Official History in Eastern Europe. Transregional Perspectives

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference “Official History in Eastern Europe. Transregional Perspectives” that will be held 13–14 June 2018 at the German Historical Institute Warsaw in cooperation with Prisma Ukraïna – Research Network Eastern Europe, University of Geneva, German Embassy Warsaw, Swiss Embassy Warsaw, German-Ukrainian Historical Commission. You will find the complete program here.

We have interviewed Prof. Dr. Andrii Portnov, Director of Prisma Ukraïna – Research Network Eastern Europe at the Forum Transregionale Studien Berlin and Professor for Entangled History of Ukraine at the European University Viadrina (Frankfurt/Oder), who is one of the convener of the event.

 

Andrii Portnov

You are one of the conveners of the workshop “Official History in Eastern Europe. Transregional Perspectives”. Why did you organize this event, and what are you hoping to achieve?

I should probably start with a confession that I love to organize scholarly events like conferences, workshops and summer schools. This Warsaw conference is quite special for me because it brings together my closest colleagues from the German Historical Institute Warsaw and the University of Geneva. Last year, 2017, I already co-organized two conferences. The first one took place on March 8-9 in Geneva and was called “The Soviet and Post-Soviet Fabric of Academic History”. Another one – in Warsaw – was called “Reading War through History. (Central) European Perspectives on the ‘Ukraine Crisis’” (June 12-14). This time the second conference of the research project “Divided Memories, Shared Memories. Ukraine / Russia / Poland (20–21 centuries): An Entangled History” supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation will at the same time be a second common conference organized by the German Historical Institute and our Prisma Ukraïna project at the Forum Transregionale Studien.

I expect a lot of intellectual exchange, a fruitful cooperation of scholars from various research centres and traditions. A successful conference is a conference that produces its own environment for discussion. And discussion is like oxygen for scientific research.

The talks will focus on “official history”. Why did you choose this focus, and how would you define “official histories” in contrast to other historical accounts? 

Our definition of “official history” is pretty broad and include school textbooks, museums, state institutions of historical policies, memorials. In other words, we (by this “we” I mean also my colleagues Korine Amacher and Miloš Řeznik) are interested in something that could be defined as state point of view on history and memorial policies as well as their functioning both nowadays and in historical perspective. This historical perspective is something that is often missing in recent debates on “memory wars” or “historical policies”. So we are especially concerned with historical dynamics (like imperial and Soviet narratives and practices, and their interaction with post-Soviet social landscape) and comparative framework.

Based on the topics and questions that have been discussed so far: How can transregional perspectives enrich the debate?

Transregional and comparative framework is often helpful. One of my favorite exercises with students is to critically read texts that contain comparisons of commemorative politics in post-Franco Spain and post-Soviet Ukraine, or the sources on memorial practices in ex-Yugoslavian states and post-Soviet republics. We will have a couple of such papers in Warsaw as well. They help to broaden the perspective of “East European Studies”, and to build bridges between various regions with (in)comparable experiences of transition or post-war trauma.


Citation: Official History in Eastern Europe. Transregional Perspectives – Interview with Andrii Portnov, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 12.06.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/10448.

 


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