Gender and Nation in East-Central Europe (ca. 1750-ca. 1950)

Gender and Nation in East-Central Europe (ca. 1750-ca. 1950)

Marta Cieslak, University of Arkansas; Anna Muller, University of Michigan
AR 72204
Little Rock
United States
From - Until
15.06.2022 -
Connections Redaktion, Leipzig Research Centre Global Dynamics, Universität Leipzig

In our examination of nation and gender in East-Central Europe, we are particularly interested in how the historical reality of complex identities that could not be defined in simplistic national terms clashed with the equally historical process of the emergence and eventual dominance of nationalism and what that process looked like if we investigate it through the lens of gender.

Gender and Nation in East-Central Europe (ca. 1750-ca. 1950)

Background: The question of where East-Central Europe begins and where it ends has never received a conclusive answer, but it is hardly a stretch to claim that East-Central Europe exists and that it is somehow distinctive from Western Europe. Perhaps it was Western Europe that invented “Eastern Europe,” as Larry Woolf argued nearly three decades ago, “as its complementary other half... in shadowed lands of backwardness, even barbarism.” Regardless of how it came into being, this book begins with the assumption that East-Central Europe exists, although we are less interested in trying to delineate its definite geographical borders or prove its historical uniqueness. Instead, our goal is to explore how two critical categories of modernity – that of nation and that of gender – have shaped and been reflected in the process of forming East-Central European identities.

At the heart of our explorations rests a tension that may not be unique to East-Central Europe but that has certainly loomed large in its history. On the one hand, the history of the region is the history of remarkable cultural diversity. All the way into the twentieth century, multiple vernaculars, religions, and daily ways of life represented within the borders of single cities, towns, villages, and even families made it impossible to delineate clear boundaries of what we today call national identities. On the other, by the nineteenth century, the region witnessed a gradual process of fashioning national identities and describing them in relatively simple, or at least taken for granted, terms.

Invitation to submit contribution proposals: In our examination of nation and gender in East-Central Europe, we are particularly interested in how the historical reality of complex identities that could not be defined in simplistic national terms clashed with the equally historical process of the emergence and eventual dominance of nationalism and what that process looked like if we investigate it through the lens of gender. We aim to explore how the invention of national identities along largely (although not exclusively) ethnic lines in East-Central Europe has historically undermined many existing gender identities and/or forced into existence new gender identities. Conversely, we also hope to investigate how various gender identities contributed to, clashed with, and rejected the various concepts of nation.

Our goal is to present to the English-language readers the historical East-Central Europe of messy, fluid, and complex identities that existed at the same time as East-Central European nationalists were attempting to draw clear borders between what they understood as nationalities. We invite contributions that examine a juncture of nation and gender from an intersectional, transnational, and/or comparative perspective. We want to depart from the framework of nations vs. minorities and explore how such aspects of human experience as ethnicity, language, race, religion, or region, to mention just a few, were a factor in how individuals and/or collectives self-identified, interacted with others, and were perceived. In short, we are particularly interested in the explorations of nation and gender, in which a relationship between these two categories results in identities that undermine the nationalist visions of uniform nations, regardless of what that uniformity may have implied at various points of history.

All historical processes at the junction of nation and gender necessarily affected women, men, and non-binary persons. Thus when we think of gender, we think beyond “women’s history” and aim to explore how the construction and development of nations in East-Central Europe affected gender identities – both self-defined and externally imposed – of various populations and individuals who called East-Central Europe home. We welcome the examinations of such categories as masculinity, femininity, girlhood, boyhood, male, female, and of all non-binary and fluid gender categories that have always existed in East-Central Europe, just as they have always existed anywhere else.

Timeframe: Because the categories of nation, nationality, and nationalism are so central to our inquiry, we invite contributions that cover any historical period between the late eighteenth century and the immediate post-World War II period (up to the 1950s). The starting point of this timeframe follows the interdisciplinary scholarly conclusions that nations are a modern invention and that in Europe specifically, nations as the dominant units of social, political, and cultural organization matured in the aftermath of the French Revolution. This position, represented by most (albeit not all) scholars of nationalism, is particularly relevant to the history of East-Central Europe, where a shift from more inclusive non-ethnic and politically oriented nationalisms to increasingly exclusive ethnic and culturally oriented nationalist ideologies took place over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The end point of our timeframe marks the emergence of a new East-Central Europe: post-Holocaust, post-Porajmos, and post-resettlements East-Central Europe, in which the concept of nation especially gains new historical meanings that are different from anything East-Central Europe had experienced before and that, we would argue, requires a separate analysis.

How we define East-Central Europe: Our temporal choice is also linked to our definition of East-Central Europe as the lands that overlap roughly with the territories of the nineteenth-century German and Austro-Hungarian Empires as well as the conventionally delineated European parts of the Russian Empire. By no means do we argue that those territories are what East-Central Europe is or should be. Our choice is practical rather than ideological since those three empires and their policies towards various populations within their borders were often an important component in the process of formulating nationalist ideologies in the region. Moreover, it is within the territories of these three empires where various dividing lines between Western, Central, and Eastern Europe (in addition to various dividing lines between Europe and Asia) usually run in the countless debates over whether those three separate Europes exist and if they do, what they are.

Why “East-Central”: Finally, our choice of the category of East-Central Europe, as opposed to Eastern Europe, mirrors the geographical delineation and thematic focus of our project. While predominantly German-speaking lands of Europe have been variously categorized as Western, Central, and, less frequently, Eastern Europe, various dialects of the German language were indisputably a critical component of identities among peoples and individuals who, in turn, have been typically categorized as Central or Eastern Europeans but hardly ever as Western Europeans (e.g., those inhabiting historically Hungarian, Bohemian, Slovak, or Polish lands, to mention the most obvious cases). Because of the historical impact of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires on the shifting borders of Europe in general and the resulting significance of the dialects of the German language to identities evolving in the lands that have been variously defined as either Central or Eastern Europe, we have concluded that the term East-Central Europe is more historically inclusive than the term Eastern Europe would be.

Proposal format: We invite scholars at all stages of their careers to submit book chapter proposals of up to 500 wordsto Marta Cieslak at and Anna Muller at by June 15, 2022. While this book aims to explore the history of nation and gender in East-Central Europe, we encourage scholars representing various disciplines and methodologies to submit an abstract.

Contact (announcement)

Marta Cieslak:
Anna Muller:

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