Reports from our intensive and exciting summer seminar on Urban Change and Memory with great participants
From 19 August 2019 to 25 August 2019, the Balzan Summer Seminar in Memory and Urban Studies explored the making of memory in European cities and beyond. Funded by the Balzan Prize Foundation, the University of Konstanz, and the Center of Excellence Cultural Foundations of Social Integration, the Seminar was organized by the Balzan Prize Research Group “Reconstructing Memory in the City – Transnational and Local (European) Sites of Memory”. Fifteen participants came all across from Syria, Iraq, the United States, Greece, Germany, Spain, Poland, Great Britain, Brazil, Romania, and France to Konstanz to spend a mesmerizing week.
During seven days, we discussed theoretical approaches and methods of memory studies, urban studies, and of the emerging scholarly work analyzing their intersections. We examined some of the main threads of urban change in Europe and beyond, including post-industrial transformations, shrinking cities vs. rapid growth, city-making during and after conflict and warfare, migration and increasing diversities. Moreover, we discussed central debates on memory politics and contested commemoration processes in urban spaces from diverse perspectives, i.e. cities and conflict, symbolic representations and memory sites (e.g. memorials, monuments and museums) and how they are inscribed in urban space. By pairing theoretical debates with case studies, we explored the emergence of memory practices ‘from below’ that reshape collective memory and identity, analyzing how they relate to official politics of the past. The seminar discussions across disciplinary and geographic boundaries served to identify new emerging patterns of collective, cultural and social memory and its representations and traces in the city.
The seminar highlighted practices of invited curators, artists, researchers and other professionals. The days were organized thematically, usually consisting of a thematic lecture and discussion, a guest seminar of an invited artist or researcher, and student presentations related to the day topic.
The first day introduced the participants to one another, to the urban setting of our summer seminar (ie. Konstanz) and to the theoretical debates linking urban and memory studies. After the initial presentation of the summer seminar goals and of the organizers and participants, the latter got to know each other in an interactive exercise of urban exploration, organized as a treasure hunt. Students had to research a number of key places in the urban history of Konstanz and locate them in groups of four, fostering initial dialogues between participants of different backgrounds. The team, which reached most places received an award. The treasure hunt was followed by Balzan Postdoc Fellow Gruia Badescu’s lecture on urban space and politics of memory, where he discussed a genealogy and typology of theoretical and methodological approaches that created a red thread for the entire week. The focus was on how urban space and its materiality mediates memory, and how various actors mobilize memory in urban space. Some of the approaches became the source of exciting debates throughout the summer school, such as for instance the uses of affect theory in urban memory.
We then watched two chapters of the documentary series Spaces of Memory(Espacios de la Memoria, 2012) about the recovery of former detention and torture centers produced for an Argentine educational TV channel by film maker and scholar Estela Schindel, who joined us, giving a lecture on the next day.
On Tuesday, Balzan Postdoc Fellow Ulrike Capdepón’s lecture on Post-dictatorship cities continued developing the conceptual and theoretical framework behind memory and memory sites (Elizabeth Jelin, Maurice Halbwachs, Pierre Nora, Jan and Aleida Assmann, etc.). Starting from a theoretical reflection on why and what it is important to remember, she moved to discuss how collective and cultural memories are shaped in the city. We focused on the linkage between history, memory, urban space, and human rights, and the role of memorialization in processes of dealing with the conflictive past along with case studies in the three capitals of Latin America’s Southern Cone, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Santiago. Furthermore, this section was dedicated to explore the different forms and goals of memory sites, ranging from commemoration and knowledge sharing to the idea of providing evidence of abuses; from the role of memory sites for human rights education to the ethical, legal and political struggles and challenges of public representation of a contested past.
Argentine researcher Dr. Estela Schindel, Senior Fellow at the Viadrina University Frankfurt (Oder), introduced students to her work on the intersection of urban studies, memory studies, and enforced disappearance in ex-clandestine detention and torture centers of the last Argentine dictatorship. Students had the opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas with Estela Schindel, not only regarding her lecture and her articles they were invited to read before, but also in connection with her documentary series, offering first hand insights on how it was produced.
Afterwards, Verónica Troncoso, Chilean artist and PhD candidate at the University of Konstanz, presented the interactive application App Recuerdos, that she had developed with her team to provide an urban approach to memory through testimonies related to specific places regarding memories of the Allende government, the Pinochet dictatorship, and the transition process in the Chilean capital of Santiago, revealing the close connection of memory narratives in urban space.
