A Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography

A Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography

A Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography

A Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography

Excerpt

For almost half a century, Ukrainian history did not exist in Ukraine as an independent field of scholarly research or as a subject of instruction. After the Second World War, the “history of the Ukrainian SSR” was established as a regional subunit of the “History of the USSR.” Outside Ukraine, its history was a subject of scholarly research and ideological interpretation in diaspora historiography and in a few small universitylevel institutions that generally found themselves on the margins of the academic world. After 1991, public demand for accounts of Ukrainian history arose in Ukraine and abroad: in both cases, the motives were purely pragmatic and instrumental. In Ukraine, the overriding concern was to legitimize the state in ideological and “scholarly” terms and provide for the civic education of the nation, which took the form of “creating Ukrainians.” Beyond the borders of the new state, interest in its history was inspired by efforts to understand and explain the current situation: thus, most Western research on Ukraine concentrates on studies in politics, international affairs, economics, and sociology, while historical works are generally either popular outlines or highly specialized investigations.

The institutional and intellectual framework established for the study of Ukrainian history in independent Ukraine largely reflected the practical requirements of state-and nation-building. What happened, in effect, was a revival and state-sponsored diffusion on a mass scale of the standard “patriotic” historical scheme of a “nation reborn,” based on the methodological canons and cognitive models of the nineteenth century—the period in which that task was first undertaken by the Ukrainian national movement. If Soviet historiography had been oriented toward the goal of communism, the new telos was that of the nation.

This way of writing history, continuously supported and directed by the various governments of Ukraine during the 1990s, came into conflict with prevailing cultural and political realities in Ukraine itself—its diversity of cultures, religious denominations, languages, ethical norms, and historical experience and memory. Attempts to nationalize history created serious problems for the project of establishing a “civic nation.” They also drew protests from some Ukrainian intellectuals and their foreign colleagues, who were dissatisfied with this ethnicizing interpretation of Ukrainian history. Even on the political level, it may be doubted . . .

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