Re-examining Empires from the Margins: Towards a New Imperial History of Europe

Re-examining Empires from the Margins: Towards a New Imperial History of Europe

Mikko Toivanen / Bernhard Schär, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
München und digital
Vom - Bis
22.10.2021 - 23.10.2021
Url der Konferenzwebsite
Mikko Toivanen, Munich Centre for Global History, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

The international hybrid workshop, supported by the Munich Centre for Global History and the Käte Hamburger Research Centre “Dis:connectivity in Processes of Globalisation”, brought together scholars working at the forefront of new research into the historical imperial entanglements of European spaces not conventionally thought of as major imperial powers, especially the area of the present-day Nordic countries and parts of Central and Eastern Europe, providing an opportunity for dialogue and learning between specialists on different areas.

The opening remarks of the workshop were given by the organisers BERNHARD SCHÄR and MIKKO TOIVANEN (Munich), explaining the event’s aims and concept. They noted the recent surge of interest in historical scholarship on the entangled colonial histories of various European countries and spaces that were not themselves major imperial powers, referring especially to recent work on the Nordic and Swiss contexts. Schär and Toivanen mentionned the importance for the future of the field of transcending individual national contexts and thinking critically about how such “marginal” colonial histories can inform new directions in our broader understanding of the workings of European empires and their role in global history. They also argued that existing work has tended to focus on exceptional (and potentially unrepresentative) individual case studies and that more focus should be given to the global structures and networks that underpinned such stories. Finally, they raised the concern that the renewed interest in European imperial histories, even if ones that have thus far been understudied, runs the risk of re-centring Europe in analyses of global imperialism and colonisation.

The first session of the workshop dealt with a range of political and diplomatic engagements with empire. ARNE GELLRICH (Bremen) examined the interwar career of the Norwegian-Swedish Anna Bugge Wicksell and the Norwegian Valentine Dannevig in the League of Nations. Through an analysis of Wicksell’s involvement in colonial affairs, Gellrich showed that the structure of the League of Nations helped neutral countries like Sweden to influence colonial policy and to promote the social democratic ideals of their government, yet ultimately such efforts could not escape the inequalities and stereotyping inherent in the colonial relationship.

Examining the career of the diplomat Carl Georgsson Fleetwood, ARYO MAKKO (Stockholm) focused on Swedish-Norwegian efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to profit from colonial trade through proactive trade diplomacy. Makko also showed that the global consular network that mediated such efforts in the period was to a significant degree a transnational system, employing citizens of other countries to act on behalf of the United Kingdom of Sweden and Norway.

Finally, ELISE MAZURIÉ (Freiburg) analysed the participation of a Swiss delegation in the French-organised international feminist congress in 1932 in Constantine, Algeria. Mazurié argued that the delegation’s politics represented a kind of “maternalist imperialism” and that the participants’ bourgeois backgrounds, the touristic programme of the congress and the lack of meaningful Algerian representation prevented the event from proposing a serious critique of French imperialism.

The second session focused on the colonial and trans-colonial mobilities of specific professions and occupations. ANDREW MACKILLOP (Glasgow) analysed the role of Swiss mercenaries in the service of the English East India Company in the latter half of the 18th century, arguing that a realignment of Swiss military entrepreneurship from the European arena to Asia allowed the landlocked country to benefit from European empires’ oceanic expansion. Mackillop also highlighted how the Swiss were able to take advantage of their supposedly “marginal” position, supplying the armies of rival (British, French and Dutch) empires, and that even after the numbers of Swiss rank-and-file soldiers in the EIC decreased toward the end of the period, the high-value human capital of veteran officers remained sought after.

DESPINA MAGKANARI (Berlin / St. Petersburg) examined the activities of the German Orientalist Julius Klaproth (1783–1835) in the employ of the Russian empire. She showed how the highly transnational character of the scholarly networks of the period facilitated Klaproth’s entry into and career in Russia. Focusing on Klaproth’s ethnographical expedition into the Caucasus region, which took place in parallel with Russia’s campaigns of conquest in the region, Magkanari also showed how his scholarly work was inextricably linked with imperial conquest and designed to facilitate imperial rule in the region.

ANDREJA MESARIČ (Prague) analysed how the activities of Slovenian Catholic missionaries in Sudan in the 19th century played an important role in shaping ideas about race and colonial expansion in Slovenia, then a part of Austria-Hungary. She also described how interest in these missionaries has been revived in present-day Slovenia, through exhibitions and publications, and used politically to emphasise the country’s longstanding importance and supposedly positive influence in world history.

