Daniel Monterescu has been awarded 375,000 euros by the Gerda Henkel Foundation for his research into the links between destruction and renewal. The project, titled Cities Lost and Found: The Social Life of Ruins in Israel/Palestine, 1882 to the Present, traces the urban histories of ruination and recovery in Israel and Palestine.
Monterescu’s research frames ruins as multi-dimensional public, social, and cultural problems. For the new project, a team of sociologists and geographers will aim to uncover the ambivalent heritage of lost cities and the material traces of bygone communities that reincarnate local memories as they lend themselves to contemporary projects of mythification, commodification and gentrification.
“Torn by a century of conflict and war, our cities are haunted by the ghosts of the past. A relational history of urban loss is therefore a fruitful approach to make visible how ruins of previous urban lives come back to haunt the living in uncanny ways on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides” Monterescu notes.
In cities like Jaffa and Hebron, for Monterescu, a figure of loss resonates with “forced displacement, physical return, and yearnings for future reunion with the imagined homeland in ways that are abstract and concrete, symbolic and spatial”.
According to him, it is crucial that we are able to come to terms both with the cities now lost forever in the region, and the potential urban worlds that may yet be created, for future generations. “In the current political deadlock in the Middle East I believe it is essential to look at history from the perspective of ruination and absence as a way to bridge rival histories and acknowledge colonial realities. Shared memories of loss can create common ground for future recovery.”
Daniel Monterescu’s three-year research was among the two projects funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation’s “Lost Cities” programme.
Danel Monterescu is Associate Professor of Urban Anthropology at CEU’s Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology. The project follows up on previous research by Monterescu into urban Israel/Palestine, resulting in Jaffa Shared and Shattered, published by Indiana University Press in 2015 and Twilight Nationalism, published by Stanford University Press in 2018.