J. Arend: Science and Empire in Eastern Europe

Science and Empire in Eastern Europe. Imperial Russia and the Habsburg Monarchy in the 19th Century

Arend, Jan
Bad Wiesseer Tagungen des Collegium Carolinum. - Band 038
Göttingen 2019: V&R unipress
260 S.
50,00 €
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Maciej Górny, Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History Polish Academy of Sciences

The topic of imperialism primarily brings to mind the colonial expansion perpetrated by entrepreneurs, the state, and science. The authors of the book under review address the latter two issues, focusing for the most part on reciprocal penetration, cooperation and conflicts between the authorities and scientists or scholars. While the topic is not a new one (‘scientific conquest’ of the Orient was the issue that gave rise to postcolonial studies), it has been rather rarely taken up in relation to the eastern part of Europe.

The topics addressed in the book are quite diverse; the content is structured into as many as seven parts, each containing one to three articles. Part one, dealing with scientific associations and academies of sciences, includes two articles. Using the example of the endeavours to establish an Academy of Sciences in Prague, Martin Franc demonstrates how complicated and politicised an affair the project was––apparently, a purely scientific one. Disputes evolved not only around the language to be binding for the Academy but also its ideological profile and the question whether such institution’s role should only be to deepen the knowledge or also (if not primarily) to popularise it. The Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts (ČAVU) owed its final shape not so much to the visions of scholars or political pressure as to the requirements of the private sponsor. In the subsequent article, Maciej Janowski describes the network of scientific associations in the lands of former Poland-Lithuania (then under Partitions) adds one more piece to the jigsaw––namely, the social role of the intelligentsia, the group that was capable of forming structures regardless of the state’s activities.

The section on universities opens with an article by Jan Surman who analyses a doublespeak on the Austrian tertiary education system from the 1840s: the opinion of Ludwik Tęgoborski, a Polish-born Russian official, and William Robert Willis Wilde, a physician. With all the differences between the two perspectives, Tęgoborski’s being the more conservative one, their mutually supportive criticism of the backwardness of Austrian universities was accompanied with respect for certain elements of the Habsburg educational system and for the enlightened pursuit for equality of educational opportunities. In spite of the typical liberal criticism of the Vormärz, the universities performed quite well in the early the 1840s. Another text in this part of the book is an attempt at quantitative evaluation of the degree of Austro-Hungarian universities’ involvement in the making of an ‘imperial knowledge’. Mark Hengerer and Sabrina Rospert analyse the titles of classes offered at the universities between the second half of the 1860s and the beginning of the twentieth century. The conclusion they have drawn is that roughly a fourth or fifth of the classes offered in Vienna and Budapest could be termed ‘imperial’; the proportion remained fairly stable over time. Yet since they refer the term ‘empire’ both to the Habsburg monarchy and to the Roman Empire, the actual degree of the universities’ involvement in propagation of knowledge on Austro-Hungary and the idea of unity of the dualistic monarchy cannot be estimated based on their calculations. To make the effort put in this analysis more useful, a more precise distinction among the classes’ topics (apart from the appearance of indicative keywords) should have been proposed. The section on universities concludes with a very interesting article by Andrej Andreev, describing three generations of superintendents at the Russian universities in the former half of the nineteenth century. Contrary to the conception well-established in historiography, Andreev maintains that superintendents did not act as political supervisors but rather agents streamlining the university’s contacts with the state authorities. What is more, equipped with broad competencies and, typically, more liberal than the university authorities, the superintendents knew how to really support the professors in their endeavours to stay independent. This quite interesting text completely omits the important event of the closing down of the Empire’s leading University of Vilna, as a repressive measure following the Polish 1830–1831 Insurrection. The question seems of importance, particularly if we bear in mind that a considerable group of Vilna’s former professorial staff was taken over by the University of Kiev, which is otherwise Andreev’s object of interest.

The next two articles describe the careers of scholars (including amateur scientists) who were led along the path of service to the Empire to the country’s far ends. Daniel Baric follows the career of Carl Partsch, archaeologist and, at the time, the leading specialist in the Roman past of Bosnia. A subtle analysis of his publications and public statements shows how, with the years spent in Sarajevo, Partsch was turning into a Habsburgian Bosnian, a patriot of his new Heimat, determined to restore its past splendour. A different career model is recounted by Matthias Goldbeck, whose article deals with Nikolai Fedorovič Petrovskii, Russian Empire’s Consul to Turkestan. Basing mainly on Petrovskii’s correspondence, the author follows his career as an official along with his endeavours in the field of archaeology and numismatics. The Consul himself dreamed of top positions with the Russian administration, while his activities as a scientist eventually earned him a name.

