An Urban Radio Portrait: Mapping of Walter Benjamin’s Berlin

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  • Location/Space (Papers)

Presentation Title:

  • An Urban Radio Portrait: Mapping of Walter Benjamin’s Berlin

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Abstract:

  • This project consists of an interactive archive and multimedia map that illuminates the constellation of locations mentioned by Walter Benjamin during his radio broadcasts. Between 1929 and 1933 the media theorist wrote and produced radio lectures and dramas to educate and entertain the German public. He discussed history, literature, and frequently described the urban experience, especially in Berlin. Although archival audio has never been found, some of Benjamin’s scripted broadcast notes remain. This research maps the locations mentioned in these notes, enhancing them with archival material and recreations of the broadcasts (conducted by Heather Contant). It produces a multi‑sensory, spatial representation of Benjamin’s Berlin that users can navigate. Our project uses the Urban Research Tool (URT): an open source, web‑based mapping platform for geospatial digital humanities research created at Parsons the New School for Design. This tool (implemented by Rory Solomon and colleagues) allows researchers to define data models and spatialize their findings via map‑based argumentation. URT enables virtual reconstructions of the paths outlined during Benjamin’s tours of toy stores, street markets, and puppet theaters, as well as demarcations of the broadcast zones where Benjamin’s depictions of Berlin could be received. Audiences will re‑trace the philosopher’s radiophonic footsteps, encounter archival audio and images of the places he described, and understand how Benjamin utilized the unique characteristics of radio to ignite listeners’ imaginations. Benjamin’s descriptions and discussions of specific urban locations during his radio broadcasts formed a constellation place – an image of the modern city transmitted throughout Germany via the new medium of radio. ‘An Urban Radio Portrait’ reframes these representations in the context of an innovative digital humanities research tool, resulting in an immersive form of scholarship that creates new perspectives and avenues for engaging with this historical location.

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