CS: Eastern Europe, 1000-2000

Timothy Olin's picture

Eastern Europe is here defined as contemporary Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.

This course considers the establishment of medieval Poland, Lithuania, and Ruthenia; the early modern Commonwealth that united lands from all three; its partition among Russian, Austrian, and German empires; the experience of world war, genocide, and communism; the Cold War and the Revolutions of 1989; and the establishment of modern national states. It also treats the rise and the consolidation of the Habsburg monarchy; its consolidation as a European power, and its role as an incubator of modern political ideologies and cultural ideals. It also treats the Ottoman Empire in its contest for power with Poland-Lithuania and Austria, as well as in its connection to Hungarians and Romanians.

One theme of this course is nationality, in particular the changing structure national legitimations of political power. In Poland-Lithuania and the Habsburg domains, older notions of citizenship and service yielded to more modern ideas of ethnicity and mass participation. How did an early modern nationality yield to modern nationality: as ethical ideal, as organizing principle, as political legitimation? Why and when did modern nationality extend beyond the bounds of traditional elites? When, if ever, did nationality attain greater social significance than religion? Did ethnic cleansing of the twentieth century result from mass nationalism, or bring it about?

The Jewish experience in eastern Europe is a second theme. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was home to more of the world's Jews than any other realm. Jews in Poland-Lithuania enjoyed a degree of tolerance unparalleled elsewhere in contemporary Europe, and constituted one order of the established political system. The main currents of Jewish thought flourished in the Commonwealth. In the nineteenth century, when the Commonwealth was no more, its Jews were divided under three imperial systems: Russian, Austrian, and Prussian. Traditional life was challenged by emancipation and democratization, by modern political ideas within and without the shtetl, and by new connections between anti-Semitism and ideologies of liberation of the right and the left. Galician Jews found themselves in Austria, where they became prominent most famously in Vienna, but also in Lemberg. In independent Poland between 1918 and 1939, Jewish political life presented a fabulous kaleidoscope of possibility and impossibility, while Jewish cultural life reached fantastic heights of creativity. Poland was once again home to more Jews than any other country, and Warsaw was the largest Jewish city in the world. The Final Solution put an end to this civilization.

A third theme, suggested by the first two, is the experience of the world war. This includes the hopeful establishment of new republics after the First World War, the threat of Soviet and Nazi invasion in the interwar period, the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939-1941, and the German occupation of most of eastern Europe in 1939-1945. Communist eastern Europe will be placed within domestic traditions as well as Soviet political history, and treated as a social experiment as well as a key setting of the Cold War. Although communist rule was imposed by outside force, communists adapted to domestic society, and communism lasted for more than forty years. The course ends with the Revolutions of 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and attempts by newly- sovereign states to join united Germany in a successful project of European integration.