OSA | Visions after the Fall: Program

Visions after the Fall: Museums, Archives and Cinema in Reshaping Popular Perceptions of the Socialist Past

Nikolai Vukov: The Unmemorable and the Unforgettable: Museum Visualizations in post-1989 Bulgaria

As components of political actuality and material forms for demonstrating power, museums played a central role in expressing and sustaining memory in socialist times. With the end of socialism as a state ideology these forms of visualization of the past underwent substantial transformations and their fates as reshaped, displaced and restructured entities formed an important part of the history of the post-1989 period. In the attempts to overcome the crisis of historical representation following the political changes after 1989, diverse strategies and techniques were elaborated, some of them directly influencing the perception and functions of museum displays. New modes of historical representation were probed - ones that superseded the ideology's all-encompassing realm and that produced discourses of opposition, diversity, and multivocality. The rearrangement of the historical chronologies; the attention to different historical events, sequences and points of reference; the "appointment" of new figures as heroes and ancestors; the establishing of a new discourse of authenticity and persuasion – all these were important points of the post-socialist attempts at novel historical representations. The removal and reshaping of exhibitions glorifying the socialist past, the rearrangement of museum exhibitions and the appearance of new emphases in the interpretation of twentieth-century history were not only factors in the social, political and cultural transformation after 1989, but also means to provide distance and historical justice from the perspective of a terminated continuity.
In spite of the variety of attempts that were undertaken and are still proposed on both official and popular levels, the elaboration of adequate techniques for museum representation of the past still remains "under planning" in Bulgaria. It is true that new historical materials on the socialist period have been produced, and new emphases in the public discourse of the past have been developed, but few of them have been successful realized in museum exhibitions. The period after 1989 was largely characterized by the challenged representations of the socialist period, by the undoing of the previous "powerful" representations and by a general difficulty in achieving visual and material palpability of the new visions of the past. The current paper would approach this characteristic situation of museum displays in post-socialist Bulgaria, when the former network of meanings and discourses has been abandoned, and the new ones have not gained sufficient justification to establish "firmly" new visions of history. Drawing light on the reshaped nature of socialist museum displays after 1989 in Bulgaria and on the emergence of new topics and events in the modern history of the country, the current paper will discuss the new concepts applied to constructing historical legacies and the discourse of difficulty surrounding historical representations in a post-socialist mode.

Nikolai Vukov holds a Ph.D. in history from the Central European University, Budapest (2005, summa cum laude) and in anthropology and folklore studies from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (2002). He has held fellowships at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin (2003); Musée des sciences de l'homme, Paris (2002); New Europe College, Bucharest (2001–2002); and the Department for Southeast European History, Graz (2000). Nikolai Vukov's main spheres of research and publication include history and anthropology of death, monuments and commemorations, memory and historical representation, socialist and post-socialist studies. Currently he is a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Sofia and works on a project on historical visualizations after 1989 in Eastern Europe.

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Date: June 9, Friday

Time: 10.30-11 am



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