Imperial Cities: The Tsarist Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire in Comparison

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference “Imperial Cities: The Tsarist Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire in Comparison”, which is organized by Eszter Gantner and Ulrich Hofmeister. The event will take place on 26-27 April 2018 in Moscow.

You can find the call for papers here, the deadline is 17 November 2017.

Eszter Gantner (PhD) is a historian of modern Europe with a special focus on East Central Europe. Her research fields include: history of science and knowledge, urban history, Material Culture History, Digital Humanities, Jewish history, Heritage and Memory Studies. She is a PostDoc Fellow at the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe. Dr. Ulrich Hofmeister is a historian based at the University of Vienna, his research focuses on the history of the Tsarist Empire, the history of Central Asia during the 19th century, Imperialism and Russian Urban History. 


Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Luke Michael.

Why do you think it is particularly interesting to look at imperial cities within the continental empires of Eastern Europe?

So far, “imperial cities” have been analyzed mainly in the context of Western European colonial empires, but we claim that cities of the Habsburg, the Ottoman and the Tsarist Empires equally deserve attention as “imperial cities”. As the empires of Eastern Europe lack a maritime boundary between center and colony, in these empires it is never clear where the center ends and where the colony begins. Frontier cities, for example, are “imperial cities” per se, which are especially visible in continental empires. At the same time, we want to turn our attention to emerging cities of Eastern Europe like Budapest, Warsaw or Edirne. These cities claimed regional influence and thus had both “metropolitan” and “colonial” features at the same time. So analyzing imperial cities of the continental empires might help us to overcome the dichotomy between “metropolitan” cities and “colonial” cities and to see all of them as cities where the empire manifests itself and which in turn shape the outlook of the empire as well. This might enable us to identify both the similarities and the differences between maritime and continental empires more clearly.

„Global Urban History” is a relatively new but flourishing field of historical research, why do you think this is the case and would you describe your own event as a contribution to such a global urban history?

Global urban history is an intriguing field as it promises to overcome the narrow geographical limitations of urban history by connecting it to global structures and developments; and at the same time Global urban history is expected to ground global history on local spots.

We definitely aim to contribute to the field of Global Urban History. It is important for us to analyze the Eastern European empires in the context of their imperial counterparts, especially the classical colonial empires like Great Britain or France. While the presentations will focus on imperial cities of the continental empires, we have invited specialists on the classical colonial empires to serve as commenters in order to locate the continental empires in their global context. We are, however, at the same time eager to emphasize our interest in the local, and in particular in differences between the various empires and cities as well. Speaking about global should not mean to forget about the local! Many particular developments in these cities are and had been based on a specific local context, so before forgetting this aspect we intend to find the balance between the transnational discourses and circulation of ideas regarding the “urban” and the local conditions in these cities.

Which questions do you want to raise at your upcoming conference and what kinds of future discussions do you want to encourage?

Most generally, we want to explore the extent to which it is fruitful to speak about “imperial cities” in connection with the continental empires of Eastern Europe. What is specific about these Eastern European imperial cities, and what do they have in common with the imperial cities of maritime empires? How can questions of imperial history expand our understanding of these Eastern European cities? And on the other hand, how instructive is it to explore these empires in the light of urban history?

We hope to be able to publish a book, but our encouragement of future discussion still depends on the outcome of the conference… However, our point of departure is to understand “imperial cities” as particular cities, in which the empire manifests itself and which are at the same marked by the imperial form of the state.



Citation:  Imperial Cities: The Tsarist Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire in Comparison – Interview with Eszter Gantner and Ulrich Hofmeister in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 10.11.2017,

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