International Workshop Jews and ‘small nations’ in Eastern Europe: cultural autonomy and nation-building in the western borderlands of Russia (1905-1939)

The Parkes Institute and the University of Southampton are hosting an international workshop on a particularly understudied area of Jewish/non-Jewish relations in Eastern Europe: the relations between Jews and so-called ‘small nations’. The participants will investigate the contribution of these former ‘peasant nations’ – Belorussia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia – to Jewish history and culture.

This workshop is the first exploratory step of a larger international research project. The aim of the latter will be to question the persisting ‘imperial model’ that underlies much Jewish historiography. The ‘imperial model’ has led historians to focus primarily on relations between Jews and only the most dominant social and cultural groups – the Poles and the Russians. Although recent national and Jewish historiographies have explored national histories and brought to the fore more local factors in Jewish history, the study of inter-ethnic relations in Eastern Europe remains overdetermined by national categories and/or the prevailing ‘imperial model’. By adopting a comparative approach, this project aims to go beyond these limitations by scrutinizing how the ‘small nations’ and the Jews related to each other before and after the creation of the new nation-states post-1918.

These relations have been usually discussed in terms of pragmatic economic interactions, anti-Semitism or, at best, mutual ignorance. However, with the rise of the principle of national-cultural autonomy, these relations found a new ideological and institutional stimulus at the beginning of the 20th century. The project will consider how this principle was conceived, adapted and implemented by these nations in-the-making. Despite the fact that there will be a focus on Jewish/non-Jewish relations, a reflection on the treatment of minorities more generally will also be encouraged. The project will not only seek answers to the question of how Jews and other minority groups on the margins of Russia and Poland interacted but it will also explore how formerly oppressed minorities combined their national aspirations with the necessity to accommodate minorities. With the express intention of shifting the focus away from the already widely researched problematic of anti-Semitism, the project will concentrate on a particularly neglected and little-studied aspect of Jewish/non-Jewish relations namely, cultural and artistic exchanges and mutual representations in education, literature, the arts, theatre, cinema and science.

Some possible topics might include:

  • The position of the Jewish, Lithuanian, Belorussian, Ukrainian and Latvian nationalists and intellectuals on the minority question before 1914.
  • The representation of national groups after 1905 in emerging national literatures, the press and the arts.
  • The strategic and political alliances of each national group.
  • The impact of the war and the impact of the German occupation on these alliances and on national projects.
  • The legal rights of national minorities in the new republics between 1918 and 1939.
  • Institutional opportunities for collaboration in culture, education, scholarship.
  • Cultural transfers and mutual representations.
  • The shortcomings and limitations of the national experiment in each republic.
  • The results of national-cultural autonomy and minority rights.
  • Local factors and different periodizations, in particular, a comparison between Soviet and non-Soviet temporalities and contexts.

To apply, please send a short proposal (no more than 300 words) and a CV by the 1st March 2015 to Dr Claire Le Foll

Accommodation will be provided. Please indicate if you would like to be considered for funding for your travel expenses. Papers will be published in a special issue of Jewish Culture and History.

1 July 2015 - 2 July 2015