Table Topic: Terrains of colonialism

Colonialism was not only, but to a great extent, a European phenomenon. We usually think of it as state-based, unequal, economic, social and political power relations and practice of dominance. In popular imaginary, it is situated in a Western tradition and refers to the scramble for Africa and Asia that was undertook by the European, mostly Western European, Empires. Events like the Opium War, the Treaty of Nanking from 1842, the Berlin Conference of 1884/85, or the beginning of decolonization in the aftermath of WW I. come to our mind. Famous Hollywood movies like Indochina or Out of Africa only reinforce such images. 

Eastern Europe, especially the present states of Poland, the Czech Republic or Ukraine, seems to be not very present in this popular master narrative, neither as historical agents nor as spaces of colonial entanglements. But since colonialism is no longer closely associated only with the genuine political sphere or an oversees settlement, the (post-)colonial setting of Eastern Europe comes into focus. Looking at Eastern Europe through the prism of colonial constellations and dynamics, sheds light on its complex history within the global connections. It shows Eastern Europe both as an object of colonial imaginary and civilizing mission, and as active actors of colonial projections and discourses. After all, f.e. for the German Empire the reverse image of India was not Cameron, but the Eastern borderlands. While the region was subject to colonization, it began, though, to develop and practice its own colonial fantasies. They took the form of dreaming of genuine Polish colonial settlement in New Guinea or Liberia, of debating race and “white” societal order or of actively participating in scientific expeditions.

At our table, we would like to point to this lesser-known Polish colonial entanglements within such fields of colonialism like production and exchange of scientific knowledge and cultural images, racial discourses, civilizing mission. We would also like to discuss the merging of the colonial and the demographic discourse in the 19th and 20th centuries and their legacies. What do we talk about by talking about the Eastern European colonialism? How far in the past can the colonial tradition of Eastern Europe be chased back and to what extent is the colonial logic and thinking still prevailing?

Justyna Aniceta Turkowska is a DAAD-Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. She received her PhD at the University of Giessen (Germany) in 2016. Her PhD thesis on the transnational aspects of the history of medicine in the Eastern borderlands of the German Empire was awarded the Fritz Theodor Epstein Award of the Association of German Historians of Eastern Europe and the Scientific PhD Award of the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Berlin. Her current project analyzes the transfer and circulation of technical geological expertise, experts and their activities within the Global East-South solidarity ties and cooperation patterns in the 1960s-1980s. Geographically, it refers to Polish and Swedish engagement in geological mapping of some as part of decolonization processes newly constituted states in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her research interests include history of science, global entanglements, (post-)colonial discourses and connections, and transnational solidarity networks.

Maria Rhode is a senior lecturer at the Department of Medieval and Modern History at the Georg-August-University in Göttingen. She received her PhD at the University of Freiburg (Germany) in 1994, presenting a study of the Polish interregna during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Her early research focussed on Early modern parliamentarism and modern nationalism. However, recently her focus of interest shifted towards the history of knowledge and knowledge production. She published articles about Russian and Polish colonial entanglements and scientific networks and transfers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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