Association for Literary Urban Studies

The Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS, formerly Helsinki Literature and the City Network) provides an international and interdisciplinary platform for scholars studying the city in literature. Membership is free, and all scholars working within literary urban studies are warmly invited to join the association. It welcomes approaches that examine city narratives in a broad understanding, including approaches that combine urban studies, cultural geography, urban planning, future studies, and other relevant fields with the examination of narratives of cities. It aims to foster interdisciplinary research on city literature, including literature written in all languages and encompassing all historical periods. The Association for Literary Urban Studies organizes meetings twice a year in Finland for members residing in Finland or passing through, and one international conference every two years. It aims to cooperate with other international organizations to organize international seminars, conferences and events.

Scholars interested in the city and literature from all fields of study are most welcome to join ALUS.
For further information on joining the network, contact ALUS secretary Anni Lappela at or ALUS president Jason Finch at

To add to the ALUS bibliography, please send details of your own published works on literary urban topics or those of others to Marzia Beltrami, bibliography editor marzia.beltrami[a]

ALUS news

Narva, an Industrial Border City: Literary Reflections
Symposium in literary urban studies and discussion day
University of Tartu Narva College, 13–14 September 2018

Studying city literature offers a rich interdisciplinary field for researchers to engage in. In autumn 2018 a meeting on literary urban studies will take place in Narva, an important border city and a commercial and industrial centre of historical significance. Contemporary Narva is also a hotbed of intriguing ideas. This is evident e.g. in the fascinating architecture of the building of the Narva College of the University of Tartu – a highly innovative educational building project on the Eastern border of the EU that has merited numerous prizes (ArchDaily 2013), as well as the exciting publications of the Narva Museum, the documentary film Paper City, and the intention of the President of the Republic of Estonia to move her seat temporarily to Narva in the coming autumn. Narva is an Estonian candidate city for the European Capital of Culture 2024.

Literary Narva has a broad scope. In 1898, Eduard Vilde published the novel Iron Hands, inspired by the Narva Kreenholm textile mill. The history of Narva and Sillamäe has been addressed by Andrei Hvostov, the Narva of memories reflected on by Albert Üksip, the lost Narva recalled by Adolf Rammo, Vladimir Beekman and Tiit Aleksejev (Hinrikus 2011, Talivee 2017).

We are suggesting two possible angles of approach.

A framework that has been gaining increasingly more attention recently is boundary studies. Boundaries are not seen as political or administrative lines of separation, but rather as sociocultural, environmental, economic and temporal processes that are being created by public practices and individual choices. Boundaries can be natural and visible in the landscape, but they can also be fully imaginary. Natural boundary regions often create contact zones that offer various opportunities for interaction and movement for humans as well as other species. Boundary regions are dynamic, compelling a constant engagement with issues of identity and of similarity and difference. Literary works concerned with Narva, as well as several other cultural phenomena in Estonia, will certainly provide fruitful material for study from these perspectives.

Secondly, from the perspective of technology studies we may enquire if Narva as a border city (observed in connection with, e.g., political boundaries, but also with the thresholds between nature and artifice, surface and the underground, the past and the future) exhibits a dependence of the social environment on the natural surroundings, and whether industrial aesthetics can be perceived here. Are the industrial and the beautiful in a negative correlation in an industrial city, or does a decrease in power diminish the beauty? Can the example of Narva serve to discuss the possible unfeasibility of restoring earlier associations, while the changed situation can be evaluated for its new value (e.g. recreational, cultural, heritage-related)? Can this be seen as reflected in the project of the Narva College building and the city’s more general planning policy?

Is Narva a city of more question than answers?

We invite you to address these topics, first and foremost in connection with literature. We welcome contributions for 20 min presentations and posters but are also open to suggestions for formats like shorter ‘provocations’ for works in progress (c. 5-10 min). Please send an abstract (for classical presentations) or a short note on why you are interested in the event and a possible title for your short intervention to Elle-Mari Talivee ( by 7 May, 2018.

