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Track 2: Presenting the past

Presenting the past in the contemporary city


This session seeks to engage in a dialogue about ways of understanding the ‘presence of the past’ in the city, particularly in contested experiences of urban change: succession and dislocation, regeneration and displacement. Scholarship on urban collective memory has been recently reinvigorated by interest in practice, embodiment, and mobilities as complements to metaphorical representations of the city as archive or palimpsestic text. But further opportunities for transdisciplinary exchange exist with research investigating, for example, material culture and the consumption of heritage landscapes, uses of the past in the construction of authentic places, public history and the pursuit of social justice, and expressions of restorative and reflective nostalgia. We invite paper proposals investigating these and other themes from a broad range of disciplinary and theoretical backgrounds.

Keywords: urban imaginations, history, memory, heritage, authenticity, nostalgia

Chairs: Sam Barton and Murray Mckenzie



Thoughts on Local Identity in Post-War Liverpool

David Kmiot, School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, University of Liverpool

The idea of collective memory is a fascinating one and it is one of the strands that I hope to address in my dissertation on local identity in post-war Liverpool. My thesis is about how applicable the idea that the broad ‘Scouse’ identity that supposedly emerged from ‘Irishness’ due to large scale Irish in-migration into the city is in the post-war period. To put it very simply, indicators of ‘difference’ and ‘apartness’ from the ideas of ‘Englishness’ were noticeable when the Irish immigrants resided in slums near the docks. It is yet to be addressed how the same sense of ‘apartness’ (if it indeed exists) can be applied to the city as a whole when the differences between the Irish and English have long since dissipated and supposedly merged into one ‘Scouse’ identity.

I would present a paper that covers the ground that I have so far in my PhD – mainly concerning how Liverpudlians see themselves and the methods by which they construct ‘difference’ on macro and absurdly micro levels. I would also discuss the main method by which I am examining this idea – through an oral history of Liverpudlian musicians. The influence of Liverpool’s history – as a former giant of empire that transformed into a ‘shock city’ – on shaping this identity would also be discussed.


Green Peace? Multicultural Sarajevo, ‘Greening’, and Post-War Urban Processes

Kristen M. Hartmann, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

This research investigates the role of historic multiculturalism in informing the urban identity of ethnically homogenising cities. Since the sixteenth century, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been known as a ‘European Jerusalem’ (Makas, 2012). Only in Jerusalem and Sarajevo, people have claimed, can one find synagogues, Catholic cathedrals, Orthodox Christian churches, and mosques all within a 100-metre radius (ibid.). Sarajevo’s historic plurality in terms of the built environment (spaces of worship) and in terms of its demographics (significant communities of Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Jews) remains the city’s most enduring identity. Yet, since the war in the 1990s and, especially, since the Siege of Sarajevo, the city has homogenised ethnically. In a process that I call ‘greening’, both the demographics of the city and its spaces have become more Muslim in character, and currently 80% of the inhabitants of Sarajevo are Muslim by census demographics. Additionally, in comparison to the construction of spaces for Christians and Jews, and in comparison to the decay of common cultural heritage, there has been a proliferation of sacred and secular Muslim constructions and Islamic financing for post-war reconstruction. The ideology of the ‘plural city’ and ‘multiculturalism’ – the city as a ‘meeting of cultures’ ( – continues to not only exist, but also to play a powerful role in the Sarajevan urban imaginary. By exploring how multiculturalism as an ideology functions within the contemporary urban context, Sarajevo’s post-conflict ‘greening’ can be explored with respect to current peace building processes.

