National Projects and Public Sphere in East Central Europe, 1772-1989

Course Description: 

In this course we focus on social, political and cultural transformations of the East Central Europe, by which we understand the territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that in the late eighteenth century were incorporated into the Romanov, Habsburg, and Hohenzollern monarchies, and through the nineteenth and twentieth centuiries were contested by several imperial and national projects. We will analyse the transformation of urban social space and of imperial institutions that made possible the emergence of public sphere and new milieus that generated several competing projects of nation-building through the long nineteenth century, with special attention to those social spaces that continued to exist „beyond nationalism”.  Turning to the 20th century, we will re-examine the main concepts of ethnic conflicts and the crisis of empires in the wake of the World War I, nationalizing states, and the mass terror of  totalitarian regimes in the region. The legacy of various nationalisms under different Soviet-controlled regimes after the World War II, and its impact on the shaping of contemporary collective identities in the region will be discussed in the concluding part of the course. We would like to turn our special attention to the Polish-Ukrainian relations in different contexts, not as a separate topic per se but as an illustration of broader processes that have influenced the region.

The following topics will be discussed during the course:

1)    Short theoretical introduction: why and how to study public sphere and national projects in East Central Europe? Methodological, spatial and chronological orientation;

2)    Short Begriffsgeschichte of East Central Europe (nation/narod/lud, public, intelligentsia);

3)    Challenges of imperial integration and romantic nationalism;

4)    Emergence of urban public sphere and the shaping of intelligentsia (intersection of urbanism and nationalism);

5)    Imperial reform, formation of public sphere and institutionalization of nationality;

6)    “Urban revolution,” public space and metropolitan cultures in late imperial epoch – “beyond nationalism” or hotbed of nationalism?

7)    Contested national projects in imperial borderlands;

8)    Jewish intelligentsia in the imperial and Soviet social and cultural spaces;

9)    Symbolic legitimization of power: from imperial to socialist epoch;

10)                       Nation and public sphere in the countryside?

11)                       Urban national mobilization and mass violence. Anti-Jewish pogroms;

12)                       Gender dimension: changing role and contested representation of women;

13)                       Was there a public sphere under Stalinism?

14)                       Nation-making and nation-unmaking under Stalinist rule: social engineering, “national communism” and “national bolshevism”;

15)                       “Kitchen talks,” intellectual circles and public sphere in the post-Stalin period;

16)                       Cultural dissent, “thick journals” and mass readership under socialist rule;

17)                       Socialist nation-building and survival of alternative national projects in the post-war period;

18)                       Individual trajectories of identity-formation in the borderlands.

Learning Outcomes: 

By exploring research potential of both comparative and transnational approaches the course shall help students to rethink the main topics of the modern history of East Central Europe, such as national project and public sphere (but also  intelligentsia and peasants, culture and identity, borderland, assimilation and acculturation). 


Each student is expected to make one presentation based on optional (additional) readings, and to submit at the end of the course a research paper (or, alternatively, to take an “open book” exam). 

The final grade will be based on the assessment of

class participation – 40 % of final grade;

seminar presentation – 20 % of final grade; 

research paper / or “open book” exam - 40% of final grade.