New Research on Central European Cities and Towns, Part 3: Urban Culture(s): Manufacturing and Manifesting Central European Urban Identities

AHA Session 150
Central European History Society 8
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Murray Hill Suite A (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Neil Gregor, University of Southampton
Mary Lindemann, University of Miami

Session Abstract

Urban Culture(s): Manufacturing and Manifesting Urban Identities

 These four papers explore the physical, social, and intellectual environments of cities as the raw material for the conscious construction of urban culture. In many cities, carefully crafted cultural profiles were used as the centerpieces for unique and enduring urban identities, which were projected nationally and internationally. In their two excellent studies of Leipzig and Dresden, Margaret Menninger and Nadine Zimmerli explicate the complex civic dynamics of creating and manipulating urban resources to construct a clear cultural image that was widely propagated as the hegemonic self-representation for each city. As explorations of Saxony’s two largest cities which saw each other as ancient rivals, the papers complement each other extraordinarily well.  David Imhoof’s study reveals similar processes of shaping cultural practices to fashion a self-conscious urban identity for Gottingen, but he goes on to investigate how civic leaders deliberately transformed the city’s cultural identity in the 1920s and 1930s as the German empire gave way to the Weimar Republic and then the Nazi dictatorship.  His study also highlights the position of cities as concentrated embodiments of broader national trends. All three papers note the common set of urban resources (e.g. museums, festivals, theatres, historic sites) deployed in these efforts. Jim Brophy’s innovative empirical study of several cities brings to light the important but understudied role of bookshops as unique social and intellectual spaces essential to the image of urban culture in general, rather than any particular local variant. As centers of liberal and radical democratic social and intellectual life, bookshops contributed an important element to the general public and governmental perceptions of the urban environment as deeply subversive—one of the images that municipal officials in Leipzig, Dresden, and Gottingen worked so hard to displace with their own stories.  All four papers show how a wide range of urban spaces and habits were employed to create distinctive atmospheres that became absolutely central to the public view of the urban experience, in its many local flavors and in the general image of “the city.”   The audience should extend to all those interested in Central European urban and cultural history. Neil Gregor (UK) will serve as Chair; Mary Lindemann, a leading historian of German urban history, will provide the comment

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