Making sense of ruins: urban reconstruction and coming to terms with the past in Belgrade and Sarajevo

Gruia Bădescu, Centre for Urban Conflicts Research,  University of Cambridge

This paper examines how city-makers – architects and urban planners- reshape urban space after conflict, exploring the relationships between the process of reconstruction, coming to terms with the past and the emergence of novel forms of identity. It explores two different situations of experiencing destruction and reconstruction: Sarajevo after the 1992-1995 siege and Belgrade after the 1999 NATO bombings. First, the paper discusses how the nature of war and destruction is reflected in the memorialization of conflict and the reshaping of urban space, exploring the difference between reconstructing after a “classic” attack from the outside (Belgrade)- and reconstruction after Mary Kaldor’s  “new wars” (Sarajevo).  It analyzes how commemorative practices are embodied by urban reconstruction, investigating how architects and urban planners make sense of destruction and come to terms with with the violent past in their designs for reconstruction. Second, the paper highlights how city makers select and reassemble spatialized collective memories through capitalizing on the violent past in order to create and disseminate novel forms of identity. The paper discusses how reconstruction is violent in its own term, using Dacia Viejo Rose’s and Johann Galtung’s framework of cultural violence. It argues that the reconfiguration of urban spaces through reconstruction reflects the heterogenous and conflictual nature of collective memories and contributes to the shaping of novel forms of identity.


Navigating through the Urban Memoryscape: Mobility Practices and Creation of Places of Memory in Tashkent, Uzbekistan


Nikolaos Olma, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen


Despite the extensive bus and minibus networks and Central Asia’s oldest metro system, easy access and relatively low charges have turned informal taxis into the most popular means of transport among the inhabitants of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Almost every car in Tashkent qualifies as an informal taxi, as low salaries and a high unemployment rate have led many dwellers to take up driving as their main or secondary occupation.

In a city where everything, from streets to whole municipalities, can be renamed overnight due to the identity-building policies of the administration, it has been important for drivers and commuters alike to create a clear, comprehensive, and timeless system of navigation. Given the peculiar nature of Soviet-era urban planning and the importance of districts, addresses are scarcely if ever used; instead, navigation is to a large extent based on an abstract network of central orientation points (orientiry), which in most cases colloquially refer to sites or buildings that materially do not exist any longer or whose functions or names have since changed. In this sense, complemented by the use of Soviet era names of main thoroughfares and landmarks, orientiry retain the collective memory of the city and make driving around Tashkent a spacetime experience.

Based on nine months of ethnographic research, this paper explores Tashkent’s memoryscape, demonstrating how normative social behavior and practices of mobility create places of memory, thus allowing for the transmission of the memory of the city from one generation to the next.


Urban Berlin: Memories of a City

Laura Bowie, Cultural Studies, Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
University of Edinburgh

‘Germany is full of ghosts’, and Berlin in particular is a city constructed by layers of history and memory. As the city that shows most deeply the scars of the twentieth century, Berlin has struggled to re-create an architectural identity post-1945. The recently started replica-rebuilding of the Palace (raised to the ground by the Soviets in 1950) is just one example of the unusual approaches the city has taken. Concepts of authenticity and purpose are questioned in creating a palace for a country without a monarch. The opening of the Berlin Wall Memorial, with its reconstructed death zone also shows an attitude to the past that is caught somewhere between museum and Disneyland architecture; local residents are confronted once again with overlooking the Wall. At a time when West Berlin was removed from maps of East Germany, there were mass clearances of nineteenth century tenement blocks in favour of sixties satellite housing estates that made a complete break with history. In the late 1960s, history was once again promoted, partially in extremes – for example, in the reconstruction of the medieval town centre at Nikolaiviertel. The discord between urban planners and local residents is exemplified in Berlin. The city’s urban landscape is layered with multiple histories and memories and the debate regarding how to deal with this past is constant. This paper intends to investigate some of the approaches to urban space, which have focused on one element of Berlin’s past, in order to construct a particular urban narrative.


