The Arcades Project

$20.00 $10.00



Research Paper Paper Topic


I would like all of you to go to the library (physically) this week/weekend. Your paper topic is going to be about the rise of a city or city-state during a specific period of your choice in history (see Prof Beecher’s upcoming announcement this week on bCourses that will explain the research paper and state it’s main question). Pick a city you want to look at and a primary source that’ll help you answer the assigned question (forthcoming in his announcement). While this is due in lecture on 24th September, you should start searching through books (sift through contents pages, bibliographies and skim chapters of relevant books) to find your ideal primary source. This takes a few hours at least so don’t come up with your topic the night before lecture – use the weekend to really think about the city you’d like to focus on & the kind of historical document from the time period you’re looking at (memoir, narrative, biography, autobiography, newspaper report, account, pamphlet etc.,..) that you want to use to research it.

The primary source you choose should NOT be anything assigned as reading in your syllabus. It should be a document you find on your own by spending time outside of section researching the topic.




I.e., Here’s what your paper topic submission on the 24th should look like:


City you want to research: Beijing, China

Time period: 13th century CE

Primary Source: The Travels of Marco Polo (published circa 1300) by Rustichello de Pisa and Marco Polo.

Why? : Here write a short paragraph on how you think the source you’ve chosen will help you answer the question posed in the research paper prompt.

Book Two of the Travels, for example, describes China and the court of Kublai Khan at length. Going through it, I will be able to investigate the ways in which merchants and soldiers worked together to make Beijing into a thriving commercial center.





















PAPER TOPIC: In formulating your paper topic you will need to identify three things: (1) a city; (2) a moment in the history of that city; and (3) an encounter that happened in your city between various people, ideas, goods, and/or states at that moment of time. Since this is a world history class, and one of our aims is to see the interconnectedness of various peoples and parts of the world, papers that focus on US cities are strongly discouraged. Ultimately, we understand that your topic will probably change, depending on what kinds of primary sources you manage to find, so you should start looking for possible primary and secondary sources as early as possible! • PRIMARY SOURCE: For your primary source you will need to find an account of your city produced by one of the city’s observers in the time period that interests you. This could be a diary, memoir, collection of speeches or letters, or even a more official report. Your observer might be a native inhabitant or citizen of your chosen city like Heda Kovaly in her memoir of Prague under the Nazi and Communist governments, Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941–1967. Or your observer might be a foreigner. Indeed, some of the best accounts of cities in world history have been produced by travelers just passing through, like Marco Polo in Shangdu, or Bernal Diaz in Tenochtitlan, or Olaudha Equiano’s brief but insightful account of the vexed relationship between Greeks and Turks in Istanbul under the Ottoman rule. However, since this is a research project you are not permitted to use any of our assigned course readings as your primary source. One of the purposes of this assignment is to teach you to use the UC Berkeley library system to conduct research. In addition to UC Berkeley’s library database (, another good place to go to begin looking for primary sources is at the end of each chapter in your textbook. There you will find excerpts from primary sources that you might find in the library. Your primary source should be “book-length” as defined by your GSI. Also, you should aim to find a document in printed (not digital) form from the UC Berkeley library system. Often, the most interesting primary sources on a give topic will be written in foreign languages. You are welcome to use these if you have the requisite linguistic skills, so long as you translate the passages you quote in your paper into English.




Historical Beauty in The Ruins

City:                   Paris, France

Time Period:      Nineteenth Century

Primary Source: The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin with Rolf Tiedemann as the editor and

Kevin McLaughlin and Howard Eiland as translators.

Why? :                The book The Arcades Project otherwise titled Das Passagen-Werk in German

was originally idealized in 1927 and was still a work in progress in Paris in

1940 when Walter Benjamin fled the Occupation . The book is a  prominent

historical reference as it is an epic ruin that is studiously constructed

in a span of the thirteen years in Paris. While putting his focus on the antique

nineteenth-century glass-roofed shops in Paris considered as early consumerism

centers, Walter evinces a pastiche of reflections on and quotations from

immense published sources in organized thirty-six groupings. Some of the

evocative rubrics Benjamin uses are; Boredom, Photography, Advertising,

Fashion, Dream City, Theory of Progress and Baudelaire. Benjamin’s core

preoccupation is what he terms as the turning things into commodities; a course

in which he identifies the critical shift to the contemporary era.

The Arcades Project is Walter’s attempt at representing and critiquing the

bourgeois perspective of the nineteenth-century history and consequently to

rid people of the repressed “true history” that inspired the conceptual facade.

In the busy, jumbled arcades, street and interior blend and historic time is

represented in form of variegated disruptions and spectacles of ephemera. From

what is normally known as progress, Benjamin talks about lost time

entrenched in the existence of things.

Benjamin asserts that modernity can only be viewed in its ruins contrary to

studying it a permanent thing. It is such explorations through the ruins and

remnants that possess the dreamlike quality. Instead of fostering the linear

path of incessant progress in history, Benjamin makes references to abrupt

flashes that depict the current moment or the ‘time of the now’. Such

phenomenal moments are at their clearest during their time of decline. Thus,

Benjamin’s interest in the arcades of Paris was at their final mom