Finally, JOHN HENNESSEY (Lund) presented a conceptual argument in favour of a novel approach to transnational history, using occupational groups rather than nationality as its organising principle. Looking at professions such as engineers, expert advisors and missionaries, Hennessey emphasised the high degree of transimperial mobility as well as the internal consistency across nationalities of such occupational groups.

The third session returned to the theme of the transimperial nature of scholarship and the sciences. KATHERINE ARNOLD (London) presented her work on early-19th-century German naturalists in British Southern Africa, arguing that through their central contribution to British imperial knowledge production Germans were in fact deeply entangled in the physical and environmental violence of colonial conquest and control.

CORINNE GEERING (Leipzig) discussed how practices of imperialism shaped the collecting and presentation of local rural culture in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on museums in Vienna, Moscow, Warsaw and Prague and drawing a direct connection between colonial ethnographic collections of items from outside Europe and folkloristic collections in Europe.

SZABOLCS LASZLÓ (Bloomington) showed how Hungarian orientalist scholars in the same period produced work on Inner Asia that diverged in important ways from the Orientalist mainstream, tracing the Hungarian nation’s roots in Asia in a project of nation-building that also sought to elevate Hungary’s position in an imperialist hierarchy of nations. As such, Laszló argued that Western Orientalist scholarship should not be seen as a monolithic whole and that the local and national context of scholars shaped their work in important ways.

Finally, KRISTÍN LOFTSDÓTTIR (Reykjavik) presented her work on ethnographic plaster busts made in Iceland by a French expedition in the mid-19th century. She argued that the history of these busts, and how they were used in scholarly attempts to determine Iceland’s position in the racial hierarchy of the time, can be used to deconstruct hegemonic views of Europe as a unified space and to draw attention to the racialising character of Europe’s self-construction.

The fourth session looked at the experiences of colonial travellers. TOMASZ EWERTOWSKI (Shanghai) offered a four-fold typology of the attitudes towards colonisation exhibited by Polish and Serbian travellers in 19th-century colonial East and Southeast Asia. Drawing on a corpus of more than a hundred travel authors, he identified stances of empathetic solidarity with the victims of colonisation; supporters of colonisation self-identifying as victims of empire at home; willing agents of foreign imperial powers; and finally, voluntary agents who nonetheless expressed anti-imperialist views.

ANNA KARAKATSOULI (Athens) talked about the case of Greek explorer Panayiotis Potagos (1839–1903). Arguing that Potagos exhibited little interest in the imperial politics of his time, she traced his motives and the model for his activities in a reading of canonical texts by ancient Greek geographers and historians, thus finding space for personal idiosyncrasies transcending hegemonic imperial cultures.

VALENTINA KEZIĆ (Zagreb) also provided a case study, that of the Croatian Carl Lehrman who participated in Henry Morton Stanley’s expedition to the Congo and made two further visits to the region in the ensuing years, working for the Belgians an administrator among other activities. Kezić emphasised the duality of Lehrman’s identity as both a proud Croatian patriot and a loyal servant of the Belgian colonial system.

Finally, JANNE LAHTI (Helsinki) made the case for applying a settler colonial lens to Finnish travel accounts from the Petsamo region on the Arctic Sea that briefly belonged to Finland in the period 1921–1944. Through a close reading of three travel writers, Lahti showed how their accounts reproduced discourses from other colonial contexts, and how especially descriptions of the indigenous Sámi people showed significant similarities with the racialised stereotypes of settler colonial discourse in North America.

The fifth session dealt with various concrete and metaphorical projects of constructing empires. LUCILE DREIDEMY (Vienna) and ERIC BURTON (Innsbruck) discussed the Paneuropean Union founded in Austria in the 1920s. While existing literature has tended to see the Union as one precursor of later attempts at European integration, they showed that the project also had a significant imperial dimension, promoting a vision of reconfigured colonial rule where Africa would be subjected to unified European rule and serve as both a market for European products and a destination for European emigration. The project was also seen as an attempted continuation of the Hapsburg Empire, explaining contemporary resistance among, for example, Serbs.

RINNA KULLAA (Tampere) examined forced labour migration in 19th-century Finland under Russian rule, showing that such migrations went in two directions: imperial construction projects including the laying of tram tracks in Finland was done by workers from places like Central Asia, while Finns were also sent in significant numbers to participate in the colonisation of Siberia.