Mobilising heritage in post-war Beirut

Katarzyna Puzon, Polish Academy of Sciences/University College London, Anthropology

The civil war (1975-1990) left a tremendous mark on Lebanese society, yet Beirutis' lives have been conditioned by the post-war reality in many regards. Contrary to popular expectations, the post-war rebuilding project instigated a painful process resulting in the eviction of a large number of inhabitants, many of whom had already been affected by displacement both prior to the civil war and during the conflict. And in the post-war era they were one more time experiencing this state of anxiety. In effect, instead of rehabilitation, a sense of uncertainty and instability has been produced in the course of urban renewal, reinforcing tension and dissonance that have become part and parcel of everyday life.

This paper investigates how the rhetoric of heritage is mobilised to appropriate and stake claims to urban space. Analysing the relationship between heritagisation and urban politics in post-war Beirut, I examine how initiatives and organisations use the language of heritage in metropolitan conflicts. Also, I grapple with the notion of nostalgia that is enmeshed within discourses and practices of heritage in the Lebanese capital. Finally, I explore how various actors produce aesthetic and historical epistemologies - the social process by which certain values and evidence are created and mobilised in claim-making. The presented ethnographic events intend to speak towards the whole whereas the urban setting acts as an arena for 'collective identification [and] recovery of other temporalities' (Boym, 2001: 76).


Notes on Skopje. Hegemonic and speculative urban narratives

Ivana Sidzimovska, Faculty of Design, Bauhaus University Weimar

The PhD project deals with the ongoing government-funded reconstruction of the Macedonian capital, dubbed "Skopje 2014". The urban revamp involves erection of numerous government and cultural buildings (in an exclusively "neo-classical" style), figurative monuments and equestrian statues of national heroes (over forty), bridges and monumental objects (i.e. a Triumphal Arc), reconstruction of facades (in "baroque" style) and other miscellaneous objects, in an attempt to support and provide material illustration of long and continuous Macedonian national narrative, that claims direct descent-line to the ancient hero, Alexander the Great. The PhD project relates the renewal plan to neoliberal symbolic urban reconstructions and post-communist identity formation. Furthermore, embracing discourses of criticism offered in political and cultural debates and in light of subjective urban experiences the PhD argues "Skopje 2014" imposes authoritarian urban narrative.

In reference to this, the PhD research focuses on citizen's stories of Skopje elicited with the help of narrative interviews and further used as oral testimony for subverting official government narrative. Additionally, and combined with audio and visual data derived from observation and documentation of the environment, the interview data forms the content of a database for speculative narratives of Skopje. Becoming subject of translation, transformation, experimentation and rearrangement with artistic means, the display of the overall research findings will assume the form of an interactive audio guide, involving photos, maps, videos and soundscapes, as well as written and spoken language. The audio guide will be published as a downloadable file and an application for smart phones, giving instructions for moving and doing certain actions in the city space and listening to narratives of places.


What is acoustic heritage? Counter-mapping sound maps and sonic memories

Paul Tourle, Heritage Studies, UCL Institute of Archaeology

I will present my research exploring the meaning, mapping, consumption and ‘heritageisation’ of

soundscape in urban contexts. My study responds to a number of contemporary online sound mapping projects that have sought to position sound and soundscape as elements of regional cultural heritages (e.g. European Acoustic Heritage).

Both critically and practically, such projects further problematize an already volatile understanding of what heritage is. They are symptomatic of a contemporary impulse to conserve, historicize and archive (key features of what has been termed our ‘crisis of memory’), and yet they also stress the increasingly dynamic, non-monumental, and subaltern nature of heritage in practice. Online sound mapping effects an acceleration and democratization of the archival process, which, coupled to presentation in map form, enables an increasingly fluid negotiation and construction of regional identity. ‘Acoustic heritage’ mapping arguably both compounds and contradicts this process, mobilizing the heritage label to confer historical legitimacy and mnemonic agency wherever the fluid archive turns its ear.

Through participant ethnography and counter-mapping, I am interested to understand how the processes described above might both reflect and impact urban residents’ engagement with sound, place, the past and identity.

