Civic Knowledge and Urban History

No 22 | July 2022

This issue of IRS aktuell is dedicated to the activities of the IRS research focus on contemporary history and archives as well as its scholarly collections, which have taken major steps in both directions - citizen science and proactive communication – in recent years. These include, for example, the technically highly sophisticated digitalisation of our collection holdings on GDR building history and the “Stadtwende” research project on initiatives against old town decay in the GDR with its multimedia-based public relations work. An overview is provided by Harald Engler and Rita Gudermann starting on page 4. Julia Wigger, historian and doctoral student in the “Stadtwende” project, on how she integrated contemporary witness interviews with participants into her research on old town initiatives – a method that is only gradually gaining acceptance in historical scholarship. Art historian Andreas Butter, on the other hand, has his eye on online communities. He shows how urban planning and urban history discourses are organised by enthusiasts on Facebook. Daniel Hadwiger reports on the selective “authentication” of individual historical eras in urban planning. Various media products from the “Urban Authenticity” project draw attention to such historical-political stagings in urban space, such as an audio walk through Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg. Finally, Rita Gudermann and Paul Perschke give an insight into the citizen science project “Citizen Archives”, which not only wants to use citizen knowledge to describe collection archives, but is also developing a corresponding online tool for other special archives.

Innovative forms of research and knowledge transfer, which are predominantly based on digital tools and methods, have played an important role for some time in the Research Area Contemporary History and Archives at the IRS. In this way, the historians are taking up new trends and methods of research that have been gaining momentum in the historical sciences and more generally in the humanities for several years. The key disciplinary concepts are "Citizen Science" in the context of research and "Public History" in the context of research communication. They are intended to contribute to integrating broader strata of society into the knowledge production of historical research and to return scientific findings and results to the interested public in a more targeted manner. more infos

Working with eyewitnesses has a dubious reputation in historical research. For a long time, it was only considered a means of illustration. But personal recollection can also serve as a source of important insights – especially in combination with and in contrast to written sources. IRS historian Julia Wigger used this combination of methods in her research on old town initiatives in the GDR. Here she shows how the two types of sources complemented each other. more infos

The social network Facebook has been an integral part of millions of people's everyday lives for almost 20 years. Compared to Twitter or Instagram, the platform is less focused on real-time news and offers space for immersion instead. Although Facebook has been criticised for its handling of private data and its insufficient commitment against hate and misinformation, the platform can make valuable contributions, especially in the debate about architectural and urban historical heritage. Facebook groups on architecture and building history are useful for both historical research and public debate. more infos

Which parts of a city's building stock are considered authentic, meaningful and worthy of preservation says a lot about the currently valid values and discursive negotiations of an urban society. The project “Urban Authenticity” explores how the building heritage of European cities was “authenticated” in this way from the 1970s onwards. Through visual and auditory online media, it makes the processes tangible for the general public – for example, with an audio walk through Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg. more infos

Citizen Science is finding its way into more and more areas of research, including archival work. The IRS Scientific Collections have not only made great strides in recent years in providing technical infrastructures for the digitalisation of their holdings. They are also leading the way in public participation in the indexing of holdings, developing solutions for many other specialised archives in the process. more infos