cover of book

Flammable Cities: Urban Conflagration and the Making of the Modern World
edited by Greg Bankoff, Uwe Lübken and Jordan Sand
afterword by Stephen J. Pyne
University of Wisconsin Press, 2012
Paper: 978-0-299-28384-1 | eISBN: 978-0-299-28383-4
Library of Congress Classification TH9448.F59 2012
Dewey Decimal Classification 363.3709


In most cities today, fire has been reduced to a sporadic and isolated threat. But throughout history the constant risk of fire has left a deep and lasting imprint on almost every dimension of urban society. This volume, the first truly global study of urban conflagration, shows how fire has shaped cities throughout the modern world, from Europe to the imperial colonies, major trade entrepôts, and non-European capitals, right up to such present-day megacities as Lagos and Jakarta. Urban fire may hinder commerce or even spur it; it may break down or reinforce barriers of race, class, and ethnicity; it may serve as a pretext for state violence or provide an opportunity for displays of state benevolence. As this volume demonstrates, the many and varied attempts to master, marginalize, or manipulate fire can turn a natural and human hazard into a highly useful social and political tool.


Greg Bankoff is professor of history at the University of Hull, UK. Uwe Lübken is “Disaster Migration” project director, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich. Jordan Sand is associate professor of Japanese history and culture at Georgetown University.

    Part 1: Cities as Fire Regimes
    1 Jan van der Heyden and the Origins of Modern Firefighting: Art and Technology in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam
    Susan Donahue Kuretsky
    2 Governance, Arson, and Firefighting in Edo, 1600–1868
    Jordan Sand and Steven Wills
    3 Taming Fire in Valparaíso, Chile, 1840s–1870s
    Samuel J. Martland
    4 The Burning of a Modern City? Istanbul as Perceived by the Agents of the Sun Fire Office, 1865–1870
    Cornel Zwierlein
    5 Imperial Russia’s Urban Fire Regimes, 1700–1905
    Cathy A. Frierson
    6 Fighting Fires (or Not) in Porfirian Mexico
    Amy S. Greenberg
    Part 2: Fire as Risk and as a Catalyst of Change
    7 The Great Fire of Lisbon, 1755
    Mark Molesky
    8 A Tale of Two Cities: The Pyro-Seismic Morphology of Nineteenth-Century Manila
    Greg Bankoff
    9 Fire and Urban Morphogenesis: Patterns of Destruction and Reconstruction in Nineteenth-Century Montreal
    Jason Gilliland
    10 The Great Fire of Hamburg, 1842: From Catastrophe to Reform
    Dirk Schubert
    11 Did the Fire Insurance Industry Help Reduce Urban Fires in the United States in the Nineteenth Century?
    Sara E. Wermiel
    12 Inflaming the Fears of Theatergoers: How Fires Shaped the Public Sphere in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1880–1910
    Kristen McCleary
    13 Points of Origin: The Social Impact of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
    Andrea Rees Davies
    Part 3: The Politics of Fire
    14 The Politics of Singapore’s Fire Narrative
    Nancy H. Kwak
    15 The Beirut Central District on Fire: Firefighting in a Divided City with Shifting Front Lines, 1975–1976
    Sofia Toufic Shwayri
    16 Who Burned Cleveland, Ohio? The Forgotten Fires of the 1970s
    Daniel Kerr
    17 “There Is More to This Fire Than Meets the Eye”: Anatomy of Fire Outbreaks in Lagos, Nigeria, 1980–2008
    Ayodeji Olukoju
    18 Fires, Urban Environments, and Politics in Contemporary Jakarta
    Jérôme Tadié
    Afterword: Fire on the Fringe
    Stephen J. Pyne

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