Imperial Mirrors: Toponymy of Urban Space in the Romanov Empire, 1855–1917

Imperial Mirrors: Toponymy of Urban Space in the Romanov Empire, 1855–1917

Nordost-Institut, University of Düsseldorf, University of Tartu
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Vom - Bis
16.04.2024 - 18.04.2024
Catherine Gibson

Call for papers for a workshop on the history of toponymy in urban spaces of the Romanov Empire, Lüneburg 16–18 April 2025.

Imperial Mirrors: Toponymy of Urban Space in the Romanov Empire, 1855–1917

The naming and renaming of urbanscapes has never been a disinterested and easy matter; this process has always been part of structures and discourses of power and identity politics (Azaryahu 2009). As historians of the Habsburg Empire have recently shown, the reconfiguration of city space has also been linked to issues of regime change, nationalisation, memory, and commemorative practices (Palonen 2015; Rusu 2019; Berecz 2020, 2022; Reill 2020, 199). In the context of the Romanov Empire, however, the history of toponyms has not yet been viewed as part of its political history and historians of the empire have not paid much attention to it. Thus, with the exception of renaming streets in the Northwestern region of the empire after the Polish uprising of 1863–1864 (Staliūnas 2007), the history of urban toponymy of the empire was previously tackled only by regional historians, who did not pay much attention to the political context of this process, the rationale behind these decisions, their practical implementation, or how the population at large reacted to name changes (see for instance, Vladimirovich 2009; Päll 2009; Gorbachevich and Khablo 2006). During this workshop we would like to focus on the history of names of cities and towns as well as street names in the Romanov Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century. The participants will examine the palimpsest of toponymical practices involving not only different political, economic, and cultural spaces but also different languages. On the one hand, we would like to explore the process of the gradual politicisation of toponymic practices in late imperial Russia, its achievements, and failures. On the other hand, the history of toponymy of Romanov imperial cities merits attention as a way to study the extent of the empire’s penetration of everyday life of its inhabitants. The workshop aims to explore these issues from a broad geographical perspective, and especially welcomes contributions dealing with the Baltic provinces, western borderlands, Caucasus, Siberia, and Central Asia from the middle of the nineteenth century to the breakup of the empire.

Contributors are encouraged to address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

- What were the main toponymic practices in the urbanscape of the Romanov Empire during the second half of the long nineteenth century? Who was responsible for naming and renaming its towns and streets? What was common and different in these practices for the cities throughout the empire?
- How did the changing political context influence these discussions over the course of the second half of the long nineteenth century? What controversies emerged over naming and renaming practices? How did ideologies and practices of imperialism, nationalism, or regionalism reveal themselves in these processes?
- To what extent did the naming of towns and streets in the Romanov empire follow trajectories similar to other empires of the time? What was common and distinctive about it? How does the history of urbanscapes of the late Romanov Empire enrich our understanding of urban and imperial history of the long nineteenth century?

Outcome: Special issue of a peer reviewed journal specialising in urban history.

Funding: Subject to financing being secured, the organisers plan to cover accommodation for all participants and travel expenses within Europe according to the rules of the Bundesreisekostengesetz. Participants will also be asked to use green travel options, where available. Online participation is available for participants from outside Europe.

Deadline: Please submit an abstract of 200 words together with a CV by 1 October 2023. We will inform participants by 1 November.

Please submit a proposal and address any inquiries to Anton Kotenko at


Anton Kotenko