Nari Shelekpayev Public Lecture: What is a Capital City?

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 08:38..
Department of History
Nari Shelekpayev

On November 27 at 6 p.m. Nari Shelekpayev, an assistant professor of history at the Faculty of History of the EUSPb, held a lecture "What is a Capital City?" at the White Hall. The working language was English. 

The contemporary world is formed by almost two hundred states that are represented through entities defined as «capital cities». Since the 1850s a number of cities, designated as or transformed into capitals increased dramatically following the formation of nation-states and the decolonization process. Canberra, New Delhi, and Brasília are the most known examples, but many other capital cities have been designed or built in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In the twenty-first century transformation and re-dislocation of capital cities did not become a thing of the past: recently, Naypyidaw replaced Yangon as the capital of Myanmar. Contrary to expectations, globalization did not contribute to a decay of capital cities either: various economic and demographic data demonstrate that they still are the most vibrant, cultured, and diverse spaces of their respective states. A diversity of definitions and approaches towards capital cities suggest that they do not have immutable characteristics; they are neither determined by a given political system, nor have a fixed administrative status. Rather they manifest entangled relationships between urban spaces, political intentions, and social projects. What makes a city a capital? How did the models of «capitality» and representations of power and national identity change or evolve in last two centuries? Does the postcolonial condition necessarily invoke a reinvention or a transformation of a capital city? Besides political and administrative functions, what are the urban planning elements mostly characterizing a capital city? Through a comparative and cross-cultural analysis of three case studies — Ottawa, Brasília, and Astana (recently renamed as Nur-Sultan) — we will observe how the aspirations, utopias, and political compromises of three distinct societies were reflected in the elaboration of their new capital cities, and also which individuals and groups of people were included and excluded from this process. The goal is thus to examine not only images and forms of contemporary capital cities but also reveal the intricate political, economic, and social dynamics that bring them into being.