Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien Regensburg
herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Ausgabe: 62 (2014), 4, S. 630-631

Verfasst von: John P. LeDonne


Steven Seegel: Mapping Europes Borderlands. Russian Cartography in the Age of Empire. Chicago [etc.]: University of Chicago Press, 2012. XI, 368 S., zahlr. Abb., Tab., Ktn. ISBN: 978-0-226-74425-4.

The study of geography is at last becoming fashionable in Slavic Studies, and Steven Seegels work will remain one of its best products. Its value is enhanced by splendid color maps inserted between pp. 132 and 133; the quality of the paper and the format are a tribute to the good taste of Chicago University Press. However, the title is a misnomer: Seegel studies the Russian, Polish, and Austrian mapping of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the end of the eighteenth century to the Versailles Conference of 1919. Most of the bibliography is in the footnotes, but there is an additional, separate, bibliography, and both form a handy reference for further study.

This excellent book begins with the looting of the so-called Zaluski map collection in Warsaw by Russian troops in 1795. The collection was taken to Russia to become the nucleus of the Russian collection in the St. Petersburg Public Library. This is followed by a survey of Russian attempts to survey some parts of European Russia beginning in the sixteenth century and a chapter on Polish-Lithuanian cartography until the 1790s. This short first section follows an overlong introduction which tells us little about the book and is marred by a jargon which taxes the patience of the reader.

The second section is longer (sixty-five pages), and is mostly devoted to Russian cartography in the first half of the nineteenth century, until the creation of the Russian Geographic Society in 1845. It includes a very valuable chronological table of the surveys of various provinces of European Russia from 1828 to 1863 (pp. 68–71). We are told Nicholas Karamzin was not only a historian but also a cartographer, who was influenced by a French atlas published in 1801. The creation of a map depot and a corps of topographers, the contributions of the Decembrist Pavel Pestel, of Konstantin Arsenev and others, make a lively story. This section also includes a number of black and white maps (there is, unfortunately, no table of such maps), including a splendid one by Ivan Mironov showing the territory incorporated into the Russian Empire following the first and second partitions. The Polish-Lithuanian contributions include those of the historian Joachim Lelewel, who, like Karamzin, was both a historian and a cartographer, and Simonas Daukantas, a Lithuanian from Samogitia and rival of Lelewel. Both, like Karamzin, used maps to represent an imagined past which served to bolster the nationalist perceptions of their struggle with the other, whether Polish, Lithuanian, or Russian.

The longest section (131 pages) focuses on the latter half of the nineteenth century, with short chapters devoted to Petr Semenov (Tian-Shanskii), whose work, we are told, represented a high-water mark forthe fantasy of progress in geography and expansion of the empire”, and Peter von Koppen, the most prominent of the ethnographic cartographers. Seegel devotes much space to the cartographic firm of Alexei Ilin and Vladimir Poltoratskii, who popularized, but tendentiously, Russias historical cartography. This section also includes another valuable chronological table of ethnographic maps made between 1848 and 1811. As in the preceding chapters, there is a survey of Polish cartography and a new one on Ukraine (mostly Galicia, annexed by Austria at the end of the eighteenth century). The book ends with a shorter section on Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian cartography during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The interested reader will be grateful to Seegel for such a comprehensive study of the cartography ofEast Central Europe”, meaning, essentially, the Russian share of the old Polish Empire incorporated by the Russians and the smaller part annexed by the Austrians. The Prussian share is ignored altogether. His book will remain a work of reference, but his interpretations will attract some readers and disconcert others. With the rise of nationalism in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Herders call for the recognition of the individuality of each people had to find a response in cartography, but one need not conclude that thisethnoschematizationwould lead to the horrors of the twentieth century. If the purpose of maps was to help states govern their subjects, they first had to know them, where they lived and prospered. Ideas must not be judged by the atrocities of their unintended and unforeseen consequences.

Seegel is very fond of the termfantasies”, but in what way does cartography inEast Central Europecreate afantasy of providing membership in Europe(p. 4)? Why were assertions of Polands central role in Europeflights of fancy(p. 25)? Is it Europe or East Central Europe? What isthe fantasy of progress in geography? (p. 114)? Why was it thatRussias role as a European great power was as much fantasy as reality(p. 188)? Was Russia a European or rather aEurasian power(p. 33)? How was Catherine IIthe godlike creator of European territorialityand how did her mapsexpress pretensions to civilization(p. 78)? Finally, what does it mean that Russiaencoded colonial Siberia as an Orthodox frontier(and felt)the same notions of boundlessness to the west against Catholic Poland(p. 29)?

All this points to what I see as the books major flaw: Seegel is so obsessed with his cultural jargon that his examination of maps becomes totally divorced from historical realities. Could it be that some of the claims made in the maps were grounded in historical realities, such as, for example, the rivalry between Poland and Russia over hegemony in the Russo-Polish frontier, whose identity, going back to the Kievan Rusand the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, had never been firmly established?

A few errors deserve only a passing mention. One does not cross the Niemen into Bielorussia but into Lithuania (p. 62). Little Russian Cossacks did not include the Don Cossacks for the simple reason that the Don valley never was part of the Hetmanate; one should not make too much of a rossiiskii and russkii in the eighteenth century: the terms are interchangeable, and the former was used much more often. The Pale of Settlement was not truly created in 1791. But these are details. In spite of Seegels own stubborn devotion to a faddish craze aboutculture, his book is a major achievement. I will treasure having it on my shelves, and I am sure I will turn to it very often.

John P. LeDonne, Cambridge, MA

Zitierweise: John P. LeDonne über: Steven Seegel: Mapping Europe’s Borderlands. Russian Cartography in the Age of Empire. Chicago [etc.]: University of Chicago Press, 2012. XI, 368 S., zahlr. Abb., Tab., Ktn. ISBN: 978-0-226-74425-4, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/LeDonne_Seegel_Mapping_Europe_s_Borderlands.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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