of growth and development, setback and renewal. The short passage to and from the North Sea along the River Thames made London one of the major European ports from Roman times onwards. Its maritime significance was eventually consolidated by the opening of its vast dock system in the heyday of the great imperial metropolis from 1800 on. Following further enormous change in the later 20th Century, London Docklands now serve a very different post-industrial function as the financial district moves eastwards and the population and its way of life transforms.

 

Profoundly historic and yet also ultramodern, London is a city of many different facets, logical and contradictory by turns. It is the seat of both the British monarchy and the home of parliamentary democracy, the two co-existing in what some regard as a typically ingenious British compromise. It is a city dominated by the financial and political industries, and yet these have been profoundly called into question in the new age of austerity and of political reform. And if London led the world in pioneering one of the great public transportation systems, this is now struggling to cope with the demands of the ever larger population - now numbering over seven million - as its members inhabit a city marked by a cultural diversity borne of long-term international migration..

 

London is marked by the many traditions of great wealth, and yet, in part, still blighted by the scars of poverty and deprivation. A city ravaged, within living memory, by the horrors of world war, its urban landscape has been endlessly transfigured in sometimes spectacular, sometimes merely startling fashion within a few short decades. London thus reflects many of the glories of urbanisation and yet is also marked by many of its inevitable contradictions, from the great beauties of its artistic and architectural heritage to the dramatic challenges it now faces - alongside other world cities - to reduce its excessive carbon footprint, its pollution, and its criminality.

 

These striking ambiguities provide the context for The London Studies Conference as we seek to analyse, critque and celebrate London's proud identity and heritage.