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Why Not Only Urban Historians Find Ostrava Interesting?

An Interview with Historian Andrea Pokludová

The Faculty of Arts of the University of Ostrava could become the organizer of the most prestigious congress of urban historians in 2022.

Ostrava could join such cities as Rome, Antwerp, Helsinki or Lisbon. Doc. Andrea Pokludová from the Department of History of the Faculty of Arts explains what an opportunity it would be if Ostrava organises one of the largest international scientific congresses and what makes Ostrava interesting for urban historians. It was her who gave her international colleagues the idea of showing Ostrava as a city on the border – social, economic and geographic. A city full of opportunities with the possibility of dynamic development and a scientific potential.

What precisely can an urban historian study?

Urban historians place a human being in a context; they create a vivid image of a person's life in the past. They perceive a city in broader relations, such as urban – rural, how it was formed economically and socially, how models of behaviour as well as market relations are transferred. They watch all of that in a global context, paying attention to migration, economy… there is really a lot. They strive to bring a vivid story to future generations, to show what proved or did not prove useful, what to stem from, what the lessons are. They also put emphasis on cultural heritage and its presentation and bring a great advance in the approach to conservationism, for instance. That makes urban history interesting for museums and archives. For example, digitalisation is a great current topic and it also includes the creation of 3D models of cities, how they were built from the medieval times to the present. colleagues from Western Europe are very progressive in this regard. We are still dealing with the consequences of the Iron Curtain that prevented us from working with them.

Have we not managed to catch up with our western colleagues in historiography even after more than twenty years?

Unfortunately, we are still working on the basic research while our colleagues in the west are already applying their results with success. They have already started cooperating with urbanists and architects. They do not see the boundaries between the branches. They do not distinguish between historians, sociologists, architects or cultural geographers. There are no barriers between the individual branches, which is still common in the Czech Republic. Their research teams are closely intertwined and they manage to reach a consensus and cooperate effectively. Our objective is to achieve such an applicability and field diversity.

What is your main interest of research in relation to urban history?

The most important thing to me is to understand the life of a person in a specific urban environment where there have often been turbulent changes. Professor Myška provided a unique topic in 1990s: forming of intelligence in the second half of the 19th century, which is a structural history, and I was fascinated with uncovering the story of a huge boom of our region.

In mid-1990s, Ostrava was presented as a city experiencing a recession, marked with the end of mining, a polluted, black city, a city with many social issues. And in the middle of that, I started discovering a 19th century Ostrava, a city with a dynamic economy that was developing. At the beginning of the 20th century, Ostrava attracted famous architects, lawyers and engineers from all over Europe. The urban society at that time was enormously diverse and multicultural. I wondered how people asserted themselves in such an urban society with such distinct social problems. In my opinion, the civic society in the process of modernisation is one of the most interesting topics in urban history. The few years at the turn of the century brought a huge economic, business and cultural progress to the region.

Were historians not interested in studying the history of the 19th century before 1990? Is there a lot to catch up with in this area as well?

Some topics were not pursued, such as entrepreneurship or local administrations. As far as the 19th century and the process of modernisation is concerned, we have caught up in many areas. In this regard, the Ostrava centre has done a lot of work. We started our research using the available model of an industrial city and we gradually added other locations. Thanks to the research, we started to cooperate with the Prague centre, through which I discovered urban history. We started attending international conferences with our Prague colleagues where we presented our outputs. And people found the issue of the civic society, communal government and social history of an industrial region, which we studied in Ostrava, attractive. We did not follow any domestic centres in their studies of local governments but we identified our own direction of study after the fashion of the German research. We perceived the importance of comparison. We were interested in learning why we were lagging behind England, Germany or Belgium in the construction of urban infrastructure. What processes did the civic society go through? It was unique research.

Updated: 25. 04. 2019

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