The Assembly for Comparative Urbanisation and the Material Environment, ACUMEN for short, is a group of researchers who find themselves sharing an interest in long term comparative urbanism. This concerns the processes of emerging urban landscapes and the urban life that takes place within them cross-culturally and within any time period, from pre-history to the present.

This research interest presents itself in many different guises, disciplines and projects, but has the common conviction that studying the human phenomenon of urbanism over the long term has a cogent relevance to our understanding and appreciation of the full breadth of urban possibilities. Furthermore, such research may influence intervention and planning of present day urbanisation. Taking urban traditions, accepting all forms throughout world history, as a process of intensification in settling as a society with the consequence of materially transforming the inhabited landscape, ACUMEN seeks to build an interdisciplinary platform for debate, exchange of research, ideas, methods, tools, and data, and dissemination of resources and insights.

ACUMEN’s stimulates the active identification of commonalities and objectives between associated researchers and their projects with the aim to strengthen these. In this way, the foundations are laid for building a cohesive and substantive field emerging from current research practice. ACUMEN supports the development of rigorous frameworks and methods appropriate to address the themes that cut across the mutual scope of long term comparative urbanism. Alongside a conceptual and methodological basis, the acquisition and integration of data on urbanisation and urban life through time is indispensible. Therefore ACUMEN, where possible, also showcases important mappings and datasets, guides to good practice, and pathways to critically engage with information sources of comparative potential.

By bringing together researchers from archaeology and history, sociology and anthropology, human geography and urban studies, architecture and planning, and indeed any further discipline hosting research on urbanisation as a human phenomenon, ACUMEN hopes to create synergy in thought and collaboration, which is difficult to achieve in established disciplinary frameworks.

Origin of the Assembly for Urbanisation and the Material Environment

The ACUMEN group was started with a two-day international workshop held in Leeds, UK, December 2012. This innovating international event was supported by ESRC’s Digital Social Research communities scheme, the Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy (CSAP, School of Geography, University of Leeds), and the Talisman node of the NCRM for Geospatial Data Analysis and Simulation. The theme of this workshop was further specified with the subtitle: ‘digital methodologies for social research on processes of urban landscape development.’ It recognised the lack of a disciplinary home for research concerned with urbanisation through time and across societal traditions and aimed to establish an initial basis for comparative research in that theme.


This first meeting brought together an international group of researchers from human, historical and computational geography, archaeology, architecture, transport, amongst others, who collectively felt that the initiative started should be further developed. This webpage aims to form the focal point for any continuations of the debate and initiatives to further collaborate as well as to expand the group to include the research that was unfortunately missed in the first instance. Plans for appropriate future meetings are welcome and related events can be placed on the group’s calendar.

In the archive of past events section of the website more information on the first ACUMEN workshop can be found.