Regional Integration as a function of Empire (RIFE)

Regional Integration as a function of Empire (RIFE)

Stefan Berger; Alexei Miller; Centre for the Study of Cultural Forms of Modern European Politics (Cultmep) at the University of Manchester
United Kingdom
From - Until
24.05.2007 - 26.05.2007
Conf. Website
Sven de Roode, Politikwissenschaftliches und Historisches Seminar, Universität Hannover

The workshop on regional integration as a function of empire was organised by Stefan Berger and Alexei Miller at the Centre for the Study of Cultural Forms of Modern European Politics (Cultmep) at the University of Manchester ( It was sponsored by the Jean Monnet Centre at Manchester, the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures and the British Academy. The following report was written by Sven de Roode (cand. Phil. University of Manchester).

As Berger indicated in his welcoming remarks, problems of cultural constructions of spatial identities in empires and interrelations between processes of nation- and empire-building have been of special interest to Cultmep, which brings together considerable expertise in this area of research. Against the backdrop of several papers about different multi-ethnic continental and overseas empires such as Russia, Habsburg, France, Germany, Spain and the Ottoman Empire the participants, who came from several European countries, discussed frameworks for the comparison of empires and patterns of colonial imaginations.

Alexei Miller (Central European University) opened his introductory presentation with two propositions. While nation-building processes would not be blocked by empires, empires would not necessarily be shaped by nation-states. In contrast, empires influenced and supported nation-building processes as well as constructions of empires. Imperial failures and successes influenced nation-building processes in the core country. Accordingly, nation-building processes in the core areas of empires would have to be understood as supporting, not overcoming empires. The crucial question to imperial states was which parts and nations of the empire were to be integrated and which were to remain peripheries of the nation-state. This decision often depended on the intentional prevention of the emergence of nationalism in imperial peripheries, although opposition to empires could not only emerge in their peripheral regions, but also at the core, among the imperial elites. However, imperial states such as Austria and Russia, claimed that certain areas within their territory would not belong to the imperial nation. At the same time, areas that were not part of the empire, could be perceived as part of the imperial territory. This raises the question how these territories were defined. Among other devices for such definitions Miller pointed out mental-mapping, education (school-books) and memorials. He emphasized the importance of inter-imperial rivalry and of historical narratives as ideological foundations of empires. Miller indicated that attention should be drawn to reciprocal influences of nationalisms at the core and in the peripheries, to the influence of core nationalism on excluded regions as well as to the balance between the promotion and the challenge of regional integration through nationalism at the imperial core.

Differences between empires raise questions of comparability. Stefan Berger (University of Manchester) talked about six clusters of themes that are of significance for the comparison of empires:

- Ideology and mental-mapping
- Elites
- Transportation, communication, public spheres
- Migration
- Economy
- Empire-legacies in the twentieth century

The workshop continued with a paper presented by Joern Leonhard (University of Freiburg). Leonhard introduced a project dealing with opportunities and crises of multi-ethnic empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is currently funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and directed by Ulrike von Hirschhausen (Hamburg) and Leonhard. It scrutinizes the Ottoman, Habsburg, British and Russian empires in comparative perspective. Leonhard pleaded for overcoming of the historiographic paradigms of “rise” and “decline” of empires and the according deconstruction of national historiographies which have focused too much on the apparently successful model of established nation states. The idea of this project is rather to look at nationalizing empires and their complex and interactive relation with imperial nation states. As a preliminary definition, the four Empires in comparison were distinguished by ethnic diversity, a composite structure and blurred boundaries. The comparison of the selected empires would be of particular interest because they represented different political and constitutional systems: Whereas the Ottoman and the Russian empires were based on autocratic systems, Habsburg's absolutism and Britain's emerging parliamentary democracy underwent crucial transformations in the period under research. In all cases religion and confession were used as stabilizing tools. All four empires were distinguished by the different ethnic composition of their population. Whereas e.g. only 20% of the Habsburg population were German, 50% of the Russian empire's population were regarded as Russian.

Only the British Empire survived the First World War, however, elements of imperial continuity have to be taken into account also with regard to the Soviet Union, the nation states emerging from the Habsburg monarchy and the new Turkish Republic. The project therefore pays attention to the different meaning of imperial legacies in the twentieth century. From a methodological point of view, the project combines comparison, transfer analysis and entangled history/histoire croisée as the interconnection between the four cases and their perception of the nation state model is of fundamental importance.