SARAH M. SCHLACHETZKI (Bern) also focused on construction work in the concrete sense, analysing Prussian architecture in Poland between 1740 and 1871. Schlachetzki argued for an expansion of the analytical category of “colonial architecture” beyond representational architecture, showing how, for example, functional and standardised settlement farms served to shape lives and land uses under Prussian rule.

The final session of the workshop consisted of final comments from three invited discussants. GUNLÖG FUR (Växjö) commended the selection of papers for showing how mainstream European imperialism echoed and found expression in a variety of less studied European contexts. She also emphasised the importance of thinking about what is meant when we talk about “marginal” spaces: where and by whom are the lines drawn, who is trying to break in from the margins, and how are the histories of these spaces written? On that last point, Fur underlined the need to foreground a variety of voices in these narratives, including especially those of women and non-European actors.

ZOLTÁN GINELLI (Budapest) drew on examples from the two days and on his own research to showcase the variety of historical material and cultural relations between Eastern Europe and colonial and postcolonial spaces outside Europe. Like Fur, Ginelli emphasised the importance of giving due consideration to non-European influences and agencies, while also showing that the history of those relations extends into the post-WW2 era and the time of communism, with more work to be done on those continuities.

Finally, FELICIA GOTTMANN (Newcastle) reminded of the importance of taking a longue durée perspective, highlighting how work on early modern empires can provide tools for understanding transimperial mobilities in the modern era. Relatedly, Gottmann also encouraged the speakers to think critically about how the changing role of states and religion features in these narratives, and how the relevant actors self-identified at different times.

Conference overview:

Bernhard Schär / Mikko Toivanen (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München): Introductory remarks

Session 1: Diplomatic and political imaginaries

Arne Gellrich (University of Bremen): “I am far from sure that I personally can be of any value.” Anna Bugge Wicksell, Valentine Dannevig and the internationalisation of globalisation

Aryo Makko (Stockholm University): Carl Georgsson Fleetwood and the Swedish-Norwegian response to New Imperialism

Elise Mazurié (University of Freiburg): A universal feminism? The Swiss delegation at a French feminist Congress in Colonial Algeria

Session 2: Colonial professionals on the move

John Hennessey (Lund University): Transimperial occupations – a perspective connecting individual lives to global imperial history

Andrew Mackillop (University of Glasgow): Rethinking “comparatively disadvantaged” or “marginal” Europe: Swiss military migration and the English East India Company, c. 1750 – c. 1800

Despina Magkanari (Freie Universität Berlin / St. Petersburg State University): German scholars and Empire: Julius Klaproth and the Russian imperial politics

Andreja Mesarič (Charles University, Prague): Claiming a European identity from the margins: Slovenia’s celebration of the colonial legacies of 19th century Catholic missions in Africa and North America

Session 3: Transimperial science and collecting

Katherine Arnold (London School of Economics): Germans as colonizers in early 19th-century natural history collecting

Corinne Geering (Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe, Leipzig): Collecting a rural empire: museums, colonial ethnography, and the countryside in Central and Eastern Europe

Szabolcs László (Indiana University, Bloomington): Small state orientalism and imperial history: Hungarian explorations and instrumentalizations of Central Asia

Kristín Loftsdóttir (University of Iceland, Reykjavik): Racialized “bodies” on the move: plaster bust collections as contact points

Session 4: Colonial travel

Tomasz Ewertowski (Shanghai International Studies University): Suffering brothers, supportive victims, willing agents, reluctant soldiers: On the multifarious roles of Poles and Serbs in colonial East and Southeast Asia of the long 19th century

Anna Karakatsouli (University of Athens): A precolonial traveler in the age of empires: The case of an alternative Greek explorer at the end of the 19th century

Valentina Kezić (University of Zagreb): Colonial discourse in Carl Lehrman’s African diary (1888–1896)

Janne Lahti (University of Helsinki): Settler colonial eyes: Finnish travel writers and the colonization of Petsamo

Session 5: Constructing empires

Eric Burton (University of Innsbruck) / Lucille Dreidemy (University of Vienna): For peace and colonies – Paneurope and imperialism by integration in post-Habsburg Austria

Rinna Kullaa (Tampere University): Foreign subjects as workforce in the Finnish districts of the Russian imperial army

Sarah M. Schlachetzki (University of Bern): Building Prussia in the East. Silesia, Poland, Postcolonial

Session 6: Final comments

Gunlög Fur (Linnaeus University), Zoltán Ginelli (independent researcher, Budapest), Felicia Gottmann (Northumbria University)

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