Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - History of Eastern Europe


What can be learned from the study of Eastern European History? What scientific insights can be gained through the examination and interpretation of the history of Stalinism or the Russian Empire? There are no simple answers to these questions; and even our faculty and staff would struggle to reach a common viewpoint. Curriculum and research activities of the unit for Eastern European History will address these questions and a range of other problems and themes, covering issues such as the ruling practices of the Stalinist elite, the correlation between rumors and violence and the representation of social orders in varying contexts.

Historians who study Russia and the Soviet Union have occassionally found themselves reporting largely on the capital cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, electing to omit most or all information on territories outside of city limits from their scholarship. Many research projects within our unit pursue the opposite approach and choose to focus on the regions and peripheral zones of the Russian and Soviet empires. The center of our regional work specializes on the Caucasus and Central Asia, because the most interesting stories are often found not where "big" policy is formed and decisions are made, but where citizens are confronted by the implications and consequences. This allows us to answer the questions raised at the onset of this text: to study Russian and Soviet History of the 19th and 20th centuries is to study of one of the most significant venues of world history in its age – because the space occupied by the Empire was a zone of contact acting as a transition area between different cultures, social orders and government systems.

Science thrives on exchange, dialogue, cooperation and even confrontation. Faculty members of the unit are conigzant of this and seek to engage with one another on a routine basis. They do so in a variety of ways, either through weekly participation in our colloquium, which is also open to the public, or through the framework of the Collaborative Research Centre "Changing Representations of Social Order: Intercultural and Intertemporal Comparisons". The unit of Eastern European History offers a wide variety of taught curriculum, which is mirrored by an extremely diverse set of research topics. We foster regular interdisciplinary and interdepartmental exchange as well as global networking and collaboration. The unit also cultivates a close professional relationship and student exchange partnership with Voronezh State University.




The staff of the Chair of History of Eastern Europe are engaged in research and teaching on the history of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Russia is revolution and communism. Red Terror and Cold War. A large birch forest. The vastness of the steppe and the depths of Siberia. The land of the tsars and the orthodox, the terrorists and the anti-Semites. Russia is a commodity state. Half Europe, half Asia. An empire. A superpower.

The history of Eastern Europe ranges from the expansion of the Moscow empire to the emergence of the global Soviet empire. Dealing with the history of Russia and the Soviet Union is more than just regional scientific research. It shows us Europe in its otherness and interdependence. For Russia has always been a part of Europe, and it has always been its opposite, a place where what could be said and thought about Europe could be seen. From this point of view, the Russian history of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries is a European history. The staff of the chair are dedicated to it.

In our teaching we turn to the ‘big,’ always topical questions of the history of Eastern Europe: What was the Tsarist Empire and what was the Soviet Union? What distinguishes an empire from a nation-state? What made Peter I and Catherine II ‘great’ tsars? Why did Alexander II receive the nickname ‘liberator’? Was Alexander III a despot and the last Tsar Nikolay II a ‘weakling’? Was the revolt of 1917 a revolution? How could a clique of gamblers climb the Olympus of Kremlin power? Why did the Soviet Union experience a crisis of state in the 1980s? And what do historical images tell us about Russia's current policies?

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