Colonial cities developed as nodes in vast transnational networks, each one an outgrowth of its predecessor, designed and improved by surveying dynasties who borrowed, collaborated, competed, and learned from each other across boundaries, time, and space.
The study of colonial urban history has yet to make either the global or geographical turn. Through examining the lives of surveyors, their concepts, maps, letters, and libraries, this dissertation seeks to shift the way historians approach the development of colonial cities. Communities did not develop as as isolated "cities in the wilderness," as Carl Bridenbaugh exclaimed in 1955. They developed as networks, influencing and challenging one another across boundaries. Nor did English planners solely use English models, or French planners solely use French models, as John Reps and Robert Home have suggested. Instead, they borrowed, shared, and improved on concepts with little concern for their national origins. Indeed, using foreign methods, such as canals "of the Dutch design," as the extraordinary polymath Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban argued, could be seen as badges of quality, a sign that only the best would do. In short, surveyors copied what they liked, and ignored what they believed had failed, or had fallen short of expectations. When an idea worked, planners and their patrons tried to replicate it elsewhere. Striving for ideals, they were forced to rectify with local geographies, peoples, and priorities. Even then, success was by no means ever guaranteed. Colonial cities proved to be urban laboratories, experimental environments outside the often-rigid work of existing, densely-populated European communities. In their diverse schemes, spread through the Atlantic world and beyond, surveyors and planners, too, ascended as a professional group. They used their intimate knowledge of local geographies, resources, and power relations to carve out key intermediary positions for themselves, enhance their socioeconomic prestige, and advance their careers.
Image: Dessein d'un fort de bois proposé a faire devant la rade de Dunkerque, 1645
Dutch engineers seconded to the French court designed this sea fort, drawing from an idea already used in Holland. These diagrams were later borrowed by Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban, for his "metropolitan colony" city of Dunkirk. Courtesy Archives nationales de France, Marais, MAR/D/2/1.