The day continued with student presentations on the topic of post-dictatorial space, which included discussions on the commemoration of the Civil War victims in Spanish cities, especially cemeteries, and memory sites of the Brazilian dictatorship in Rio de Janeiro, as well as filmic representations of the disappeared in Chile.
As one of our goals was to make participants familiar with the memory and history of Konstanz and the memory sites of the Bodensee-region, we then travelled to Überlingen, where we had scheduled a guided visit of the Goldbacher Stollen with the experienced tour guide Oswald Burger. Being built between 1944 and April 1945 by inmates of the KZ satellite camp of the Nazi concentration camp Dachau close to Munich, it was intended for the underground relocation of war-important armaments factories from Friedrichshafen. While students were impressed by the huge tunnel system, we also discussed the terrible living conditions of the forced labor prisoners and learned about the ‘second history’ of the place after it was recovered as a memory site.
Wednesday was dedicated to the issue of post-war reconstruction in cities. In his lecture, Balzan Postdoc Fellow Gruia Badescu examined the relationship between urban reconstruction and societal dealing with the past, discussing how various schools of thought and practice, including political philosophers, psychologists, architects and urban planners, have connected the two processes. Moreover, he underlined the importance of understanding context specificity and the danger of templates in doing reconstruction work, with reference to the experience in Germany after the Second World War, former Yugoslavia after the 1990s wars, and Lebanon after the civil war of 1975-1990. The lively discussions benefitted from the contributions of our participants from Syria and Iraq, who also presented their work in the afternoon sessions, alongside a student presentation comparing the legacy of both war and dictatorship in Germany and Spain.
Artist-researcher Manca Bajec gave an inspiring talk on both the difficulties and the urgency of working in conflict-affected areas, drawing from her research and practice in the former Yugoslavia. From tracing the trajectories of anti-fascist monuments – abandoned, destroyed – or over-fetishized and exoticized by the Western gaze – to discussing strategies of resistance of survivors in ethnically cleansed areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the transnational connections and entanglements of materiality and memory (eg. The London Olympics monument allegedly made from steel produced at the Omarska camp in Bosnia), Bajec delivered a poignant talk that ignited reflection and debates.
Mid-way through the summer seminar, the students had individual meetings with their allocated supervisors to discuss various questions of research approaches, methodologies, and strategies for academic development. The afternoon of that Wednesday, the group continued the discussions on urban destruction, reconstruction and narratives of the past by a visit to the exhibit in Schaffhausen on the aftermath of the American bombings over the Swiss city during the Second World War. After the individual visits and reflection, the group assembled to share feedback, discussing in particular the importance of the Swiss victimhood and innocence narrative, as represented in the exhibit. The aim to critically situate museum depictions of historical pasts was achieved through an exciting discussion that continued throughout the evening.
On Friday, the lecture on post-industrial cities focused on the tension between the remains of the industrial past and a widely accepted understanding of the heritage and what that means for the communities living in such cities. By placing those cityscapes in a broader context (European urban planning, wastelands and ruins, nationalism, etc.) participants were encouraged to consider how the study of post- industrial cities can help us reexamine a concept of the European city.
Curator Juliane Richter presented an artistic project from a socialist-era housing estate in Leipzig to show how one can challenge dominant narratives about the unloved urban spaces by engaging the wider population in order to explore the aesthetic value and meaning of an ordinary landscape.
The day featured student presentations on the heritage of Jewish houses in Cracow, Soviet era urban modernization in Vilnius, and the perception of built heritage, followed by intense debates.
On Saturday, Balzan Postdoc Fellow Ann-Sophie Schoepfel provided an introduction to debates in migration and memory studies. By combining rich empirical analyses with conceptual contributions to the difficulty of remembering mobile habitations and local dislocations, one of the questions debated was how to establish a reliable memory if it is in constant flow. In that way, she explained how migration is the precondition of memory. For diasporic, displaced, and exiled persons, migration is not only about the long distance people travel to find a new home: it also describes the travels of memory. Participants’ presentations on displaced colonial soldiers, mental mapping of migrants in the city, and labor migrants’ syncretic culture contributed to reach the conclusion that migration has an effect on how and what we remember and that displacement intensifies our investments in memory, illuminating the topos of memory itself.
The internationally awarded photographer Emeric Lhuisset presented his work on wars and migration. He introduced his work as an artistic transcription of geopolitical analyses.
A historical city tour of Konstanz with the title “The present of the past” with a tour guide was also part of our agenda on Saturday.
On the last day, students worked in small groups, delving into the heart of memorial controversies by focusing on dynamics in specific urban situations, including Madrid, Paris, and Sarajevo.
