Tracing Communism

Historical guided city tours relate history in a spatially bound, oral and interactive way. Taking the presentation of state socialism in commercial communism tours as its example, this project examines the popularisation, commodification and authentication of contemporary history in today’s tourism industry.

‘Communism tour’ by Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science, 2016. © Sabine Stach

In Communism’s Footsteps: Locating and Selling History in Guided City Tours

Tour guiding is a way of interpreting local cultural assets for a foreign audience, an activity as ancient as it is popular. Thanks to its deregulation in many European cities, the last years have seen the development of numerous new forms of thematic city tours, including free walking tours as well as formats centred on providing exciting experiences. So-called »communism tours«, offering entertaining presentations of state socialism and its consequences to Western travellers, are particularly popular.  

Making use of ethnographic methods, this project approaches such tours in Warsaw, Prague and Bratislava. It understands historical guided city tours as a specific form of »doing history«, whose analysis offers insights into the epistemology of popular historical knowledge. Special attention is paid to the various practices of narrative, visual and performative authentication of contemporary history. For this purpose, the project joins concepts of tourism research and of heritage and re-enactment studies with questions of trans-cultural re-mediatisation of memory.

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