Virtual talk on “Constructing Old Tbilisi”

Constructing Old Tbilisi: Socialist and National Narratives in Georgian Architectural Preservation, 1959-2013

Angela Wheeler

Harvard University and ARISC Fellow

Thursday, October 26, 2023

6:00-7:30PM Tbilisi Time / 10:00-11:30AM EDT

The talk will be held via Zoom. To register:

This lecture examines the ways in which historic urban neighborhoods were deployed in service of both Soviet and Georgian identity politics between 1959-2013. In contemporary Georgia, Tbilisi’s historic districts persist as loci of cultural, economic, and political identity. This mythologized “Old Tbilisi” is the centerpiece of an ever-expanding business of heritage tourism that both breaks from and builds upon Soviet narrative precedents. Its design (and subsequent redesigns) have provided the template for countless programs of historic preservation and political rhetoric—postsocialist President Mikheil Saakashvili’s “New Life for Old Tbilisi” program being a prime example. The built past provided excellent raw material for Soviet and Georgian rhetoric, often simultaneously. These many versions of Old Tbilisi now preclude any single understanding of the city’s history or of the place itself, particularly as the intended audience shifts in scale from local to national to international. This talk will explore the planning and preservation techniques used to redefine the physical form, image, and understanding of local history through a process of urban editing: a combination of civic spectacle, urban renewal, and architectural reconstruction.

Angela Wheeler is a PhD candidate in Architectural and Urban History at Harvard University, and lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Amherst College. She has practiced and studied architectural heritage management in Georgia since 2010. In 2023, she published Architectural Guide: Tbilisi, the first comprehensive English-language guide to the city’s historic buildings and urban development. She is the recipient of an ARISC Graduate Fellowship.

This talk is organized as a part of the ARISC Event Series that showcases the work of ARISC fellows. ARISC does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, medical condition, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or status as a covered veteran.