UCL European Institute


“Arts of the Contact Zone”* – Budapest, the Translated City

2024 SELCS-SSEES Turing Summer School led by Eszter Tarsoly and Jelena Ćalić


The topic

Pearl of the Danube, Chicago of the Balkans, city of spas, capital of books – just a few of the nicknames Budapest has held over its history as a point of gathering where multiple forms of culture come together and grapple with each other, often in contexts of asymmetrical relations of power. Each of these nicknames reveals a different perspective on the city and its social spaces, its broader location in Hungary, and its regional embeddedness in Danubian geographic, social, and cultural landscapes. An enticing pearl in the historic contact zone of subsequent multicultural empires, an ethnic melting pot in the vanguard of 20th-century urbanisation, a gateway to the natural resources of Central and South-East Europe, a place with a notoriously bookish tradition: these are all translations of the space that appears in a variety of guises, depending on the onlookers’ perspective.

This summer school explores multilingual and transcultural developments from historic and contemporary perspectives in the Danube region, capturing various facets of these developments in the microcosm of Budapest’s cityscapes. The physical space and artefacts that we encounter will be used as springboards for a critical understanding of transculturalism, coloniality, multilingualism, as well as political, social, and cultural power hierarchies. Students will gain introductory knowledge of a variety of qualitative methods, such as translation, cultural history, creative enquiry, autoethnography, and participatory and community-based approaches, while exploring the city as a contact zone. Turkish, Greek, Serbian, German, Chinese, Jewish, and Roma Budapest will be discovered in lectures and site visits. A city of boatmen, peasants, workers, ruling elites, and urbanites will unfold as we peel off the layers of a space that is one and simultaneously more than one. Alongside this multi-perspective approach to cultural space, we will scrutinise the city’s and the broader region’s actual transformations to accommodate the “tourist gaze” or the gaze of various elites who have left their mark on the built environment. For whom are the city and the region as social and cultural spaces translated, how, and why? What are the non-canonical areas for elites and which areas are canonised only for certain groups? What gets forcibly erased? What are the legacies, languages, and practices that disappear and resurface in the city?

“The first part of the title, in inverted commas, is borrowed from Marie Louise Pratt’s 1991 book of the same title.*The first part of the title, in inverted commas, is borrowed from Marie Louise Pratt’s 1991 book of the same tile, in inverted commas, is borrowed from Marie Louise .

The programme

The course programme will include ten two-hour lectures and discussion forums on topics such as

  • the Danube region’s multilingual history;
  • the translation of cultures;
  • literature and cultural sponsorship;
  • the everyday politics of totalitarianism;
  • Jewish writing and Roma life worlds in the region, and many more.

Methods workshops will cover creative and collaborative approaches such as documentary and photography, blogging, collaborative writing, close reading, translation, ethnography, ethical research, and the art and intricacies of representation (not all methods will be used in practice in order to avoid ethical consent issues).

Site visits will include guided thematic walking tours in various parts of the city; the Holocaust Documentation Centre and Jewish Museum of Páva Street; the Roma Community Centre and Local History Archive of Újpest (with interpreting); the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art and its two upcoming exhibitions on Till Brönner – Identity, landscape, Europe and Small Hungarian Cubeology – Modernity and Living in the Kádár era; the former factory sites and recent developments of Kőbánya; and more.

No language requirement.

Our partners

This summer school is offered in collaboration with the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)

Our main local partner institution will be Károli Gáspár University of Budapest, contributing with lectures, workshops, classroom space, and the organisation of site visits to the programme. They can also provide student-buddies for UCL students.


Dates: Monday, 17 June 2024 - Sunday, 14 July 2024

  • 17—28 June (taught programme)
  • 17 June —12 July (students stay in Budapest)

The taught programme will take place over a two-week period, with a minimum of two hours (120 mins) of contact time on each week day. Students will have two additional weeks in Budapest after that to write up their essay.

The convenors