Acoustic heritage (as it is imagined in the projects I will examine) may be a sham, an expression of our indiscriminate hunger to generate new pasts. Equally, it may represent a renewable future for heritage, and a new way for people to know, shape and share the complex, contested spaces they inhabit, and to presence and engage with the past.


Tracks of Experience: visiting routes in sub-urban space

Maximi Papathanasiou, Laboratory Urban Design and Urbanism, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ghent University

So far suburban and sprawl areas, horizontal metropolises, nebulous cities and post industrial zones are areas of transitions that rarely become visiting destinations themselves. The above mentioned landscape was delivered in Flanders on a big scale after the Second World War due to urban planning and economic strategies. As they do not hold strong historical and cultural narratives these districts remain in a longtime identity search process. This results into several pitfalls for the location itself (static development profile) and the wider area (fragmentation, deterioration). At the same time research in tourism points out that contemporary travelers are experienced users of the cities who want to move beyond the ‘tourist bubbles’ and feel a sense of belonging to a place.

Our project proposes an alternative to the conventional tourist itineraries. We approach space not as a blank page with abstract coordinates, but rather a charged place filled with meaning. Bakhtin’s theory of the ‘literary chronotope’ assist us to illustrate that each location is composed of both hard (topography, morphology of the building environment, infrastructure networks) and soft characteristics (affective charges, socio-cultural narrations, remembrances). By emphasizing the ‘chronotopic’ value of a route we highlight places that do not usually attract the interest of visitors. Examples of derived routes are: dramatic track (important historical events, emotions, etc.); idyllic track (romantic, wellness, happy end, etc.); postmodern track (eclectic, without a real beginning nor end, etc.); memory track (heroïc events, consciousness, respect, etc.).


Imagining the Landscapes of the First World War in modern Britain


Amanda Phipps, History Department, University of Exeter


This presentation will discuss the practice in Britain to imagine and memorialise First World War landscapes as part of the process of transmitting cultural memory about the conflict. It will focus on the centenary commemorations which demonstrate the continued emphasis British society places on the war. Commemorations must negotiate the fact Britain played a significant part in the war, yet no military battles were fought on its land. Arguably this has resulted in continuous imaginings of the conflict’s landscapes in artistic representations and cultural institutions. For example the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Trench Experience’ supposedly brings the reality of the Western Front to London, creating a historic foreign landscape for urban collective memory. Landscapes of the British Home Front have also been utilised during the centenary. For instance one of the government’s major commemorative events in 2014, Memories of August 1914, mapped the story of the city’s Pal’s Brigade onto the streets of Liverpool. One million people followed a promenade performance literally taking the steps of those that went to join up. Here the physical urban landscape combined with imagination to re-create for audiences the experience of soldiers. Historians have often neglected studying theatre on the war; however such research is vital for investigating the commercialisation of the past which dictates how modern societies visualise the conflict. Without scars of the conflict on the British landscape society has become dependent on imaginative depictions and alternative urban landscapes to authentically represent the First World War.


Arts of memory, landscapes of memory: remembrance and ruination in experimental art on Beijing’s urban fringe

Murray Mckenzie, Department of Geography, University College London

I’m interested in places of arts production as key transnational spaces in and from which memory is embedded, practiced, transformed, and transmitted. There is a need for an urban studies that engages with artistic representations and investigates how artistic interventions are situated within the political contestation associated with the arts district as a site of immanent displacement, resistance, and alternative practice in the city. In an attempt to make this explicit, I’ve decided to begin my research in China, on the fringe of a global art network that remains entangled with and primarily indebted to ‘western’ financial capital and critical-historical perspectives. My modest ambition in this paper is to reflect on preliminary fieldwork conducted in Beijing. My intention is to think through some of these artistic urban imaginaries in terms of the distinctive spatial articulations of artistic production in the transitional Chinese city.

