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Fellow Seminar

12 March 2020

Ivaylo Nachev will present the work in progress on his project "The Politics of Street Names: Naming and Renaming Public Spaces in the Bulgarian Capital City of Sofia, 1878 - 2018" on 12 March 2020 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS conference hall.

Seminar Presentation 1

Street names could be seen as one of the elements of the complex system which is the modern city. It could be argued that as a complex and dynamic phenomenon they deserve a special scholarly attention, one which has not been given by Bulgarian historiography so far. Street names at the same time are part of the symbolic culture and as such play a certain role in symbolic politics. They impact memory and identity as people are in everyday contact with them. Since street signs are an official way of communication, street naming in the capital city could be regarded as a complex process of not only mapping space but also mapping the national past. Therefore, one of the key objectives of the project is to examine the place of street naming as a part of symbolic politics and to evaluate the specific roles in the process of different urban and national elites.

My proposed research of this long period (1878-2018) aims at reconstructing various layers of changing national values. An advantage of this approach is that it would allow for changing paradigms in Bulgarian society throughout its modern history to be explored and presented in a meaningful way. My research project will be mainly based on archival research of city-council proceedings that discussed name changes.

The research will seek to answer several main questions. What figures/places are chosen? How the decision-making process unfolds? How (if at all) the local authorities motivated the selection of certain names. Does the decision-making process make a proper evaluation (if any at all) of real contributions to the city or the nation? And when decision-making just reflected the current political considerations, how sustainable was it? It will try to answer whether street names have always been just a choice of the elites and whether popular attitudes and sentiment have played any role in this process. It will try to examine the reasons behind placing leading persons of the day on an equal footing with major historical figures in the street signs. Erasing unwanted versions of the national past, as reflected in the street naming processes, will also be one of the aspects on which the research will elaborate.

Seminar Presentation 2
(Abstract for the fellow seminar to be held on 12th March 2020 at CAS)

Following the first seminar which presented a general overview of the project, I will now comment on specific findings during my research in the past few months. I will present visual materials which systematize changes and continuity in Sofia's streetscapes over the examined long period. Among the materials to be presented is a table that is aimed at including the history of name changers of all main streets of Sofia's historical urban core. The extended data set demonstrates a number of main patterns which will be commented. In this material streets are divided into three main groups which represent three major periods of Bulgarian modern history since 1878. Street name changes in the periods which I call Bulgarian monarchy, communist period and post-communist time in general follow the major shifts in Bulgarian political history. Noteworthy are, however, a significant number of name changes within the so defined periods. In this respect I would underline, for example, a first wave of street renaming campaigns in the Bulgarian capital city which took place within the first period and as early as the 1890s, barely a decade after many of the modern streets were created and first named. These name changes closely mirrored main fights and divisions in Bulgarian political life. Along with the occurring changes, elements of continuity will be examined through the sustained presence of national and foreign figures on Sofia's streetscapes.

In addition, based on the research of one of the main types of sources - the records of Sofia's city council proceedings, I will present an analysis of the decision making process behind street name changes. My aim is to elaborate on how name changes were proposed and officially motivated. In that respect special attention will be given to the largest renaming campaign in the late 1940s when an assertive Communist regime not only totally reshaped the streetscape but also applied a quite systematic approach to street name politics and openly expressed some of the underlying ideological aims.
I will also elaborate on challenges related to the chosen types of sources and some of the advantages and the drawbacks thereof. In addition, I will explore street names "in honor of" living persons, a widespread phenomenon until the middle of the 20th century, which was later fully replaced by commemorative names. I will further comment on a number of questions which were raised during the first seminar on which there is already some documental evidence. Such is the case of bottom-up initiatives for street naming which can be illustrated by examples since the late 19th century.

Ivaylo Nachev is assistant professor at the Institute of Balkan Studies and Center of Thracology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. He obtained his PhD degree from Sofia University with a dissertation representing a comparative study of urban modernization in Southeast Europe. Among his latest publications as a co-author is the monograph "Sofia and the Balkan Modernity" (original title: „София и балканската модерност"). His main research interests are in the field of economic and social history of 19th-20th century, urban history, history of science and technology.


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