Leonhard continued with a presentation of the different research levels. The project's comparative clusters include

- infrastructural projects as instruments of exploring imperial space, e.g. the Suez-Canal, or imperial railway building like the Trans-Siberian railway
- conflicts about political rule within Empires (e.g. Indian Mutiny, Boer War, Polish uprising in 1863)
- cultural representation of empires
- imperial military and war experience

Leonhard then presented some preliminary results. He emphasized that many instruments of imperial integration that were expected to create a more stable imperial structure in fact had a disintegrating effect. The workers involved in the Siberian railway-building for instanmce became important disseminators of anti-government propaganda during the Russian Revolution. School policies and newly introduced mass-conscription did not automatically result in integrative effects either.

To conclude Leonhard pointed a set of problems and hypothesis:

- the comparison between nationalizing empires and imperial nation states needs to be focused not in order to generate new ideal models, but to better understand the effect of model transfers since the second half of the nineteenth century
- the internal differentiation of imperial spaces and borderlands and their contemporary perception is of fundamental importance
- expectations of integrative means need to be confronted with the concrete implementation of such means and contemporary resistance against it
- “imperial” and “colonial” were not mere dichotomies, but rather “situative” concepts: the Irish were both imperial in terms of their service in the military and colonial administration, yet they were at the same time objects of colonial rule from London.

The following discussion circled around the problems involved in defining key concepts such as empire or multi-ethnicity. There were differences between empires in dealing with their internal ethnic heterogeneity. In spite of differences in minority-policies it turned out that many empires, such as the Ottoman, the French and British - but not Habsburg - only very reluctantly came to acknowledge the existence of multi-ethnic structures in order to avoid disintegrative effects.

Chris Williams (University of Wales, Swansea) focussed on nation-building and regional integration in the British Isles. He started off with a claim for the necessity and significance of a clear terminology. In spite of the English hegemony neither Scotland nor Wales could be understood as colonies and even with regard to Ireland one would have to be careful to use this term. Williams pointed out that nation-building processes did not occur on purpose, that there existed no blueprint for a nation-building policy. The related policy was due to reasonable momentary necessities. Because of its implications of conscious coordination the term 'nation-building' therefore, would be problematic. Williams continued with an outline of the British nation-building processes and stressed the significance of the British Empire for the emergence of British nationhood. Referring to the comparative clusters introduced by Berger, Williams stressed the usefulness of ideology, elites, communication, migration and economy. The empire was essentially British, with elites of all parts of Britain taking part in the imperial endeavour. Scots, Welsh and Irish migrated to England, respectively the mainland, and were successfully integrated. The economy as well as means of transportation such as railways further integrated Britain. Only in the 1960s, after the dissolution of the empire, the rise Scottish and Welsh nationalisms threatened British unity.

In the following presentation Bertrand Taithe (University of Manchester) treated the French case. Leaving aside the Napoleonic, continental empire Taithe started off by describing the emergence of notions about the necessity of a new empire during the Restoration between 1815-30. Contemporary thinking was ruled by the idea that France should export its universal values on behalf of the nation. This thinking provided the empire with an utopian quality. In this regard Britain became of importance as the imperial other. French colonial thinking was dominated by theories of assimilation. The colonized would have to become French. At the same time, a strong regionalism within France, predominantly articulated in terms of culture and language, however not politically, emerged. This would have had the peculiar effect that, linguistically and culturally, some colonies were more rooted in France than some core regions. The French regions were not necessarily more French than the imperial colonies, however French regional identities unfolded stronger in the colonies than in the homeland. Economy and migration fostered the emergence of strong relations between particular regions and colonies as e.g. between Lyon and Indochina or Marseille and Algeria. Moreover, some French colonies, such as Algeria on its neighbours or Saharian hinterland or Senegal on its Sudanese hinterland, became original forces of imperialism. Taithe concluded that the French empire was a product of itself not of the centre. The multi-centrifugal shape of the empire continues to influence migration patterns between France and the empire.

Arnd Bauerkämper (Berliner Kolleg für Vergleichende Geschichte Europas) talked about nation-building and regional integration in the German Empire. The fact that the empire was composed of individual states which were represented in a powerful assembly, the Reichsrat, fostered its appropriation on basis of affiliations to regions and Heimat. This encouraged considerable regional differences of imperial representations. Feelings of affiliation to Heimat were particular strong in the German peripheries, which were characterized by ethnic diversity. Therefore, attitudes of borderland minorities resembled a litmus test of the integrative power of the German Empire. The nearness of 'the other' complicated the demarcation from the other as an instrument of national integration in the borderlands. Often there occurred a discrepancy between minority policies of the centre and regional political actors, who had considerable room for manoeuvre. Regional actors tended to integrate rather than marginalise ethnic minorities.

