S. Pasewalck u.a. (Hrsg.): Baltische Bildungsgeschichte(n)

Baltische Bildungsgeschichte(n).

Pasewalck, Silke; Eidukevičienė, Rūta; Johanning-Radžienė, Antje; Klöker, Martin
Schriften des Bundesinstituts für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa
Anzahl Seiten
499 S.
€ 49,95
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Christina Douglas, Unit for Higher Education Pedagogy, Swedish Defence University

Bildung is an elusive phenomenon and concept as it evades a clear-cut definition and means different things to different people, in different places and at different points in time. It can entail aspects connected to upbringing and education, acquiring general knowledge or knowledge of a literary canon, the development of one’s character as well as civic empowerment. The last aspect can be more or less radical in its aim, depending on context and ideological position. The German concept Bildung lacks an English equivalent, sometimes education is used as in the concept “liberal education”, but Bildung has far deeper, wider and more complex connotations than the word education.

The plurality of Bildung is elegantly captured in the title “Baltische Bildungsgeschichte(n)”. The book is edited by Silke Pasewalck, Rūta Eidukevičienė, Antje Johanning-Radžienė and Martin Klöker and is a result of the conference “Baltische Bildungsgeschichte(n)” taking place at the University of Tartu in 2016. The book consists of four main parts: 1) Bildung-concepts (ideologies, discourses, narratives), 2) institutional bodies of Bildung (schools, courts, universities), 3) Bildung agents (educators, authors, pastors, families), and 4) Bildung in literature (genres, stories, reflections). There are all in all twenty articles, not counting the short foreword, the editor’s introduction, the opening address by Heinrich Bosse and the appendix. Geographically, the articles cover the entire Baltic region from the sixteenth century until today.

It is a substantial volume of 450 pages, and the amount of knowledge presented is impressive. On the whole, it is a very interesting read and many of the contributions make you want to learn more. However, as is often the case with anthologies in general and historical anthologies especially, the reader is thrown between different issues, contexts and periods. The common theme of Bildung could have held it all together, but this is not always the case, as many of the contributions are very empirical and descriptive, and the connection to Bildung often remains implicit or is only mentioned in the last paragraph.

The plurality of the Bildung-concept even at one specific point in time is for example very interestingly made visible in Hans Graubner’s text on the differences between Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803). Whereas Hamann emphasized the importance of dialogue between teacher and child, a reflective stance and the idea that the teacher can learn from the child, Herder on the other hand had little interest in dialogue and instead stressed the curriculum and in some ways the teacher as an almost God-like figure. Another contribution in which the plurality of Bildung comes to the forefront is Valérie Leyh’s text on the von Medem family in Kurland. Here, Elisa von der Recke’s (1754–1833, born von Medem) and the writer Garlieb Merkel’s (1769–1850) different takes on the rights of the Latvian peasants as well as the role of Bildung is discussed. Whereas von der Recke wanted to see a slow process towards freedom helped forward by the enlightening efforts of the educated elite, Merkel passionately denounced Livonian serfdom and argued for an unconditional acknowledgement of peasants’ rights. Whereas von der Recke subscribed to an understanding of Bildung in which being able to read and write was at the forefront, Merkel’s understanding highlighted the development of a sense of self and morality. Even if von der Recke, at least in theory, strove for altered social circumstances in Courland, Leyh convincingly shows that the Baltic German colonial mind-set worked as a hindrance towards achieving anything noteworthy in that direction.

The connections between the abolition of serfdom in the Baltic provinces in the early nineteenth century (1816 in Estonia, 1817 in Courland, 1819 in Livonia), the national ambitions of Latvians and Estonians during the following decades and the first period of independence in the interwar period (1918–1940) is interestingly discussed by Marju Luts-Sootak in her text on the lower-level courts as institutions for Bildung (Bildungsanstalten) during the nineteenth century. She convincingly argues that the lower courts system educated the newly freed peasants to exercise their rights as legal subjects, which she relates to the fact that Latvians and Estonians a mere hundred years after the ending of serfdom emerged as state-holding nations after the First World War.

The complexity and plurality of Bildung is yet again elegantly discussed in the two last contributions, Lina Užukauskaitė’s text on Lithuanian literature and its use of aesopic language during the Soviet time, and Dieter Neidlinger’s and Silke Pasewalck’s discussion on the Estonian author Jaan Kross’ (1920–2007) Bildung stories (Bildungsgeschichten). Although they are placed in the last part of the book dedicated to Bildung in literature, they actually to some extent function as a conclusion. They bring together previously touched-upon aspects of Bildung, such as concepts and agents, and incorporate them in discussions on Bildung in literature as well as identity aspects of Bildung. Užukauskaitė’s discussion on Lithuanian literature and its use of aesopic language during Soviet-time is both interesting and hope-inspiring. Aesopic language makes use of ambiguity and is most commonly used by authors in oppressive states to avoid censorship, but still be able convey hidden meanings to informed readers. Analysing Lithuanian literature, Užukauskaitė illustrates how authors using aesopic language were involved in a kind of Bildung-mission (Bildungsauftrag), since it fostered critical thinking in its readers. The Bildung-concept in all its complexity really comes to the foreground here as Užukauskaitė demonstrates how aesthetic and political aspects were intertwined. Neidlinger’s and Pasewalck’s analysis of Kross’ short story “Michelsoni immatrikuleerimine” (1971, German “Die Immatrikulation des Michelson”, 1985) and the novel “Rakvere roman” (1982, German “Die Frauen von Wesenberg oder Der Aufstand der Bürger”, 1997) further deepens the discussion on Bildung in the Baltics. With an explicit discussion on Bildung and the use of Hannah Arendt’s concepts pariah and parvenu, Neidlinger and Pasewalck highlight the ambiguity of the promise of social ascent through Bildung in the context of the Baltics during the time of Baltic German hegemony. Estonians (and Latvians) could rise socially, but only if they had the opportunity and were willing to embrace the German language and culture. Kross’ stories depict how this could lead to both loyalty and identity conflicts, therefore highlighting Bildung as a two-edged sword.

Even though Užukauskaitė’s and Neidlinger’s and Pasewalck’s texts work as a kind of conclusion, I miss some concluding comments where perhaps some of the contributions were discussed in relation to each other as well as to the Bildung-concept. It would for example be interesting if the previously mentioned text by Luts-Sootak about the lower-level courts were discussed in connection to Anja Wilhelmi’s text on Baltic German pastors and their inability to see Bildung as emancipating or having to do with personal development, or really anything other than the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. Lacking a more consistent discussion of Bildung as a phenomenon and concept, as well as a concluding chapter, the book mainly functions as a kind of remnant of the conference. And that is of course more than alright, but there is potential for much more. Maybe one can hope for a more stringent and slimmer volume in English with a commenting conclusion? Because in the end, the “Baltische Bildungsgeschichte(n)” presented in the book deserves a much wider reading circle, both inside and outside of academia.