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School of Geography

ACUMEN: Assembly for Comparative Urbanisation and the Material Environment, 12-13 December, Leeds, UK

Digital methodologies for social research on processes of urban landscape development

ACUMEN will be hosted by the Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy (CSAP), School of Geography, University of Leeds. It is funded by Digital Social Research Community Activities Funding Scheme of the NSDeSS, with the support of TALISMAN: Geospatial Data Analysis and Simulation.

Application deadline for participation - 02 November 2012
Application deadline for postgraduate bursaries - 22 October 2012

Scope of the ACUMEN workshop

Recent developments in digital data compilation and computational analysis contribute to our understanding of urbanisation processes at differing scales. However, comparative methodologies for research throughout history and across the globe are lacking. This workshop gathers international multidisciplinary researchers who use, in complementary ways, ‘spatial technologies’ and ‘digital tools’ to explore urban landscapes of both past and present. It promotes the development, methodological understanding, and identification of appropriate digital means for social urban investigations by bringing together a currently dispersed community for future collaborative research.

ACUMEN aims to provide representation from a variety of academic disciplines, including, but not necessarily limited to: geography, archaeology, anthropology, history, sociology, planning, architecture and urban studies. Urbanisation is a contemporary global challenge, but a deeply historical phenomenon. The material environment can provide us with a physical, spatial dataset present through time which itself has social relevance and can facilitate the anchoring of social urban research in any context. Spatial and digital environments capturing empirical data can enable and enrich the comparative social study of living in urban environments. ACUMEN therefore focuses on the development, support and promotion of methodologies that enable the advancement of research which contributes to social understandings of cities with the ability to make significant connections between the past and contemporary development of the urban landscape in all urban traditions. 

Salon discussions

To achieve real and informed progress in this research field ACUMEN’s programme will only include a limited number of invited speakers. The main emphasis of the programme will rest on the active participation of all attendants in a series of discussions throughout the workshop addressing opportunities and challenges in the field from the vantage point of one of three focus themes. These ‘Salons’ comprise:

  1. Data acquisition, management and digital compilation: there are many different kinds of data that can be acquired on life in urban landscapes: e.g. documenting physical remains and presence, visual and textual (historical) sources, interviews and ethnographic descriptions, etc. How can these kinds of data be integrated into frames for social research and how can data beyond the empirically measured be kept relevant when placed in the context of cross-cultural and cross-temporal studies? The mission of this Salon is to address commonalities and differences in data sources (material and ideational) and the opportunities offered to comparative urbanisation research by integrated digital documentation and management;
  2. Methodologies for social and temporal analyses of urban landscape data: mapping and documentation in digital environments like GIS have now reached a level of maturity which enables not only the storage and management of digitally acquired spatial data, but also the incorporation of interpretively rich social and historical data. The mission of this Salon is to explore how digital methods and research environments can aid and advance the operationalisation and analysis of socio-spatial information in supportive and flexible structures for comparative social research on urbanisation processes;
  3. Social scientific purposes for the study of urban landscape development: in order to gain a deeper understanding of how our material and built environment sustains and reflects society formation, we need to embrace the opportunities offered by digital technologies to explore urban landscapes and their development. However, this endeavour cannot be completely led by (digital) data and methods. The mission of this Salon is to identify and establish beneficial scopes of social or cultural understanding to which digitally compiled and managed data can be appropriated. How can social interpretive research on urban life and historical development stimulate appropriate integrative data practices and further our understanding of contemporary urban challenges?

Each participant will be asked to express a preference in which of these Salons to partake.

This specific combination of setting an agenda of goals and practices with actively addressing methodological opportunities and challenges will create the added value of this workshop and requires a proactive attitude from dedicated participants.

In addition some participants can take up the opportunity to partake in a PechaKucha (a series of brief six min. introductions to their research relevant to ACUMEN’s theme). This fast paced format will quickly familiarise attendants with a selection of the diversity of research interests present.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Michael E. Smith (Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University)
  • Sir Alan Wilson (Professor of Urban Regional Systems, University College London) 
  • James Tice (Professor of Architecture, University of Oregon)
  • Ian Gregory (Professor of Digital Humanities, Lancaster University)
  • Keith Lilley (Reader in Historical Geography, Queen’s University Belfast)
  • Sam Griffiths (Lecturer in Urban Morphology and Spatial Theory, University College London) 
  • Eric Grosso (Institut Géographique National/University of La Rochelle)
  • Stephen Read (Associate Professor of Spatial Planning & Strategy, Technical University Delft)

Salon discussion leaders:

  • Robin Coningham (Professor of Archaeology, Durham University)
  • Lars Marcus (Professor of Architecture, KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm)
  • Ray Laurence (Professor of Classical and Archaeological Studies, University of Kent)
  • Karl Kropf (Associate Lecturer in Planning, Oxford Brookes University
  • Christophe Benech (CNRS, University of Lyon)
  • Benjamin Vis (University of Leeds)

Note on programme times

To allow some flexibility in travel times the programme is aimed to run between the following times:

  • 12 December start time will be at approximately 10:15
  • 13 December end time will be at approximately 15:15

Registration for ACUMEN costs 25GBP. This will cover the lunch and tea/coffee breaks on both days and a three course dinner on the evening of the 12 December (excl. drinks). 

Decision on applications

The decision on applications to participate will be communicated by16 November at the latest. Recipients of the postgraduate bursaries will be informed by 05 November at the latest. 


ACUMEN will be held at Hayley’s Hotel in Headingley, Leeds, UK. Headingley is a leafy suburb towards the north of the City of Leeds and the university campus. Its centre conveniently offers a few pubs and restaurants, as well as shops. Registration on the morning of the 12 December will be in the hotel’s reception area. 


Please note train travel can be an affordable option when booked in advance. The UK’s train companies charge large amounts for tickets bought on the day!

Leeds has an international airport, called Leeds/Bradford International Airport (LBA). Resident budget airline is Ryan Air and also operate some flights from the airport, as do various regular airlines.

Manchester International Airport is very well connected by train to Leeds’ railway station. (Note: no night trains after a certain time. Do check time tables and book in advance for good fares.)

Trains from London to Leeds are regular. Booked in advance this can be a worthwhile option, while tickets bought on the day will be very expensive! Fast connections take about 2.5 hours.

For train bookings please visit East Coast Rail, National Rail or The Trainline:

For taxi companies:

  • Ace Cars: (+44) 0113 230 4499
  • Amber Cars: (+44) 0113 202 2117


It is expected many participants will be able to stay at the venue itself: Hayley’s Hotel. Rooms are made available at a discounted rate. Any interest can be expressed through filling out the application form. There is a variety of rooms at very reasonable rates, but please note that not everyone’s preference can be honoured.

Map with venue and locations for travel arrangements

Powered by PechaKucha

Any questions or inquiries, please contact Benjamin Vis at B.N.Vis10(at)