The working languages are English (symposium) and Estonian/Russian (public day, summarising also the results of the symposium). Attendance is free.

The City: Myth and Materiality
29 May 2018, Wolfson Suite, Senate House, London WC1E 7HU, UK (10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.)

A one-day symposium organized by the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS) in collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), University of London, with the support of the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS).

Link to cfp here: The City Myth and Materiality CFP

Cities have always been driven by the dynamics between myths and materialities, oscillations between founding myths (from Rome to St Petersburg), to the material conditions of city sites (hills and swamps; river, estuary and seashore), and patterns of technological innovation, consumption, and distribution. City zones where myth and materiality meet include those to which ideas of the sacred and the profane are central, from cathedral precincts to slums and red-light districts. Unpacking the dynamics of urban materialities and their mediation in literary and other texts goes through a range of approaches, including the examination of urban experience, technology, or the topographic layout of streets in literary texts. Its aspects range from the physicalm production of books and the fetishization of art and other objects in city contexts, to studies of literary texts and historical moments from the perspective of book production, reading cultures, and consumption patterns.

ALUS and the IHR invite proposals for papers dealing with the intersection of literary studies and urban history, examining any historical period or geographical area, that work to reshape our understanding of the relationship between myth and materiality. Papers can be focused on theories and methodologies, or be case studies.

How do city myths and city materialities interact? And in what different ways do perspectives from literary studies, urban history, and other disciplines including human and cultural geography, design history and urban planning, cast light on these intersections?

Suggested topics that might be addressed include:
• Cities, their literature, and the history of technology including that of the media
• Studies of literary production in urban contexts
• Mediations and representations of specific city spaces, both imagined and actual
• Examination of the relation between actual city topographies to cities’ myths of themselves
• Approaches focused on ‘environment’ in literary urban studies and urban history
• The materialities of city myths, including memorials and toponyms
• Urban mythos: a given city’s self-fashioning through an idea of its unique personality
• Critical readings of city myth
• City objects
• Literary and historical urban archaeologies (both literal and figurative)

We invite proposals for papers (20 minutes in length). Proposals should include an abstract (200 words maximum) and a short (half page) CV (preferably in .doc or .docx format), and should be sent to Jason Finch ( by 20 March 2018. Potential presenters will be informed during the second half of March 2018 whether or not their abstract has been accepted.

A limited number of bursaries are available for Masters Students, PhD researchers and ECRs to help with conference fees and travel expenses. For more information and details on how to apply, please visit:

PLEASE NOTE: Booking for this symposium will open in April 2018.
Organizing committee: Jason Finch (ALUS, Åbo Akademi University), Lieven Ameel (ALUS, TIAS), Peter Jones (IHR, University of London)


Welcome to the general meeting of the association, which will be held Wednesday 24.1.2018 in Turku, 12-13.30. Location: University of Turku, Minerva T52 / E211 Tempo kokoushuone E211. Campus map here.

The aims of the Association for Literary Urban Studies are to provide an international and interdisciplinary platform for scholars studying the city in literature. During the general meeting, the members of the board are elected. The posts are tenable for two year at the time, four years at the maximum. Most board members are currently at the end of their two-year tenure, so please notify us (preferably two weeks in advance) should you be interested in becoming active as board member, even if you are not able to come to the general meeting in person. All candidates for the positions will be communicated to members before the meeting, and votes vor candidates can be cast electronically by mail sent to the current board members and secretary.

During the general meeting, the aims and activities of the Association for Literary Urban Studies will be discussed and further developed.

Program (may be subject to change):

  • opening of the meeting, welcome
  • appointment of secretary of the general meeting
  • overview of activities in 2017
  • overview of the members of the board and possible changes in the board
  • planned activities in 2018 & 2019: symposium in London, possibly Stockholm, international conference in 2019
  • publishing activities; Palgrave Literary Urban Studies Series forthcoming; plans for volume (Im)Possible Cities
  • other issues
  • closing of the meeting

Please note:

We hope it would be possible to organize symposia of the association in different universities on a rotating basis. We encourage all members interested in organizing a symposium (typically with 3-6 presentations and theory reading/discussion) at their home university to contact the board (eg. Symposia will be marketed via the association’s newsletter and website. We would like to explore the possibility of joint grant applications for organizing symposia at rotating institutions, and it would be helpful to get an idea of who might be interested. ALUS co-organized a symposium in Tallinn, Estonia in Autumn 2017 and further events are planned in London and Stockholm in 2018.

