Skip Main Navigation
Dr. Yi Samuel Chen
Associate Professor of Practice
(Urban Heritage and Sustainability)
School of Humanities & Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Yi Samuel Chen


BA, Hillsdale College; AM, Harvard; DPhil, Oxford

Phone No. Email Address



Current Research Project | Selected Publications


Dr Samuel Chen's research deals with the history of urbanism, especially in early West Asia which gave rise to some of the earliest and most prominent, enduring, and influential urban civilisations (e.g., Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian) in history. He has so far worked on the origins and evolution of ancient Mesopotamian traditions concerning the rise, collapse, and restoration of early urban civilisations and the constructions of time and history and their social and cultural functions in a wide range of urban societies in different parts of the ancient world. The evolution and transmission history of these traditions intersected closely with the intellectual, cultural, socio-political history; historical consciousness and historiography; political and religious ideologies; and cultural exchanges of early urban societies.


Dr Chen received his BA in Philosophy and Religion (Hillsdale College, Michigan) and his AM (Harvard) and DPhil (Oxford) in Near Eastern/West Asian Languages and Civilisations. Prior to joining the University of Hong Kong, he researched and taught at the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford. His work has contributed to two major scholarly online resources for the study of West Asian antiquity: the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.




Current Research Projects


His involvement in multidisciplinary modern urban studies projects at Oxford and Peking University (e.g., Urban Transformation and PEAK-Urban) and in the Oxford Network for the Future of Cities during the past several years has led to a more interdisciplinary and integrated approach to historical urbanism. He seeks to investigate pertinent data from a variety of sources (e.g., archaeological, geographical, pictographic, and textual) and apply relevant methodologies, theories, and insights from diverse fields for the study of historical urban establishments, to test our previous understanding of urban evolution and unravel different aspects of historical urban development and their interlocking systems and complex whole.

Whilst interested in the cultural, (geo-)political, socio-economic, technological, and spatial factors, processes, and dynamics involved in the emergence, growth, decline, transformation, and sustainability of historical urban establishments in general, he is drawn to the following areas of research: (1) the diverse and evolving roles religious traditions and institutions played in socio-economic, cultural and spatial development of cities and the impact of urban development on religion; (2) the development of the cultural, physical, social, and technological infrastructure of the networks and hubs involved in the flow of people, capital, goods, ideas, practices, technologies, and services at intra-city, inter-city and transregional levels that enable production, trade, consumption, knowledge dissemination, cultural exchange, innovation, regional development and connectivity, and imperial expansion; (3) the relationship between state and empire building and urban and regional development; (4) the impact of urbanism, with its growing capacity to regulate and manage time, space, human and natural resources, on individuals, societies, and the environment, at both existential and perceived levels, not just in vicinity but also far afield, and in both contemporary and future societies.

Focusing on early West Asian urban civilisations which started with the rise of urban clusters in Southern and Northern Iraq around 3,500 BC, he also aims to engage with scholars working on paralleled urban developments in other cultures for comparative studies. This covers the broader region that links West Asia, Northeast Africa, and Southern Europe, around the Mediterranean World (e.g., Egypt, the Levant, Anatolia, Greece, and Rome). The comparative scope is also extended to urban developments in other regions, such as South Asia (e.g., India) and East Asia (e.g., China). A combination of synchronic, diachronic, and comparative studies will help examine similar and distinct features of historical cities, explore diverse forms of urbanism with different historical trajectories, and assess the resilience and fragility of various urban establishments.




Selected Publications


Historical Consciousness and the Use of the Past in the Ancient World

Historical Consciousness and the Use of the Past in the Ancient World
[co-edited with John Baines, Henriette van der Blom, and Tim Rood]


This volume grew out of a research conference and project initiated and led by Dr Chen at Merton College, University of Oxford in 2014. The project was jointly sponsored by the Faculty of Classics and the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, and was funded by the Craven Fund; The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities; the John Fell Fund; the Jowett Copyright Trust; the Lancelyn Green Fund, Merton College; the Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics, Wolfson College, Oxford; the Corpus Christi College Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity; the Maison Française d'Oxford & the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS); the Hellenic Society; and the Classical Association.

The Primeval Flood Catastrophe: Origins and Early Development in Mesopotamian Traditions

The Primeval Flood Catastrophe: Origins and Early Development 
		in Mesopotamian Traditions

Articles and Chapters


A Different Noah, but the Same God. Oxford University Press Blog. Sunday 17 May 2014.


Major Literary Traditions Involved in the Making of Mesopotamian Flood Traditions. In Opening Heaven's Floodgates: The Genesis Flood Narrative, Its Contexts and Reception, ed. Jason M. Silverman, 159–208. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2013.


The Flood Motif as a Stylistic and Temporal Device in Sumerian Literary Traditions. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. 12 (2012): 158–89. (The article won the runner-up award for the International Association for Assyriology's 2014 competition.) 

Latest Publication
Historical Consciousness and the Use of the Past in the Ancient World Book
Historical Consciousness and the Use of the Past in the Ancient World

Equinox Publishing

Publication Date: