Making Space: Regional Knowledge on East-Central Europe beyond the History of Area Studies, 1900–50

AHA Session 283
Central European History Society 15
Monday, January 5, 2015: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Conference Room H (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Stephen Gross, New York University

Session Abstract

The history of Area Studies has most commonly been examined in the context of the Cold War nexus between U.S foreign policy, intelligence and academe. This panel moves beyond a narrow focus on Area Studies both chronologically and geographically. Focusing on East-Central Europe, it investigates how the study of regions and regional knowledge emerged as a multidisciplinary field in Britain, continental Europe and the United States from the 1900s to the 1950s.. It locates the birth of ‘regional studies’ in the context of an early twentieth-century internationalism, which put the nation-state as a form of political organisation at its centre and relied on the unifying force of science and expertise. The Great War and the geopolitical realignments of the interwar period following the collapse of several multi-national empires added to the impetus to study cultural, geographic and economic ties within the region, as did the dislocations during the Second World War and the early Cold War.

   Questions of what held regions together and how regional knowledge was to be organised were particularly pertinent in Central and Eastern Europe. The study of its cultures, politics and societies attracted a diverse group of scholars, academic entrepreneurs and philanthropists, operating on the fringes of official diplomacy. This panel seeks to enrich the existing scholarship on the pre-1945 origins of Area Studies by investigating how regional knowledge was produced, institutionalised and, ultimately, instrumentalised. It appeals to historians of Europe and the United States who explore the multidisciplinary study and contested definitions of regions, as well as  the disciplinary formations of the humanities and the social sciences.

     The panel brings together four scholars based in the United States, Britain and Poland and highlights the intersection of Anglo-American perspectives on East-Central Europe with those emanating from the region itself. Georgios Giannakopoulos’s paper on Bernard Pares and Robert W. Seton-Watson traces the history of ‘regional studies’ on East-Central Europe in Britain from the aftermath of the liberal revolution in Russia  to the early 1920s. It examines how British historians and humanities scholars institutionalised Slavonic Studies in Britain and turned newly formed nation-states into objects of scientific inquiry along ethno-cultural lines. Katharina Rietzler’s paper on American conceptions of the ‘Danubian region’ in the interwar period emphasises the resonance of regional imaginaries in debates on economic development and post-war reconstruction, probing the connection between regional knowledge and U.S. strategic concerns. Malgorzata Mazurek’s contribution on Polish statisticians investigates how ideas of underdevelopment emerged in the region itself, on the margins of mid-twentieth century expert internationalism. It explores how Eastern European economists created visions of post-imperial and post-colonial world regions both through collaboration and critical reassessment of expert epistemologies of the League of Nations and the early United Nations agencies. Olga Linkiewicz’s paper offers an internal approach to regional studies of Eastern Europe by focusing on the multicultural eastern borderlands of interwar Poland. She argues that the dynamic relationship between politics and science gave rise to ‘ethnopolitics’, a utopian project which aimed at shaping new attitudes from within society.

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