Home » Books published » Emanuela Grama, Vechi din Bucureşti. Politică și patrimoniu. Iași: Polirom, 2023.

Emanuela Grama, Vechi din Bucureşti. Politică și patrimoniu. Iași: Polirom, 2023.

Translation by Justina Bandol

The English-language edition, Socialist Heritage: The Politics of Past and Place in Romania, received the 2020 Ed Hewett book prize offered by the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies for “an outstanding monograph on the political economy of Russia, Eurasia and/or Eastern Europe.”

“Focusing on Romania from 1945 to 2016, Socialist Heritage explores the socialist state’s attempt to create its own heritage, as well as the legacy of that project. Contrary to arguments that the socialist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe aimed to erase the pre-war history of the socialist cities, Emanuela Grama shows that the communist state in Romania sought to exploit the past for its own benefit. The book traces the transformation of a central district of Bucharest, the Old Town, from a socially and ethnically diverse place in the early 20th century, into an epitome of national history under socialism, and then, starting in the 2000s, into the historic center of a European capital. Under socialism, politicians and professionals used the district’s historic buildings, especially the ruins of a medieval palace discovered in the 1950s, to emphasize the city’s Romanian past and erase its ethnically diverse history. Since the collapse of socialism, the cultural and economic value of the Old Town has become highly contested. Bucharest’s middle class has regarded the district as a site of tempting transgressions. Its poor residents have decried their semidecrepit homes, while entrepreneurs and politicians have viewed it as a source of easy money. Such arguments point to recent negotiations about the meanings of class, political participation, and ethnic and economic belonging in today’s Romania. Grama’s rich historical and ethnographic research reveals the fundamentally dual nature of heritage: every search for an idealized past relies on strategies of differentiation that can lead to further marginalization and exclusion.” (From the webpage of Indiana University Press)

What people are saying about it:

“There are important lessons thus taken from Grama’s monograph […] on the malleability of heritage and the strategic use of the past to push forward narratives in the present comes across. Moreover, the clear political use of heritage is expertly and vividly analysed throughout the monograph, as Bucharest’s Old Town and its residents became targets and victims to the authorities’ manipulations of time and their reinterpretations of place. […] Emanuela Grama gracefully moves across different areas through with her use of secondary sources, bringing together urban planning, political studies, economic and social analyses.” (Cristina Clopot, International Journal of Heritage Studies)

Socialist Heritage represent an outstanding contribution in the field of anthropology of heritage, retracing the transformation of Lipscani street and the central district of Bucharest, the Old Town, from a socially and ethnically culturally diverse place in the early 20th century, into a benchmark of nationalist rewriting of local history during socialism, finally morphing again, beginning with the 2000s, into the historic center of an European capital. […] Grama’s monograph is a gripping and intensive lesson on the fluidity and plasticity of heritage, the multiple uses of the past in shaping urban spaces, the intricacies of (un)making heritage and the political states that bound and throw local communities against the state, the state against its history, and political time against spatial politics.” (Dana Domșodi, Studia UBB Sociologia)

“This is an impressive piece of scholarship. The strengths of this book are the breadth of the data sources, which have enabled the author to uncover in detail how change in a particular historic urban landscape is shaped by broader issues of power and identity (in both socialist and post-socialist contexts). Socialist Heritage will be of interest to postgraduate students and academic researchers in disciplines such as history, anthropology, human geography, urban studies and sociology. For anybody wanting to understand Bucharest’s Old Town there is no better source available.” (Duncan Light, Eurasian Geography and Economics)

“Bucharest is not a historic city, but it is rich in history. The distinction turns out to be important not just for our understanding of Romania, but of politics and historiography more generally. Emanuela Grama uses the politics that surrounded the Old Town of Bucharest over the past century to force us to reconsider the constitution of the state, the relationship between identity and ideology, and the balance in historical development between grand narratives and incremental change. Moreover, she does all this by demonstrating that the study of history and the stuf of history are rarely, if ever, the same. […] Grama does a brilliant job bringing [this] story to our attention and explaining why we should care about it. Her book deserves to be widely read.” (Erik Jones, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy)

You can buy the book here.

About the author:

Emanuela Grama is Associate Professor in the History department, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. She specializes in the history of 20th century Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on urban politics, processes of state-making, property, memory, and cultural change in 20th and 21st century Romania. She received her PhD from the Interdisciplinary Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has conducted extensive archival and ethnographic research in different locations in Romania, and has published on a range of topics, including 1) the politics of archaeology and nationalism under socialism 2) urban planning, state-making and material practices, 3) petitions, intertextuality, and citizenship in socialism, and 4) plagiarism in post-socialism. She is also a recipient of fellowships from the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (dissertation research grant), the American Council for Learned Societies (dissertation writing grant), and the Max Weber Postdoctoral Program of the European University Institute, Florence, Italy.

More information about Emanuela Grama is available here.