Urban Change in the USA

How urban transformation in the USA affects the design and use of spaces, the make-up and interaction of communities plus their cultural representation forms the object of the research in the doctoral programme “Spaces, Communities, Representations: Urban Transformations in the United States”, which is jointly supported by the American Studies professors of the Universities of Bochum, Dortmund and Duisburg-Essen and is funded by Stiftung MERCUR (UDE involvement of Professor Josef Raab and Professor Jens Martin Gurr). The USA is of particular relevance for the research of urban spaces because the two principal tendencies of urban development – growth and shrinkage – can both be observed simultaneously there. A specific focus is directed at the process of economic and social change, the reconstruction and “gentrification” of previously neglected districts as well as the changing symbolic meaning and representation of urban spaces along with their architectural or infrastructural hallmarks, all of which is equally relevant for similar processes in the Ruhr.


Urban Exchange: Conferences

During the period reported on, several important conferences took place which were entirely convened or co-organized by members of the Faculty of Humanities. In 2010 New Testament scholars from the Universities of Bochum, Dortmund and Duisburg-Essen (Professor Markus Tiwald, Catholic Theology) formed the research association “New Testament in the Ruhr area” (NTR). Its first two conferences were devoted to the theme of “Early Christianity and the City”, the conference volume of which has recently been published: After its emergence in Galilee, Christianity soon evolved into an urban religion. As a redemptive religion, it addressed central needs of contemporaneous Hellenistic-Roman urbanity: Making life meaningful for the wealthy upper classes as well as dispensing the promise of redemption and consolation for the less fortunate lower classes. Just as the missionary activity of Paul reached its apogee in the ancient metropoles along the main arteries of the Roman Empire, a world-embracing religion might also today provide a sense of meaningfulness for the people in their various contexts within the Ruhr area.
The international symposium “The City in the Twelve Prophets” (funded by MERCUR, September 2010 in Essen), jointly convened by Professor Aaron Schart (Protestant Theology, UDE) and Professor Jutta Krispenz (Marburg), was devoted to the representation and assessment of the city in the biblical book of the Twelve Prophets; the volume documenting the conference has been published. In these texts the city is represented as a place that is close to God and capable of redemption, especially the city of Jerusalem with its YHWH temple, but it is also viewed as a stronghold of social injustice, of decadence and religious decline, which is why the God of Israel exposes it to destruction. In an area of conflict between various cultures and religions and under the constant threat of military defeat at the hands of other states, the prophets are searching for a way of reconciling the traditions of the past with the future.
From 6 October to 9 October 2011, the “14th International Conference of the Society for English Romanticism” was held at the UDE (sponsored by the DFG and organized by Professor Jens Martin Gurr and Professor Frank Erik Pointner, Department of Anglophone Studies). Whereas for many decades the role of nature in English Romanticism occupied centre stage in research on the period, the 25 papers presented by a number of leading international experts in the field elucidated the relevance of the city for English Romanticism by combining the more recent insights made by research on Romanticism with current approaches in urban studies. The volume “Romantic Cityscapes” containing selected contributions will appear in summer 2013 within the established series “Studies in English Romanticism”.
Urbanity can be represented in a variety of mediated forms of knowledge. As the manifestation of a specific form of life it has become the object of various representational genres; it has been represented pictorially and cartographically as well as acoustically. The manner in which artefacts are capable of highlighting the specific qualities of urban life was the subject of the conference “Urbanity: Forms of its Representation in Texts, Maps and Images” held at the Institute of Comparative Urban History in Münster and co-organized by Professor Ute Schneider (Department of History, UDE). The symposium was less concerned with commenting on the representations of cities throughout history and documenting changes in their perception. Rather, following a cultural history view of media and mediality, the conference focused on moments and mechanisms in the creation of meaning. The conference volume is due to appear in 2013.


Images of Cities

By contrast, actual visual “Representations of the City Throughout History” formed the subject of the exhibition “Imagines Europae Civitatum. Images of the Development of City Views and City Maps” organized by the geographer Professor em. Werner Kreuer (UDE) for display in Bonn and Essen. The matter-of-fact subheading gives little indication of the surprising images compiled here, among them historical views of Duisburg and Essen, both preindustrial cities that are still a far cry from the “Metropolis Ruhr”. Whether we are looking at examples of Roman numismatics, coloured miniatures, woodcuts and lithographs or modern aerial views – many originals of the ­exhibits are unique in the world and would ­normally be inaccessible to the public. However, it is not only the original facsimiles that make this exhibition so attractive, but above all the tremendous range of city views on display: From the miniature of the Ottoman artist Nasuh al-Silahi from 1537, which is the very first representation of Constantinople after its conquest by the Turks, and which is here shown for the first time in Europe, via the Expressionist view of Cologne by Oskar Kokoschka to the rather plain aerial view of Nuremberg, which nonetheless reveals the aesthetics of medieval town planning.
Architecture, history, geography, political science, jurisprudence, urban sociology and ­ethnology … : All of the disciplines involved in urban studies are represented in the volume “The City. An Interdisciplinary Handbook”, which the urban studies expert Professor Christoph Heyl (Department of Anglophone Studies) is jointly editing with Professor Harald Mieg of the Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Research at Humboldt University Berlin. Issues like the image of the city, the city as a stage, as life-world; the city and literature, the city and religion, and the memory of the city are addressed in this reference work on urban research to appear in 2013.
Urban space is always a space for art – whether in a museum or on the street; and art has its own way of accessing urbanity. Accordingly, the ­project “Urban Montages” by Professor Susanne Weirich (Arts) was concerned with evolving ­artistic procedures whereby urban space can be dealt with in a playful manner. Thus an inventory of possible ways in which peripheral places can be deciphered was to be developed. Elements and ordering schemes were discovered that had either been at hand or had to be invented. The material for an artistic intervention could be anything, such as a performance in a multi-story parking garage, a radio play on track 22 of Essen Central Station, the filmed pursuit of a rat through a sewer or the idyllic aspect of a derelict factory.