Research on the Germans in Russia still tends to neglect the surrounding non-German population. Studies sometimes still focus on the German milieu, reconstructing the details of structures and events without adequately referring to developments which effected not only the Germans, but other groups as well. There is often a lack of communication between specialists on the Germans in Russia and other specialists on the Russian Empire.
There is a great need to strengthen the conceptual integration of research on Russia’s Germans into the more general research context of the history of the Russian Empire (and the Soviet Union). That will require taking greater account of new approaches from the field of cultural history. The multi-ethnic and multi-denominational societies on the Black Sea and iun the Volga region are perfectly suited for testing the reach and applicability of those approaches in comparative studies. Comparative approaches within individual regions are still uncommon in Russian history research. Here is an opportunity for research on Russian Germans to make an innovative contribution to the study of the Russian Empire.
The conference will consolidate the approaches already available and encourage further research in this area. The centre of interest is the question of similarities and differences that existed in the multi-ethnic and multi-denominational population of the Black Sea and Volga regions. By applying a broad understanding of the idea of Lebenswelt, the concept of a life world or local world, understood as broadly as possible, to these communities, we can open up this central question in any number of conceivable directions.
The literature tends to focus on what made the German colonists different from their Russian and Ukrainian neighbours. Already in the 19th century, contemporaries – including both Russians and foreign travellers – described the German villages as islands very different from their surroundings. The colonists themselves made every effort to distance themselves from Russian and Ukrainian peasants; they felt superior and always emphasized the differences, not what they had in common.
This perspective has survived up to the present day both among Russian Germans as well as among researchers who study them. It is not without merit: It cannot be denied that there were significant differences between the German colonists and the rest of the population, especially with regard to their legal status, economic and social development and their school system. Nonetheless it should be worthwhile to approach the subject from another angle and subject these supposed differences and their effects to closer scrutiny.
These considerations are the starting point for the conference. We will go on to consider to what extent the “worlds” and mentalities of Germans, Russians, Ukrainians and other nationalities in these two regions were determined by their ethnic and religious background or their status as farmers, immersed in rural culture, and how these worlds and mentalities changed over the course of more than a century.
The following are some of the central questions we would like to consider:
Which aspects of the German, Russian, Ukrainian, Tatar, Bashkir, Jewish and other group worlds were determined by ethnicity or religious denomination?
Which elements could better be attributed to living in Russia or to a more general agricultural mentality and way of life?
Where and to what extent can we find mutual influence, converging or diverging developments?
How were differences, similarities and changes perceived by those involved and by others?
To what extent, in which areas and with how much success was there influence on the processes? Were the processes changeable and controllable?
These questions can be applied to any number of specific themes. The conference will only be able to cover some of the following topics:
self perception and the image of the other; ethnic, denominational and cultural identity
relationships with other ethnic and denominational groups
structures and behaviour within local village communities
the village and the outside world
gender roles, women
childhood, youth, family and old age
demographic and medicine developments
Russification and its perception among non-Russian communities
attitudes towards the political leadership, the state and the Tsar
justice and perceptions of fairness
military service and war
holidays, festivals and celebrations
property and work
education and the schools
modernization and innovation
The historical period under consideration begins with the closing of the 18th century and includes the long 19th century up to the establishment of Soviet power.
Prof. Dr. Dietmar Neutatz
Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Osteuropaeische Geschichte
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