Table Topic: Entanglements

Colonialism is not always about sheer power, be it physical or discursive. East Central Europe, while surely an object of foreign domination for centuries, delivers fascinating stories of many-shaded self-colonization, mimicry and participation. Racial thinking and scientific racism figure prominently among them. Maciej Górny will shed some light on the complicated position taken by local anthropologists and other scientists in the field. Alumni of German and French universities, they were connected by multiple links to the transnational community of experts. They took part in their expeditions (such as the German African expedition of 1907-1908), published in German, British and French journals and shared most of their Western colleagues’ convictions. At the same time they helped their German and French colleagues collect ‘samples’ and organize research trips in their native countries and among their fellow-countrymen. How did experts from East Central Europe situate themselves within the space between a scientist and objects of his study; between the anthropologist and his measurement?             


Maciej Górny is Professor at the Historical Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw. His research interests are east central Europe in the 19th and 20th century, history of historiography, discourses on race and the First World War. His latest publications include Science Embattled: Eastern European Intellectuals and the Great War (2019, Polish 2014) and Nasza wojna, 2 vols. (together with Włodzimierz Borodziej, 2014, German 2018, English edition forthcoming). Between 2014 and 2019 he was editor-in-chief of Acta Poloniae Historica.


While Maciej Górny will shed some light on the complicated role of East Central European anthropologists and racial theorists trying to map the racial landscapes of the region by means of Western racial theories, Christian Geulen will look at the ways in which Western thinking about the racial composition of East Central Europe always posed a challenge for the very theories and categories deployed to provide scientific ‘order’ to the region. Constructed as both an ancient region of racial origins and as the home of Western Europe’s most dangerous racial enemies, Eastern Middle Europe’s multinational and multicultural characters always threatened to undermine the very validity of racial theory itself. Thus it was often viewed as a region the racial composition of which was not naturally given, but had to be re-ordered and revitalized. Hence, fantasies of colonizing the East were often based on this idea of reclaiming and reconstructing a supposedly natural order. This pattern of perception not only distinguished these colonial fantasies and practices from those directed at other parts of the world, but – together with the history of East European scientific self-perception – might also shed some light on today’s equally ambivalent role of and Western view on the European East as being a rather ‘problematic’ part of Europe.    


Christian Geulen is a Professor of Modern History at the University of Koblenz, Germany.  He studied history and social sciences in Münster, Bielefeld and at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He was fellow and guest professor at the FRIAS in Freiburg, the ZZF in Berlin and at Stanford University, California. He specializes in the history of modern political ideologies (nationalism, racism, colonialism, populism), historical theory, history of knowledge and historical semantics (Begriffsgeschichte). His publications include:  (Hg.) Vom Sinn der Feindschaft, Berlin 2002, Wahlverwandte: Rassendiskurs und Nationalismus im späten 19. Jahrhundert, Hamburg 2004, Geschichte des Rassismus, 3. Aufl. München 2017.


Max Weber Stiftung

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