In the following Bauerkämper concentrated on Posen and Alsace-Lorraine as examples of German imperial borderlands. The population of Posen consisted of a large share of Poles, who were perceived as inferior Catholic other. The German government pursued a policy of forced integration and repression in the eastern provinces of Prussia. It attempted to drive the Poles out of these territories and encouraged Germans to move in. In contrast to the oppressive policies of the central government regional actors attempted to integrate the Poles. However, neither attempts at Germanization were successful.

Governmental policies in Alsace were more contradictory. On the one hand, they were characterised by non-intervention. It was assumed that tolerance of regional cultures would increase the Alsatian population's willingness to integrate. At the same time, however, traditional regional cultural festivals were suppressed because of their subversive potential. Moreover, the government itself supported traditional festivals and folk culture in order to increase the political integration of Germany’s western periphery. Although the majority of Alsatians were Catholic, they were not depicted as inferior as the Poles in the Prussian East.

Bauerkämper concluded that one could not think of a coherent German imperial policy. He claimed that an investigation of German imperialism must distinguish between its continental and overseas variants.

The following discussion dwelt on different imperial strategies to guarantee unity in face of ethnic and religious diversity. Nationalization became a major challenge to nineteenth century's empires. Stefan Berger pointed out that the success of unifying policies depended on both geography and chronology. Maiken Umbach emphasized the crucial role of regionally based confessional divides. Whereas the significance of religious cleavages, especially with regard to Germany, was generally agreed upon, Bauernkämper pointed out that the role of religion may not be overestimated. In spite of being Catholic, Alsatians, in contrast to Poles, were not depicted as the Catholic other. Moreover one would have to take into account the internal divide of Protestantism. Therefore economy would have to be regarded as a more important factor of imperial integration. The religious, regional, economic and cultural dimension would have reinforced each other. Andrea Komlosy pointed out that differences between land-based and overseas empires' strategies of integration have to be considered.

David Laven (University of Manchester) tackled the problem of the Italian periphery in the Napoleonic and Habsburg empires. After some introductory remarks about the changing status of Italy as imperial periphery of Habsburg and France, Laven stressed Italy's importance as zone of conflict between the two empires. Whereas Habsburg was threatened by Italy's instability as a potential cause of French invasion, France's Italian endeavours were driven by its conflict with Habsburg and an intentional general bellicosity to maintain its military machine. The Italy policy of both countries was strongly influenced by the personal factor. For different reasons Napoleon and Franz Joseph I were highly sensitive with regard to Italy. The wealth of Lombardy-Venetia was a common drive of imperial conduct in Italy. Whereas Habsburg was aware of Italy's regional diversity, France's imperial conduct in Italy resembled its overseas imperialism. Italians were to be turned into Frenchmen. Both empires regarded Italians as an inferior race. Laven emphasized the usefulness of the elite-cluster for the analysis of Habsburg and French imperialism in Italy. Whereas Napoleon wanted to militarize the Italian elites, Habsburg attempted to educate potential servants. Although Italians largely resented military ventures there arose pro-Napoleonic feelings. Correspondingly there did not emerge a strong anti-imperialism among Habsburg-educated Italians, who rather seeked their way into the imperial system. Job opportunities in the bureaucratic structure of Habsburg encouraged Italians to sustain the empire. Italian local rivalries created trenched differences in local attitudes to Napoleon and Habsburg.

David Laven was followed by Andrea Komlosy (University of Vienna) who talked about nation-building and regional integration in the Habsburg Empire. Komlosy remarked that, whereas Habsburg imposed an imperial conduct on trans-Leithania, it applied a national policy on cis-Leithania. Referring to the clusters introduced by Berger and Miller, Komlosy pointed out five areas of significance for the analysis of the Habsburg Empire:

- difficulties of forming a German nation
- regional self-government vs central administration
- language policy/linguistic assimilation
- non-synchronity of political and economical developments at the core
- migration policy

She continued by relating the main nations of the empire to the named aspects. She distinguished Germans, Bohemian Germans, Czechs, Carpetians and Hungarians and concluded by specifying the different forms of self-images among those groups as well as their position in the economical system. Both, Germans and Bohemian Germans would have had an imperial identity and would have to be located at the empire's economic core. The latter would also be true for the Czechs, who in contrast to the Germans had a national identity. Carpetians and Hungarians also had a national identity but were placed at the economic periphery.

