Seminar: Contested Memory Sites in Post-Socialist Capitals

Contested Memory Sites in Post-Socialist Capitals

American Comparative Literature Association

March 21-23, 2014, New York University

This seminar investigates physical memory sites across the capital cities of postsocialist Eurasia, an enormous territory that includes capital cities from Berlin to Bishkek.  Common challenges of the post-Soviet condition and the contested politics of cultural memory continue to shape the capital cities of these now very disparate political entities with their emergent postcolonial, nationalist, and transnationalist strategies for narrativizing the past.  We are interested in the multiple meanings of symbolically-charged contemporary memory sites – monuments, memorials, and other markers in urban public space that commemorate triumphalist or traumatic events, riven today by the cultural politics of restoration and reclamation, revisionism and rejection, reparation and rebuilding.  More broadly, we seek to explore the ways in which these postsocialist capital cityscapes assert continuities and disruptions in cultural memory across pre-Soviet, Soviet, and post-Soviet times. 

This seminar is in part inspired by Russian semiotician Yuri Lotman’s famous 1980s concept of the “semiosphere” as a dynamic and heterogeneous cultural space marked by collisions and encounters that engender socio-cultural change.  How do alternative models such as Michel Foucault’s spatial “heterotopia,” Pierre Nora’s “lieux de mémoire,” and Svetlana Boym’s distinction between “reflective” and “restorative” nostalgias counter Lotman’s “semiosphere” in theorizing the contemporary condition of these postsocialist capitals? How do forms of visual and performing arts, literature, and film contribute to these debates?  How do the Internet and other forms of public media provide a forum for public discourse about postsocialist memory sites? 


“A” Stream – 8:30am-10:20am, Waverley 435

1. “A” Stream Friday 3/21: Preservation Controversies

Julie Buckler, Harvard University, Contested Contemporary Environs in Moscow and St. Petersburg: Imperial-Era Remains vs. New Construction

Megan Dixon, College of Idaho, The Multiple Valencies of Memory Sites in St. Petersburg, Russia: A Lefebvrian Analysis

Mihaela Pacurar, Harvard University, Lessons of a Moscow Pogrom: historical preservation and its literary metaphors


2. “A” Stream Saturday 3/22: Memorializing Atrocity

Jana Fuchs, University of Jena, The Great Vanished”. Discussions on commemoration and reconstruction of the Great Synagogues of Warsaw and Vilnius

Amy Sodaro, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Berlin’s Contested Pasts: Memory and History at the Sites of the Perpetrators

Nelly Bekus, University of Exeter, Constructing Memories of Political Repression. A Comparative Case Study of Memorials to Stalinist Crimes in Minsk and Astana

Amanda Lerner, Yale University, The Racija and the Sloboda Bridge Bombing: Memorialization in Novi Sad


3. “A” Stream Sunday 3/23: Repurposing and Reinventing the Past

Cengiz Haksoz, University of Pittsburgh, How “Nationalist” memoryscapes were “Socialist” and later became “Post-Socialist”?: Politics of Memorizations in Post-Socialist Sofia

Eve Blau, Harvard University, Baku: Oil and Urbanism as Historical Precipitate

Eneken Laanes, Yale University and Tallin, The Power of the Remnant: The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn

Irina Sadovina, University of Toronto, The City as an Imperial Project and One Man’s Playground: the Contested Space of Yoshkar-Ola, Russia


“B” Stream – 11:00am-12:50pm, Waverly 435

1. “B” Stream Friday 3/21: Memory and Art

Olga Voronina, Bard College, An Altar or a Forum? Russia’s Poets’ Museums and the Post-Soviet Manipulation of Cultural Memory

Antje Postema, University of Chicago, War Art: the Construction of a Sarajevo Text

Anindita Banarjee, Cornell University, Future Archaeologies of Contested Memory Sites: Mediating Moscow through Metro 2033

Sergei Toymenstev, Rutgers University, Soviet City in post-Soviet Film


2. “B” Stream Saturday 3/22: Public Practices and Performances

Andrew Chapman, Dartmouth College, The Soviet Queue Leads Somewhere: Performing Everydayness as a New Aesthetics of Community Building

Yanina Shulgan, Independent Scholar, The Improvisational and Collaborative Memorial to Victor Tsoy: Post-Soviet Cross-capital Mourning for a Lost Icon

Jacob Lassin, Yale University Bakinets Identity as Site of Memory: The Case of

Sonia Hirt, Virginia Tech, “Private Style as Public Display: The Architecture of Nouveau Riche Houses”


3. “B” Stream Sunday 3/23: Residential Life

Paloma Duong,  Columbia University, “Los sobrevivientes”: Public Homes and the Private State in Cuba’s Late Socialism

Christina Crawford, Harvard University, Kharkiv: The afterlife of a model socialist settlement

Aleksandra Kaminska, York University, Why 30 Finnish houses at the Jazdow Estate are Warsaw’s most urgent historical preservation crisis

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