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Cities in Motion
Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940

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Part of Asian Connections

  • Date Published: November 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107519350

$ 31.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, the port-cities of Southeast Asia were staging grounds for diverse groups of ordinary citizens to experiment with modernity, as a rising Japan and American capitalism challenged the predominance of European empires after the First World War. Both migrants and locals played a pivotal role in shaping civic culture. Moving away from a nationalist reading of the period, Su Lin Lewis explores layers of cross-cultural interaction in various spheres: the urban built environment, civic associations, print media, education, popular culture and the emergence of the modern woman. While the book focuses on Penang, Rangoon and Bangkok - three cities born amidst British expansion to the region - it explores connected experiences across Asia and in Asian intellectual enclaves in Europe. Cosmopolitan sensibilities were severely tested in the era of post-colonial nationalism, but are undergoing a resurgence in Southeast Asia's civil society and creative class today.

    • Highlights the role of the cosmopolitan port city in Asian modernity
    • Focuses on the role of neglected communities, such as migrants and modern girls, whose stories are not often told
    • Provides a reading of cosmopolitanism rooted in Asia rather than in Europe
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    • Winner, 2015–2016 Urban History Association Best Book Award (Non-North American)

    Reviews & endorsements

    'There are few recent books as deeply anchored in both global and urban history as Su Lin Lewis’s exploration of urban life in early-twentieth-century Southeast Asian port cities. … While Lewis speaks to recent debates in global history, she successfully eschews the now familiar charge that the field’s practitioners have veered too far from concrete, empirical studies of the local. The elegantly presented results of her research therefore should be read by a wide range of historians.' Michael Goebel, Global Urban History (

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2018
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107519350
    • length: 321 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 150 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.46kg
    • contains: 21 b/w illus. 5 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: seeing through the city
    1. Maritime commerce, old rivalries, and the birth of three cities
    2. Asian port cities in a turbulent age
    3. Cosmopolitan publics in divided societies
    4. Newsprint, wires, and the reading public
    5. Playgrounds, classrooms, and politics
    6. Gramophones, cinema halls, and bobbed hair
    Epilogue: cosmopolitan legacies

  • Resources for

    Cities in Motion

    Su Lin Lewis

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  • Author

    Su Lin Lewis, University of Bristol
    Su Lin Lewis is currently Lecturer in Modern Global History at the University of Bristol. She has taught at the University of Birmingham, the University of California, Berkeley, and at Birkbeck College, University of London. She was a Past and Present Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in London and received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Cambridge in 2010. Dr Lewis has also worked on and managed community-driven development projects for the World Bank and for the International Organization for Migration in Southeast Asia, where she developed an interest in the history of civil society and social movements in the region.


    • Winner, 2015–2016 Urban History Association Best Book Award (Non-North American)

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