Please notify the board should you want to present remarks or suggestions, and if you are not able to attend in person.


Out now: Literary Second Cities (Palgrave)

Out now with Palgrave: Literary Second Cities (editors Jason Finch, Lieven Ameel and Markku Salmela). The volume grew out of the conference by the same name, organized at Åbo Akademi/Turku in 2015.

This book brings together geographers and literary scholars in a series of engagements near the boundaries of their disciplines. In urban studies, disproportionate attention has been given to a small set of privileged ‘first’ cities. This volume problematizes the dominance of such alpha cities, offering a wide perspective on ‘second cities’ and their literature. The volume is divided into three themed sections. ‘In the Shadow of the Alpha City’ problematizes the image of cities defined by their function and size, bringing out the contradictions and contestations inherent in cultural productions of second cities, including Birmingham and Bristol in the UK, Las Vegas in the USA, and Tartu in Estonia. ‘Frontier Second Cities’ pays attention to the multiple and trans-national pasts of second cities which occupy border zones, with a focus on Narva, in Estonia, and Turkish/Kurdish Diyarbakir. The final section, ‘The Diffuse Second City’, examines networks the diffuse secondary city made up of interlinked small cities, suburban sprawl and urban overspill, with literary case studies from Italy, Sweden, and Finland.

“Setting ‘second’ cities first, this is an impressive and timely reminder that complex literary cultures exist in many locations beyond more familiar metropolitan capitals. In a set of exciting interdisciplinary essays Literary Second Cities reminds us of the distinctive character of urban life as conceptualised by writers exploring cities such as Birmingham, Las Vegas, or Narva. This volume is thus a brilliant and original addition to the growing body of work on urban literary studies.” (Professor Andrew Thacker, Department of English, Nottingham Trent University)

“Urban literary studies has understandably focused attention on certain major, global cities — London, Paris, New York, Tokyo — haut lieux that dominate the spatial imagination. But what of the second cities, smaller, less revered, but perhaps more representative of urban life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? The essays in Literary Second Cities address this blind spot by analysing the distinctive space and character of these ’secondary’ places. This is a vital and necessary collection.” (Professor Robert T. Tally Jr., Department of English, Texas State University)


Autumn 2017 Symposium of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS)
Literature and the Multilingual City
Friday 22 September 2017, 11.00-16.00


Museum Department of the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (UTKK)
Väkese Illimari 12, 11623 Tallinn, Estonia
Organizers: Jason Finch (, Åbo Akademi University; Elle-Mari Talivee (, UTKK

11.00-12.00: welcome; presentations
– Ivo Heinloo, Tallinn University, ‘Heterotopia in Estonian Literature’
– Brief presentation of research interests: Tauri Tuvikene, Tallinn University; also Lieven Ameel, Jason Finch, Elle-Mari Talivee and possible others

12.00-13.00: discussion of theory/critical text(s) (please contact the organizers if you do not have the PDFs of these texts!):
– Jan Kaus, ‘In Front of the Estonia’
– Tiina A. Kirss, ‘The Tartu/Tallinn Dialectic in Estonian Letters and Culture’
– Tomas Venclova, ‘The “Text of Vilnius” and the “Text of Tallinn”: A Comparison’

13.00-14.00: lunch (provided for participants by UTKK)
14.00-15.00: further presentations and group discussion
– Topi Lappalainen, University of Helsinki, ‘Helsinki and Tampere in Prose Poems with a Paratextual Dimension: Galleria by Kari Aronpuro and Händelser by Henrika Ringbom’
– Ene-Reet Soovik, University of Tartu, ‘Meelis Friedenthal and The Willow King’