Part four offers two articles describing the history of Oriental studies as a scientific discipline in Austro-Hungary and Russia. Both texts––by Johannes Feichtinger and Arpine Maniero, respectively––primarily have an enormous informative value. Since its modern origins, up to the twentieth-century interwar period, the history of Oriental studies provide, as Feichtinger remarks, a much richer and complicated material than the vision outlined in the fundamental book by Said. In the Russian case, Maniero points to a synergy between the imperial strife for a scientific conquest of the Orient, on the one hand, and the emancipative strivings of the local peoples, on the other. The expertly specialised Russian universities were of use to both parties.

The following part takes up the subject-matter addressed by Maniero. Borbála Zsuzsanna Török analyses the quite tense mutual relation of three versions of Landeskunde in Transylvania. The scientific societies of Transylvanian Saxons, Hungarians and Romanians oscillated in their operations between a-national regionalism and nationalism. Since there were three contestants for the challenge, there were opportunities to swap alliances or remain uninvolved and comment the ethnic conflict in an allegedly unbiased manner. The second article in this section, penned by Peter Haslinger, demonstrates, based on a rich material, how much in common the origins of geopolitical thinking in the Habsburg monarchy had with the interwar politicised geography of its succession countries, Poland and Hungary in the first place. A ‘geographical determinism’ that was shared by an entire cohort of scholars active before and after 1918 led them toward multiplying imperial patterns. In the third, and last, article on geographical aspects, Guido Hausmann proposes a corresponding argument in relation to the tsarist Russia and Soviet Union. In the latter case, it was only the Stalinisation in the late 1920s and early 1930s that came as a personal and methodological breakthrough, with far-reaching and fatal consequences.

The next, sixth, part of the book only contains one article. Volker Zimmermann proposes a comparison between the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian criminal anthropologies. The discipline, associated with the name of Cesare Lombroso, had in reality much more serious coryphées who approached the Italian scholar’s deterministic theories with reservation. In any case, none of the East Central European land empires was free of attempts to prove that certain ethnic groups, which normally lived on the country’s geographical or social margin, manifested a predilection for a specified type of crime. Zimmermann perceives this mechanism as a typical manifestation of colonialism.

The last in the volume is a set of three articles dealing with aspects of natural sciences. Marianne Klemun compares Austrian geological and botanical societies. Whereas the state-owned k. k. Geologische Reichsanstalt pursued research consistently kept within the real and symbolic frontiers of the Empire, the non-governmental k. k. Zoologisch-botanische Gesellschaft botanists habitually departed from this standard, in favour of regional approaches or references to national territories. The subsequent two texts, respectively by Jan Arend and David Moon, dealing with the influence of Russian soil science on scholars outside Russia, seem extremely interesting. Arend identifies a specific channel through which knowledge was transferred between Russia and Germany; soon, during the Second World War, the knowledge borrowed in this way contributed to economic exploitation of the territories occupied by the Third Reich. Moon complements this picture by indicating that the innovativeness of Russian pedology attracted the attention not only of Germans but also of Americans who endeavoured to adapt the soil classification methods elaborated in Russia to their own needs.

There is more that divides than unites the studies collected in the volume, at first glance. The chronology (the ‘nineteenth century’ appearing in the title) is treated quite flexibly by the authors; in terms of territory, excursions outside Russia or Austro-Hungary are undertaken in some of the texts. The dispersion of scientific disciplines and organisational issues related to the science is considerable as well. The editor’s arrangement of the material into seven parts does not remove the impression of thematic fragmentation, as it appears incoherent. Some of these sections relate to structures (scientific associations, academies, universities), others to biographies of scientists or scholars, others still, to disciplines.

In spite of these reservations, the study in question by no means appears a chaotic set of incongruent stories. Conversely, it is a considerable merit of most of the authors that, having embarked on so diverse issues and problems, they consistently stick to the central topic, defined as science encountering the authority with imperial aspirations. If, in spite of all the similarities between imperial structures, the results and circumstances of colonial expansion in East Central Europe have proved different from those in Africa or Asia, the reasons behind this state of affairs ought to be sought on the part of the colonised, rather than the colonisers. The studies included in the book under review portray diverse forms of subjectivity, or empowerment, which restricted the potential of state power. Not only the imperial centre was capable of making use of the language of science and build modern organisational structures; other actors too successfully used the same instruments. While this fact does not make the use of postcolonial theory tools easier, it does make the history of our part of the world more interesting.

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