Ukraine: An Illustrated History

By Himka, John-Paul | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Ukraine: An Illustrated History


Himka, John-Paul, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Paul Robert Magocsi. Ukraine: An Illustrated History. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 2007. x, 336 pp. Illustrations. Index. $75.00, cloth.

Rusyn, Ukrainian, Central European, and immigration studies have already benefited tremendously from the reliable and comprehensive synthetic and reference works produced by Paul Robert Magocsi, holder of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. His cartographic and bibliographic skills are superb, and his instinct for what readers need and want is unerring.

A short history of Ukraine has been long overdue. Magocsi has already written a big text of Ukrainian history, and so has Orest Subtelny - each of their volumes comprises about 800 pages. Back in 1982 Roman Szporluk wrote an excellent and truly brief history of Ukraine (just over 1 50 pages), but it is now outdated and out of print. Magocsi's current volume, profusely illustrated and containing 46 full-page maps, fills a genuine need.

Like the big text, this shorter, illustrated history makes use of a "territorial, or multicultural approach" (p. ix), i.e., it includes the history of other nationalities on Ukrainian territory aside from ethnic Ukrainians. The text does not often integrate the history of these other nationalities into a general narrative, but rather presents their histories in discrete segments. For example, Chapter 28, titled "The Peoples of Dnieper Ukraine in the Nineteenth Century," contains subheads for "Ukrainians," "Russians," "Jews," "Germans and Mennonites," "Poles," "Crimean Tatars," and "Other Peoples."

In fact, the book generally eschews a narrative structure in favour of an account of what Magocsi seems to consider the nuts and bolts of history: political arrangements, borders, dates. Each chapter is structured around a map. Intellectual and cultural history receives little attention. The entire history of the Ukrainian revival in nineteenth-century Dnieper Ukraine is encapsulated in two pages with four illustrations (pp. 1 57-1 58), and the main information is conveyed in a single sentence: "To this end, figures like Ivan Kotliarevs'kyi, Mykhailo Maksymovych, Taras Shevchenko, Mykola Kostomarov, Panteleimon Kulish, Mykhailo Drahomanov, Lesia Ukrainka and a host of other 'national awakeners' collected and published the linguistic and folkloric heritage of their people, published poetry and prose, wrote plays and operas, and established organizations and journals" (p. 1 58).

Of course, this skeletal approach is ideal for teachers who like to use a short textbook with trustworthy information and to assign heftier interpretive readings. …

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