Drago Roksandic's paper pointed to the huge importance of dynastic structures derived from empires which mattered often to this very day. He emphasised the complexity of these structures impacting on the local development and the diverse nationalization processes on the Balkans. He reminded his audience that the Habsburg empire officially knew no minorities, only nationalities. And he concluded by reviewing the attitudes prevaling on the Balkans vis-à-vis the Habsburg empire.

The discussion about the Habsburg empire threw up the question whether it should be included at all in comparisons of nationalizing empires, as it so clearly did not aim to nationalize its own core. Such nationalizing notions were present in the Hungarian sub-empire, but not in the Austrian core.

Xose-Manuel Nunes-Seixas (University of Santiago de Compostela) tackled nation-building and regional integration in the Spanish Empire distinguishing several imperial phases which had different effects on forms of regional integration. He emphasized that whilst the early modern empire afforded many opportunities for regional integration, this was far less the case with the nineteenth century Spanish empire. Many inhabitants of Spanish colonies were happy enough to be subjects of the Spanish monarchs, but far more unwilling to be subjects to a liberal Spanish nation which would not give them equal citizenship rights. Within diverse colonial nationalisms in the periphery, the Spanish centralist state was often criticised for being responsible for the failure of Spanish imperialism. In Spain itself, the Spanish liberals were not that interested in the Spanish empire and concentrated instead on nation building on the Iberian peninsula.

Feroze Yasame (University of Manchester) talked about the Ottoman Empire. Yasame provided an overview of the Ottoman Empire's history, which he described as one of terminal decline and increasing dependency on the European powers. The Ottoman Empire was marked by different organizing principles such as multi-confessional multi-ethnicity and the predominance of the Muslim faith as well as lose territories with fluctuating boundaries. Attempts to integrate the empire through nation-building occurred comparatively late. The Ottoman state's self-understanding did not allow notions of core and periphery and it was very reluctant to accept the principle of nationality, even with regard to the Turkish nation. Nineteenth century attempts to integrate the non-Muslim population of the empire were paralleled by attempts to create a Muslim imperial identity. This was complicated by internal, congregational differentiation of the Muslim faith. Since the 1860s however, the Ottoman state's failure fostered a shift from Ottoman to an Islamic, Muslim political self-imagination. This tendency was strengthened by conflicts with Christian states and Muslim population's migration from lost territories into the empire such as Crimea and the Balkans. The Turkish revolution established the rule of Turkish nationalism. The Turks were perceived as the only power capable of keeping the Ottoman Empire together. Since decades the emergence of a Turkish nationalism had been fostered by conscription. Although conscription addressed Turks, Kurds and Arabs alike, Turks were least resistant to it, which fostered Turkish domination of the army. Moreover, administration, education and press had been dominated by Turks for a long time. After the war the new Turkish government implemented well-directed migration policies and aimed at the creation of a national bourgeoisie in order to consolidate the Turkish state. In spite of the lost war Turkish nation-building was successful.

Al Rieber (Central European University) delivered a paper about the Russian Empire. Rieber distinguished two main strategies – nationalizing and imperializing – of the Russian elites to keep the empire together. Nationalizing pointed at attempts to create homogeneity by imposing a sense of Russianness through well-directed Russification of the different peoples in the empire. The imperializing strategy was more permissive with regard to cultural diversity. It embraced the assumption that the allowance of cultural heterogeneity would create loyalty among the different peoples. At the same time the Tsar was regarded as a supranational, overarching authority. Although neither process was successful in stabilizing the empire, both survived the 1917 revolution and continued to have an effect until the end of the Soviet Union. With regard to the clusters introduced by Berger and Miller, Rieber referred to language, elites, technology, economy and representative institutions as means to promote integration by both strategies. Rieber distinguished institutional weakness, cultural diversity and the fragmented social system as three core areas in which the Russian elites faced problems in their attempts to unify the empire. Russia's institutional weakness was displayed by the absence of an unifying government. Aside from the Tsar there was no central body to coordinate imperial policies. The lack of an efficient central administration resulted in the creation of alternative centres of government, which affected the effectiveness of integrating policies. This tendency was increased by internal power struggles about colonization and migration policies. The lack of coordination between central and local governments turned Russia into an 'under-governed state'. The cultural diversity of the Russian Empire, its wide range of cultures, religions and social elements increased the difficulties of creating unity. Russia's highly differential cultural scene, its cultural complexity made it difficult to define Russianness and increased the difficulty to govern the empire. This problem was fostered by a fragmented social structure. The different societal groups enjoyed different social and legal status which hampered attempts to create a sense of corporate citizenship among the Russian peoples.