‘Get to thy Labours at the Mills & leave me to my wrath’: Derek Jarman, urban cultural memory and dereliction

Alexandra Parsons, Department of English, University College London

This paper explores how queer filmmaker Derek Jarman situates his political anger regarding the resurgence of state-sanctioned homophobia in the 1980s within discussions of cultural memory through his representations of derelict urban sites. By claiming these unwanted spaces to produce work that captures performed acts of dissidence, Jarman transforms them into politically productive symbols. I will focus in particular on how Jarman depicts the abandoned Millenium Mills in the London Borough of Newham in film The Last of England (1988) and in his diaries. He uses elegiac image sequences in an industrial wasteland to raise issues of sexual politics and class division, thereby highlighting the effects of urban regeneration, abandoned industry, and associated community dislocation. Jarman’s diary Kicking the Pricks (1996), published to accompany the film, layers material from this creative process, both from his own and from others’ lives, to construct an archive and an elegy for a community under threat. Jarman’s Millenium Mills is a Foucauldian heterotopia, outside of the regulated zones of the city, which allows myriad possibilities for resistance. How can this transformative archival project become a way to pursue social justice under a government that continues to legislate against its own citizens? I will draw from the work of U.S. artist David Wojnarowicz, who also explored the queer potential of abandoned urban sites, as well as the radical politics of Pat Califia’s Public Sex (1994) and the tactics of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1980).


Non-locality, The Valise and The Exhibition

Jean Hui Ng, History of Art, University of Oxford

With the establishment of organizations such as the Biennial Foundation, scholars engaged in the study of curatorial histories, “peripheral” and “alternative” art historiographies, and the rhetoric of transnational and global art are able to tap into a discourse that seeks to refine and redefine what we understand of the exhibition space, institutional structures, and the nature and receipt of art in itself.

This paper will use the biennalisation of art as a case study in uncovering and discovering the advent of exhibitions in shaping our modes of global and regional seeing and understanding. Referencing Duchamp’s The Box in a Valise, the Emergency Biennale in Chechnya was born out of a culmination of institutional censorship, curatorial “abandonment”, as well as the alarming political situation in Chechnya. Evelyne Jouanno, curator of the biennale, independently navigated the context of politics and war, conceptualizing the biennale through strategies of the suitcase, its mirrored counterpart, and in explicitly utilizing the word “Biennale”, ultimately moving the localized exhibition through 12 cities around the world.

I will seek to explore the implications of non-locality and locality in the travelling biennale, questioning the receipt of the works within and outside of the addressed city that carries the weight of an ever-morphing context: from the physical and constant movement of the exhibition reflecting a move from passivity to potentiality, its adoption of the complex and controversial term “biennale”, to the (un)interrupted aura of the works inherently drawn out by the suitcase that exists outside of the main exhibition site.


Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: memories, urban perceptions and mind

Francesco Migliaccio, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università di Torino

«In vain – tells Marco Polo to Kublai Kan – shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions».

He could explain how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades' curves, but this isn't enough. According to Polo, «the city […] consists […] of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past». Past lives within the «guttering» and it is inscribed in the little corners of city: space is a shape of time. «A description of Zaira as it is today – he finally asserts – should contain all of Zaira's past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand». Memories seem material traces deployed in the body of the world and the subject adopts an interpretative procedure that is deep-rooted in things.

Marco Polo, however, describes to the emperor another, different, city: «Zora has the quality of remaining in your memory point by point, in its succession of streets, of houses along the streets, and of doors and windows in the houses, though nothing in them possesses a special beauty or rarity». Zora is the «armature» of memory, what the classical rethoric called a locus. Who controls the structure of Zora, he can deduce all the possible relationships of universe and he can exhaust every possibility. Zora is a grammatical system held by the mind.

If Zaira is the city of material memories, Zora is the city of mental memory. Calvino's Invisible cities could treasure an epistemological debate about deduction and induction. But this dialectic takes shape of city and memories.