Institute of Political History
In localities with changing population street names lose their role as anchors and references of local and social identity. We want to make them talk to people again and use this process for conveying the complexity of human history with personal experiences in historical research. Mobilizing experts and laypeople in a common effort to rediscover the meaning of and historical facts and their multiple interpretations behind street names revives a reflexive historical and local consciousness.
Budapest, VIII. district, I. district
A deep societal division is manufactured and reinforced by symbolic politics and politics of history. Its efficiency is based on a superficial culture of history, a simplistic portrayal of the past (heroization and victimization, exclusively national focus) and humans within. Instead of using history’s complexity to make people recognize the complexity of society it pins on acceptance of the simplistic history membership in the nation, while criticism of it amounts to treachery. This superficial form of history weakens the traditional role of local symbolic landscapes in fostering identification at local level too. Together with changing population that is not familiar with historical sources of local identity, it is detrimental to local symbolic cohesion too.
Local memory activists, informal or formal heritage organizations, students and teachers and local decisions makers are key to the success of the initiative. They are the ones whose mobilization opens the way to the involvement of a broadening circle of interested people. They are also the ones who should actively work on the content with the help and guidance of experts (historians, sociologists etc.), and participate in local citizen’s circle’s discussions.
We select a number of street names together with local activists. Experts (historians, sociologists, anthropologists, cultural figures etc.) prepare a draft text explaining the street name and summarizing historical and contemporary debates, controversies around it. A citizen’s circle is convoked with the help of local activists, local decision makers to discuss the draft and amend it if necessary. Drafts are distributed prior to the discussion and experts facilitate the discussion and also explain what street names are, how we use them, their symbolic role and significance. The goal is not a single authoritative text, rather one that entails the controversies and alternative views. Subsequently a report is posted on social media and project website. The final text is included in a collection. Parallelly, an app is created with access to the collection. A QR code is placed next to street signs to display the text upon demand.
During the second phase, based on the experiences of the first one we intend to include citizens into the drafting process as well, under the guidance of experts.
Locals will have a better grasp of the symbolic space around them, including a notion of history as inherently controversial and not finite. They will get connected to the local environment through involvement in the project and through a new, more informative local landscape, offering clues to its possible meanings. We do not aim at radical and immediate changes, rather facilitating discussion around its possibility. People will also have a better and less politicized sense of alternative interpretations, weaking social divisions, with defusing histories political role as a cornerstone of political identities. Activism and dialogue generated with and between separate organizational fields can spill out to other spheres if carefully fostered.
Street names are significant for people. Learning of their origins, content and symbolic significance changes a passive stance (being mere geographic indicators) to an active one. Changing them, even if just their meaning, is the next step, a political decision. Thus, we offer inclusion in decision making through direct democracy means (citizen’s circle), representation of one’s identity in the explanatory texts (one of the rival interpretations), and participation in academic work as a citizen, lowering the barriers between laypeople and experts. Finally, naïve as it may sound, bridging divisions of history could reduce political divisions whatever the intentions of politicians. Cooperating locally with people of rival opinions is an experience potentially facilitating acceptance.
Historians at the Institute of Political History have produced hundreds of popularizing texts, while our staff has managed hundreds of popularizing events. The institute has hosted two EU funded grants, one from Europe for Citizen and one from ERC, facilitating project management skills too. We are concerned with how official politics of history attempts to entrench a narrow, nationalistic and simplistic interpretation of history and uses it for establishing a political divide. However, we are convinced that institutional counterbalancing and a top-down distribution of a rival interpretation will fail. Active involvement of citizens and local anchoring of identification is indispensable for creating a new, reflexive and critical culture of history.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Office expenses: 7000 EUR
Personnel cost: 20000 EUR
Public relations: 5000 EUR
IT costs (including app): 3000 EUR
Feasibility of the idea and the implementation, identification of the goal, experience with civic circles, partnership with local governments. Is it targeted enough or diverging with its parallel broad and local societal goals?