Robert Lewis Home Page

Welcome to the home page of Robert Lewis, Professor of Geography
Geography Department
100 St George Street
University of Toronto
M5S 3G3T: 416 978-1590
F: 416 946-3886
Email: lewis at





My research has two main strands. The first focuses on the historical geographies of metropolitan economic processes in the United States and Canada between 1850 and 1960, with particular emphasis on industry and factory districts. My studies of nineteenth- and twentieth-century industry, factory districts and class-based neighborhoods have been informed by work taken from (a) economic and urban geography (flexible production, labor market formation, ethnic and gender divisions of labor, scales of analysis, and landscape); (b) business and urban historians (production strategies, economic networks, historical narratives); and (c) historical materialism (the tensions between the contingencies of the historical geography of people, firms and institutions in urban places and the broader structures theorized by political economists).

     My most recent book, Chicago Made: Factory Networks and the Industrial Metropolis, 1865-1940 (University of Chicago Press, 2008), examines the relationship between industrial networks and the building of the metropolitan landscape. The book demonstrates the importance for metropolitan Chicago of a complex set of networks between local manufacturers, wholesalers, land developers and others. It documents the formation of metropolitan flows of manufacturing capital, labor, information, expertise and products throughout the metropolitan district. Several themes run through the book: the establishment and growth of organizations and their relationship to the making of a metropolitan industrial landscape; the cyclical layering of the city and the ensuing complicated relationship between different metropolitan spaces; the significant but changing set of inter-firm relationships; and the recursive nature of working-class and factory district formation.

     At present, I am examining the creation of state-funded factories during World War II and the impact of their disposal for private industry in the immediate postwar period. This research has two objectives. The first is to outline the economic impacts of American government funded industrial plants and war supply contracts during the war. The second is to assess the postwar impacts of these expenditures on the economic geography of metropolitan areas and regions. This research allows me to explore some important questions. What was the regional and metropolitan geography of this investment both during and after the war? Were new suburban wartime plants anchors for postwar growth? What was the nature of the contractor-subcontractor relationship during the war and did these investments continue to influence postwar metropolitan geography? I am currently writing a book that focuses on Chicago’s state-funded factories.

     The second strand of my research focuses on the social geographies of Bombay and Calcutta between 1880 and 1910. I am working on this project with Richard Harris of the geography department at McMaster University. A key component of the study is an examination of the rich set of material for the two cities found in the published 1901 Indian census. This census provides an unprecedented body of material on a variety of variables, including caste, occupation, birthplace and religion. There are three elements to this on-going study. First, we examine the making of the census, with particular emphasis upon the reasons driving the British to compile such a massive body of information. Second, by mapping the data we provide a new and detailed picture of the social geographies of the two cities. Finally, we explore the social dynamics of these social geographies, seeking to add to our understanding of the class, caste and religious divisions of the colonial city.


Robert Lewis, Chicago Made: Factory Networks in the Industrial Metropolis, 1865-1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Robert Lewis, (editor) The Manufacturing Suburb: Building Work and Home on the Metropolitan Fringe (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004).

Robert Lewis, Manufacturing Montreal: The Making of an Industrial Landscape, 1850-1930 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Journal Articles and Book Chapters (Recent)

Robert Lewis and Matti Siemiatycki,  “Building on time and budget: Prince’s Dock, Bombay, 1875-1880,” Journal of Policy History (forthcoming).

Robert Lewis, “The urban revolution,” in Lisa Benton-Short (ed.), Cities of North America (Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014), pp. 59-84.

Robert Lewis, “Modern industrial policy and zoning: Chicago, 1910-1930,” Urban History 40 (2013): 92-113.

Richard Harris and Robert Lewis, “A happy confluence of planning and statistics: Bombay, circa 1901,” South Asia 28 (2013): 125-38.

Richard Harris and Robert Lewis, “Colonial anxiety counted: plague and census in Bombay and Calcutta, 1901,” in Robert Peckham and David Pomftret (eds.), Imperial Contagions: Medicine and Cultures of Planning in Asia, 1880-1949 (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2013), pp. 94-126.

Robert Lewis, “Networks and the industrial metropolis,: Chicago’s Calumet district, 1870-1940,” in Clemens Zimmermann (ed.), Industrial Cities: History and Future (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 2013), pp. 89-114.

Richard Harris and Robert Lewis, “Numbers didn’t count: the streets of colonial Bombay and Calcutta,” Urban History 39 (2102), pp. 639-58.

Robert Lewis, “Place-based corporate hegemony: General Electric in Tell City, Indiana, 1943-1947,” Journal of Historical Geography 36 (2010): 348-68.

Jason Cooke and Robert Lewis, “Bridging nature: the urban political ecology of capital circulation in Chicago, 1909-1930,” Urban Geography 31 (2010): 348-68.

Robert Lewis, “Rationalizing the workplace: Canadian textile firms, 1929-1935,” Enterprise and Society 10 (2009): 498-528.

Robert Lewis, “Industrial districts and manufacturing linkages: Chicago’s printing industry, 1880-1950,” Economic History Review 62 (2009) 366-87.

Robert Lewis, “World War II manufacturing and the postwar southern economy,” Journal of Southern History 73 (2007): 837-66.

Robert Lewis, “Planned districts in Chicago: firms, networks and boundaries, 1900-1940,” Journal of Planning History 3 (2004): 29-49.

Robert Lewis, “Manufacturing and the suburbs” in Robert Lewis (ed.), The Manufacturing Suburb: Building Work and Home on the Metropolitan Fringe (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 1-15.

Robert Lewis, “Local production practices and Chicago’s automotive Industry, 1900-1930,” Business History Review 77 (2003): 611-38.

Richard Harris and Robert Lewis, “The geography of North American cities, 1900-1950: a reinterpretation,” Journal of Urban History 27 (2001): 262-92. [Reprinted in B. Nicolaides and A. Wiese (eds), The Suburb Reader (New York: Routledge, 2006), 125-33.



GGR 241: Historical Geographies of Urban Exclusion and Segragation

An introduction to the historical geography of urban social exclusion and segregation after 1750. Using a selection of  cities from around the world (such as Berlin, Dar es Saleem, Los Angeles, Glasgow, Paris, Pittsburgh, New York, Mumbai, Shanghai and Toronto), the course examines the impacts and implications of urban social inequalities



GGR 254: Geography USA

This course explores three major elements of the geography of the U.S. First, the making of the U.S. as a continental economic, social and political empire is outlined. Second, the growth and challenges facing American regions are examined. Particular attention is given to the changing fortunes of the American South and the Manufacturing Belt. Finally, various issues confronting the American metropolis since the end of World War Two are considered, most notably, class and racial inequalities, residential segregation, and immigration and population change.




GGR 336: Urban Historical Geography and North American Cities

Explores the historical geography of United States and Canadian urbanization from colonial times to the end of World War Two and provides a basic overview of the process of North American urbanization over the last 350 years.


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JPG 1702: Urban Historical Geography

This graduate course explores some of the recent work on the historical geographies of cities. It focuses on a detailed examination of books that probe the political and social economies of urban development between 1850 and 1960.



PhD. STUDENTS (Current)

Robert Kopack (PhD) “Afterlives of science and technology: Kazakhstan’s weapons complexes”

Nicholas Lombardo (PhD) “The Port of New York City and modernity, 1865-1920”