The following discussion dwelt on religion, monarchies and migration as factors of integration and dispersion in empires. Religion and monarchies were central integrative factors in the Christian empires. Yasame pointed at the comparable meaning of religion for the Ottoman/Turkish case. Miller emphasized that one had to scrutinize the transformation of monarchies, their nationalization and the ways in which monarchies were instrumentalized to integrate the respective empires. Komlosy and Yasame compared the Ottoman and Habsburg empires with regard to the status of their composing entities after their break-up. Yasame claimed that it would be a matter of opinion to regard the Turkish state as a successor of the Ottoman empire or to claim that it rescued the empire. Austria in contrast was only one among the other successor states of the empire.

Maiken Umbach (University of Manchester) tackled the topic of federalism and colonial imagination. Umbach emphasized the significance of the geographical diversification of homelands, colonies and even the metropolitan centres of empires. This diversification would relate to different types of involvement in the imperial endeavour. This would be of particular importance with regard to Germany. Umbach claimed that colonial imaginations became central to formation processes of German self-images since the eighteenth century. However, the centrality of colonial imaginations would not necessarily imply pro-imperialistic attitudes. Britain served as the imperial other – a projection surface for the claim that German colonialism would be more ethical and thus superior to the British. Such juxtapositions also became of importance within nation-states, particularly Germany. The different German regions were marked by a variety of attitudes to colonialism. Umbach criticised the tendency to essentialize the state. Referring to the latter as an uniform actor would be an over-simplification of a competitive structure of different actors. To illustrate her claim Umbach dwelt on the different endorsement of colonialism in Hamburg and Berlin. Whereas, until the early nineteenth century, Hamburg's elites remained relatively disinterested in colonialism, they were enticed into the imperial endeavour by Berlin's subsidies, i.e. Berlin invested in the emergence of colonial imagination. Anti-colonial attitudes dwindled in the nineteenth century. Umbach supported her assumptions by a presentation of colonial iconography in Hamburg.

Concentrating on telegraph systems Marsha Siefert (Central European University) treated the impact of imperial communication systems on regional integration in the Russian, Ottoman and British empires. Telegraph systems were distinguished by a huge capacity of transmission of information and reduced distances between imperial cores and peripheries. She emphasized the stabilizing function and significance of telegraph systems for both, the integration of empires and nation-building processes. Telegraph systems were essential for the build-up of an imperial communication infrastructure, increased the efficiency of imperial administrations and economy and integrated the emerging global communication. Since telegraph lines had to cross different empires' territories, the telegraph intertwined empires also geographically – it created networks of power.

Based on the possible understanding of the European Union as empire, David Tréfás (University of Zürich) tackled the question if one can think of the existence of a European public sphere and common European self-imaginations. Tréfás presented preliminary findings of an ongoing project about the emergence of a European public sphere and a common European self-imagination. The project is based on a quantitative content analysis of reporting on selected events in different premium newspapers in Germany (partly including the GDR), France, Great Britain, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary and covers a time frame from the mid-1950s to the first years of the new millennium. Tréfás outlined the theoretical background of the project and pointed out a set of preconditions for the emergence of a European public sphere, such as intensive and sustained coverage and the same interpretation, but not necessarily the same opinion, of the respective issue. He described communication in public spheres as precondition for the emergence of common self-imaginations. Tréfás concluded that the findings of the study imply the emergence or even existence of a European public sphere, however, not the emergence of a common European self-imagination. Existing notions of Europeanness would reflect national self-images, i.e. Europeanness only exists in nationally filtered adaptations.

The final discussion circled around the achievement of imperial integration through means of communications such as telegraph, newspapers and railways. Al Rieber pointed out that all systems of integration served as means of subversion and suppression at the same time. Andrea Komlosy established that means of integration consciously excluded some regions and thus contributed to the differentiation between core and periphery, to the regional diversification of empires. At the end of the conference, Alexei Miller and Stefan Berger, as co-organisers of the conference, gave expression to their hope that it would be possible to publish the proceedings of the conference in due course.

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