Augusta McMahon to explore ancient Mesopotamian ’15-minute cities’

Head and shoulders image of Professor Augusta McMahon

Professor Augusta McMahon will deliver the Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture at Newnham College on 3 May, focusing on Third Places and Happiness: 15-Minute Cities in ancient Mesopotamia.

Augusta is Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilisations department and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. She taught in the Dept of Archaeology at Cambridge University from 1995 to 2022 and was a Fellow of Newnham College.

Cities in the present and past provide employment opportunities, enable innovations and creativity, and support diverse social networks. They are also crowded, stressful to navigate, unsanitary, unequal, and alienating. Thus, cities attract and repel, they fascinate and horrify. Despite these contradictions, cities are extraordinarily successful. In this lecture, Augusta McMahon will discuss the challenges of living in ancient Mesopotamian cities and the possible compensatory aspects of past urban life and city spaces. Did Mesopotamian cities – the world’s earliest urban settlements – model the perfect accessible ‘15-minute city’ so sought after by modern urban planners? What ‘third places’ for community encounters and shared activities existed in ancient cities? Were their inhabitants happy?

This free Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture takes place from 5.30pm on Friday 3 May in the Lucia Windsor Room, Newnham College, Cambridge, CB3 9DF. No booking is required and all are welcome.

Henry Sidgwick was a prominent figure among Newnham’s founders, and a keen advocate of University reforms, including the gradual acceptance of women. In 1871 he risked renting a house in Cambridge for five female students attending the newly founded “lectures for ladies” in which he taught philosophy. From such a modest start grew Newnham College.