A Laboratory of Transnational History. Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography

Article excerpt

Georgiy Kasianov and Philipp Ther. A Laboratory of Transnational History . Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2009. 318 pp. Index of names. Index of places. $40.00, cloth. $24.95, paper.

How do you write a history of a country that for centuries was split between several empires, lacked both an uninterrupted tradition of statehood and an established high culture with a standardized language, and was inhabited by several ethnic groups (the dominant one, the "little Russians" or "Ruthenians," being mostly illiterate peasants who were concentrated in rural areas and who left no written records for wide swaths of time and lacked any national consciousness until World War I)? How does one write about the history of these people who, even when they became literate, were forbidden to publish literature in Ukrainian (within the Russian Empire), and when Ukrainian history did not even exist as a field of study in universities? The answer, according to an international consortium of historians, is to write "transnational history," which they generally define as the study of relations between cultures and societies, focusing on "agents of cultural exchange" (pp. 3, 86). The purpose of this book, A Laboratory of Transnational History , edited by Georgiy Kasianov (Institute of Ukrainian History of Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kyiv) and Philipp Ther (European University Institute, Florence), is to contemplate alternative, more accurate, ways of interpreting Ukrainian history, by eschewing "linear and longue durée causal explanations, as well as teleology," and "speculating freely about conjunctures and contingencies, disruptions, and episodes of 'lack of history'" (p. 2). The book is divided into two sections. The first, titled "National versus Transnational History" contains four essays by Kasianov, Ther, Mark von Hagen, and Andreas Kappeler. The second section, "Ukrainian History Rewritten," consists of six essays by Natalia Yakovenko, Oleksiy Tolochko, John-Paul Himka, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Roman Szporluk, Alexei Miller, and Oksana Ostapchuk. The essays in the first section fit together well. In the first chapter, Kasianov establishes the basic principles of nationalized Ukrainian history, which he explains evolved in two stages. The first began in the mid nineteenth century, culminating in Mykhailo Hrushevsky's History of Ukraine-Rus' . Although supplanted by the Soviet paradigm of Ukrainian history, which denied autonomy to events in so-called "southern Russia," the Hrushevsky \^ersion was further nurtured by the Western diaspora and popularized by books such as Orest Subtelny' s Ukraine: A History and Paul Robert Magocsi's^4 History of Ukraine (p. 39). The second stage, which began in the late 1980s, continues to the present under state sponsorship. As Kasianov points out, this traditional, nationalized history is both ethnocentric and teleological. Characterized by a tendency to "sovereignize" national history, it generally "ignores the presence of other ethnoses or nations in what was actually a common space and time" (p. 17). In his essay, Kappeler explains that recent historical surveys "combine the history of the Ukrainian people with that of the present day territory of the Ukrainian state" (p. 59). Moreover, the premise of many Ukrainian historical studies written today is that "the Ukrainian nation and state arose naturally and were 'objectively determined' or programmed" (pp. 16-17). Centring mainly on Stalin's crimes and national traumas, the national paradigm exaggerates Ukrainian victimhood and lionizes individuals and groups like Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Ivan Mazepa, Stepan Bandera, Symon Petliura, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) (pp. 7, 9). The implicit equation of the famine of 1932-1933 ("Holodomor") with the Holocaust is a key element in Ukrainian national martyrology (pp. 9, 59).

To some extent, every country needs a nationalized history much like an individual person needs a raison d'être or positive self-image to survive. …


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