Balzan Postdoc Urike Capdepón’s seminar group concentrated on the current memory debates regarding the Franco dictatorship in Spain, that systematically used symbolic politics to establish monuments and ‘symbolic markers’ (Jelin), which ideologically referred to Francoism and the victors of the Spanish Civil War, permeating the entire Spanish memory landscape. Taking the debates about monuments, memorials and other traces and mnemonic layers as a starting point, different dimensions and materializations of contested memory sites in urban space where introduced: First, the street name controversy surrounding the replacement of symbolism linked to the Franco dictatorship that has shaped Spain’s recent debate. Furthermore, we discussed memorials and their role and function in commemorating the dead situating them in the broader discussions about the forensic turn, as another main debate shaping current Spanish memory politics. In this context, we discussed the current debate regarding the contested Valley of the Fallen and the monument for the victims of post civil war repression at the Madrilenian cemetery of La Almuden that is currently under construction. By approaching how memory is inscribed and materialized in urban space in its different historical layers, participants also compared to memorialization processes in other regional and historical contexts.
Balzan Postdoc Fellow Ann-Sophie Schoepfel’s group focused on the dynamics of memory making in Paris from the nineteenth century to the present day. She set out to explore the different changes in urban space in Paris and memorial spaces, their political significance and their symbolic meaning for the population. Traveling through time, her seminar looked at the multiple traces in the French capital of nineteenth century revolutions, wars, and colonization.
Balzan Fellow Gruia Badescu’s group debated approaches on ruins, with an engaging discussion of the text by Lebbeus Woods on radical reconstruction in Sarajevo and the issue of making sense of trauma in the urban space.
All in all, the summer school was an intensive experience, offering opportunities for exchange and debate around the interdisciplinary field of urban memorialization and reconstruction from diverse regional and conceptual perspectives.
Report compiled by Gruia Badescu, Ulrike Capdepón, Piotr Kisiel and Ann-Sophie Schöpfel (Balzan Prize Research Group).
Day I. 19/08/2019. Welcome
- Arrival by 3pm
- Introduction to the Summer School
- Class 01: Urban Space and Politics of Memory, Gruia Badescu
- Discovering the city
Day II. 20/08/2019. Post-dictatorial Cities
- 09:30-11:00: Class 02: Post-dictatorship and Memory Sites: Perspectives on Spain and the Southern ConeofLatinAmerica,Ulrik Capdepon
- 11:30-13:00: Class 03: Practice Seminar with Fernando Sanchez Castillo, Spanish sculptor (to be confirmed)
- 14:30-16:00: Class04: Student Presentations
- 16:15-18:00: City tour of Constance with a focus on Jewish Life in the city
Day III. 21/08/2019. Post-War Cities
- 09:30-11:00: Class05: Urban transformation after war and dealing with the past: Insights from the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East,Gruia Badescu
- 11:30 13:00: Class 06: Practice Seminar with Manca Bajen,artist and curator, Royal College of Art, London
- 14:30-16:00: Class 07:Student Presentations
- 16:15-18:00: Class 08: How to write an academic paper, Ann-Sophie Schoepfel
Day IV. 22/08/2019. Reading, Knowledge and Places
- 13:00-18:00: Excursion: Visit of the Goldbacher Stollen / Visit of Post-War reconstruction exhibition at Museum Allerheiligen Schaffhausen
Day V. 23/08/2019. Post-industrial cities
- 09:30-11:00: Class 09: What makes a post-industrial city? Heritage, politics and identity of (some) European cities, Piotr Kisiel
- 11:30-13:00:Class10: Practice Seminar with Juliane Richter, researcher and curator, HTWKLeipzig/D21 Kunstraum Leipzig
- 14:30-16:00:Class11:Student Presentation
- 14:30-16:00:Class12: How to make a project visible?Insights from“Ukrainian Regionalism: a research platform”at the University of St Gallen
Day VI. 24/08/2019. Migrating spaces
- 09:30-11:00: Class 12: Transforming the city? The catalytic role of transnational migrants in the globalizing city in Europe, Asia and the Middle East,Ann-Sophie Schoepfel
- 11:30-13:00: Class 13: Practice Seminar with Emeric Lhuisset, photograph and lecturer, Sciences Po Paris
- 14:30-16:00:Class 14: Student Presentation
- 16:15-18:00: Paper Workshop
- Film Night
Day VII. 25/08/2019. Practice seminar
- 09:30-11:00:Practice seminar:Sites of Memory in Lodz, Madrid, Paris, Sarajevo
- 11:30-13:00: Final discussion and conclusions