Susanne Rau Sara Keller Martin Christ (Sektionsleitung)

City Branding: Urbanity and the Construction of City Images in Europe and South Asia

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Magritte’s famous “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” taught us that images are deceiving. Similarly, one may question in how far images of cities are truthful to urban realities. Studies on cities suggest that historical facts have often been appropriated, abused or invented to create a certain (mental) image of a city, based on narratives such as foundation myths, eulogies, travel books or maps. This panel considers a selection of case studies from Europe and South Asia from the twelfth to the twenty-first century CE in order to address the fragile facts that help to construct city images.


City branding studies brought to light a large range of strategies implemented in order to produce a (new) urban identity. These strategies include the changing of physical spaces through the construction of iconic monuments, the introduction of practices such as urban rituals and cultural, economic and religious events and finally narratives imagined and diffused through campaigns and with the help of a variety of media. The “invention of tradition” and the writing of histories play significant roles in these processes.

This emerging field of study focuses largely on modern cities and notions such as a green city or the branding of cities to attract tourists and investors. We propose to expand this research by taking a historical perspective and consider pre-modern as well as modern strategies of producing city images. Which strategies and media were used to create a mental image (pilgrimages, fairs, city guides, maps etc.) and who were the actors and audiences of these strategies (council members, economic elites, religious authorities, etc.)? The proposed trans-regional framework encourages a comparative approach to stimulate a novel discussion on city images beyond Europe. Moreover, the papers ask how city branding influenced urbanity and vice versa: How representative (or even truthful) of urban experiences are city images and did they influence the urban way of life?

Mateusz Jakub Fafinski (Erfurt)
Parchment Cities: Representations of Urban Space in Early Medieval Manuscripts

Medieval manuscripts as a form of representation are rarely connected with urban space. But they enabled an interesting and ingenious phenomenology of urban landscape. Drawing on urban space theory, manuscript studies, and literary studies the paper will examine two examples of urban representation in text, image, and parchment – Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek, Codex 326 (1076) and Wolfenbüttel Herzog-August-Bibliothek Cod. Guelf. 36.23 Aug. 2° in comparative perspective. These will help us to discover different ways of making urban space legible for medieval audiences. We will see how fully understanding these strategies of urban legibility is only possible if we look closely at the manuscripts themselves and that this process can help us better appreciate even some well-known texts.

Simone Wagner (Potsdam)
Depicting other Cities. City Branding in the Historiography of South-West German Towns

Historiographical texts often described the urbanity of premodern cities by associating them with specific urban concepts and other urban centres. This is also true for the relatively small towns of the south-western part of the Holy Roman Empire. While describing the urbanity of their own city, these historiographical texts referred to other, much bigger cities. The paper analyses if these associations in the small towns match the other cities’ own historiographical texts. Thus, the paper explores intertextuality and investigates if these depictions in historiographical texts constitute a successful form of city branding.

Sanjay Srivastava (London)
Techno-politics: The Material and Political Life of Technology as a Brand in ‘New’ Gurugram, Haryana, India

The district of Gurugram (earlier Gurgaon) lies on the southern bodies of Delhi, in the neighbouring state of Haryana. Over the past three decades, Gurugram has emerged as the most significant Indian example of privately funded real estate development as well as a site of city-branding that speaks in the languages of technology. What was largely a rural hinterland has rapidly transformed into a hub of gated communities, shopping malls, global commerce and technologically driven urban planning. The latter is also seen as a crucial aspect of ‘selling’ the locality as an ‘advanced’ site of Indian urbanism. This presentation investigates the material and social life of technology-as-branding as it encounters historically specific rural lifeways and structures, a state in the process of transformation into ‘entrepreneurialism’ and processes of private capital that make it more state-like. What does technology-as-city-brand tell us about relationships between citizens, the state and private capital under conditions of contemporary urban modernity?

Carla Meyer-Schlenkrich (Münster)
Who shapes the brand? Reflections on Urban Historiography as a Medium of Communal Self-Reassurance between the Middle Ages and Modernity

In the research on urban historiography in the German-speaking area of ​​the Middle Ages, the concept of urban identity traditionally plays a major role. A pioneer in this field is Heinrich Schmidt, who in 1958 studied the medieval chronicles as a mirror of bourgeois self-confidence. In his wake, many have since attempted to demonstrate the constitution and strengthening of urban collective identity through chronicle texts using concrete examples. However, there is also increasing criticism that these readings are often based on a very partial understanding of the sources. The paper will therefore examine the influence of the older research, going back to the 19th century, and its identity needs on today’s interpretations.

Pralay Kanungo (Leiden)
Brand Bhubaneswar: A Blend of Tradition with Modern

The paper will focus on Bhubaneswar, once a small sleepy temple town, which later became the capital of postcolonial Odisha, India. Today it is a modern ‘smart city’ with a high branding quotient—national and global. Craftly show-casing its ancient heritage, like Ashokan edicts, architectural marvels like early medieval Muketeswar and Lingaraj temples and classical Odishi dance, the city simultaneously flaunts its achievement as a hub of modern education, science and information technology. Bhubaneswar has enhanced its brand value by being a planned, clean, friendly and affordable city, and hosting spectacles like global investment summits and the hockey world cup tournament.

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