15.00-16.00: ALUS meeting
Details of the venue and a map:

Website (English-language version) of the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (UTKK):
Travel from Helsinki
Viking Line: Helsinki-Tallinn 08:00/09:45, Tallinn-Helsinki 18:00/20:30 (also 15:30/17:15 with Viking FSTR) / Tallink Silja: Helsinki-Tallinn 07:30/09:30, Tallinn-Helsinki 19:30/21:30 (also 16:30/18:30)
Journey from Port of Tallinn to Väikese Illimari 12 by public transport: 40-50 minutes’ journey, approximately (by taxi, 25 minutes, approximately)
The symposium is supported by the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Astra Project.

Association for Literary Urban Studies:
Please contact Lieven Ameel ( to join ALUS and receive regular newsletters

Overview of earlier activities

The HLCN’s first symposium was organized 2nd May 2012. Subsequent HLCN meetings included a theory seminar in November 2012 and a second symposium in spring 2013, hosted at the Åbo Akademi University in Turku, and further symposiums at the Universities of Helsinki and Tampere (spring, autumn 2015). Most recent symposiums include the 1st ALUS symposium at the University of Tampere, 31.3.2016, and the 2nd ALUS symposium “Scaling the city” organized 2.12.2016 at Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland.

The HLCN organized its first international conference in August 2013: A second international conference, entitled Literary Second Cities, was organized in 2015 at Åbo Akademi University, Turku. The third international conference, and first ALUS conference, organized at the University of Tampere, Finland, will take place in August 2017 with as theme (Im)Possible Cities. More information here.

A collection of articles, based on the 2013 conference, has been published in spring 2015. The book, entitled Literature and the Peripheral City (Ameel, Finch & Salmela; Palgrave 2015) can be ordered here. A collection of articles, selected from papers presented at Literary Second Cities, is currently being edited, and due to be published in late 2017 with Palgrave (Finch, Ameel & Salmela 2017).

 Ameel et al

Recent activities:

(Im)Possible Cities
The First International Conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies
23–24 August 2017
University of Tampere, Finland

In the wake of two successful international conferences under the auspices of the Helsinki Literature and the City Network, we are welcoming scholars interested in urban writing to the first international conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS).

This inaugural conference will be devoted to the theme of possible and impossible cities, the links between them, and the complex relationships between city imaginaries and real-world cities. The conference theme straddles a variety of fields, including literary urban studies, urban planning theory, cultural geography, and future studies. The two keynote speakers of the conference are Ayona Datta (King’s College London) and Eric Prieto (University of California, Santa Barbara).

The conference will take place in Tampere back to back, and in collaboration, with another urban studies conference, Re-City 2017 (24-25 August). This allows guests to participate in both conferences (i.e., two days in one, one day in the other; both conferences allow one-day registration). Please note that the two conferences will share the theme of (im)possible cities. Re-City 2017’s confirmed keynote speaker for 25 August is David Pinder (Roskilde University).


For more information: contact lieven.ameel [a]

3rd ALUS symposium – “Urban Space in Postmodern Literature”, Helsinki, Friday 19.5.2017

Welcome to the third symposium of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (former HLCN), with as theme “Urban Space in Postmodern Literature”

The one-day symposium will be held at the University of Helsinki, Friday 19 May 2017. Time and place: 10h-15h; place: Metsätalo, Sali 9.

The symposium will offer a meeting where researchers can present ongoing work related to city literature, as well as a theory reading. Anyone interested in urban literary studies is most welcome to participate. Please do sign up if you intend to participate, and/or send a short abstract outlining current research if you would like to present research (by mail to as soon as possible, but at the latest by 10.5.2017.

Provisional program outline:

10-11.30: welcome, presentations
11.30-12.30 lunch break

12.30-14.00 Discussion and theory reading – concepts in literary urban studies

14.00-15.00 closed Association for Literary Urban Studies meeting – editorial meeting & conference 2017