Call for Papers: Special Issue "Odesa: The City of Frontiers"


Guest Editors: Jessica Zychowicz and Volodymyr Kravchenko (Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta)

Founded on May 27, 1794 by Catherine the Great, the port city of Odesa on the Black Sea was part of a grander strategy in securing the Southwestern corner of the Russian Empire. A soldier of Spanish and Irish descent named Joseph de Ribas, and a Dutch engineer, Franz de Voland, surveyed and proposed building a settlement on the site of the Ottoman fortress of Teni-Dunai at Khadzhibei. The Empress approved the plan, seizing upon the value of the land as a trade route linking the two deltas of the Danube and Dnieper rivers. The city quickly grew into a boomtown attracting residents and visitors from a myriad of ethnicities, religions, and social classes. Russians and Ukrainians, Cossacks, Jewish populations, Romani, Bulgarians, Serbs, Moldavians, Greeks, Armenians, Hungarians, Poles, Germans, Italians, Swiss, Turks, and many others filled the streets and markets of Odesa in order to escape the more harshly controlled regions closer to the centre of imperial rule, as well as in pursuit of an equally powerful, if less readily articulated, space of the frontier as a signifier of multiple unknowns.

 The promise of opportunity—whether fairly earned or dangerously won—underpins the social affinities/conflicts, political contests, economic activities, and cultural productions that have coalesced into a picture of Odesa as an “exceptional” city “infused with moral skepticism and tolerance for the various ambiguities and peccadilloes of life,” a place defined by “a quirky rebellion against homogeneity, inimical to all nation- building exercises” (Blair A. Ruble).

Opportunity, in this sense, along with opportunism, invention, liminality, resistance, and accommodation can offer profound insights into individual and group perceptions of one another as spaces are inhabited, traversed, remembered, forgotten, built and re-built in the image(s) unique to the city’s past and present.

 The dreams, delusions, and myths that compel frontiers have a tendency to crystallize as they circle back to the center. In this sense, Odesa’s most enduring myth may be of mythmaking itself: it is an incubator of stories due to the long list of authors, filmmakers, musicians, and performers from the city who either lived there or drew inspiration from its wide boulevards, bustling central marketplace, opulent theatres, and ambitious film studios. Figures such as Isaac Babel, Anna Akhmatova, Il’f and Petrov, Sholem Aleichem, Sergei Eisenstein, and others defy easy categorization into any one cultural canon. Evidence of this fact can be seen in Odesa’s bold cohesion around humour—rather than more specific markers of genre—invoked in more standard, categorical descriptions of any given urban time and place (language, geography, ethnicity) .

 Thus, frontiers are not borders, even if they often may contain them. Linguistic, racial, gendered, economic, and other differences, wherever they appear, also have the potential to introduce “cultural interstices” (Homi K. Bhabha) through which unique exchanges—of people, information, ideas—can offer adaptive resources within the broader guiding systems, sets, and ecologies that comprise any mutually-inhabited environment.

 How are the frontiers conceptualized in/through Odesa in ways that simultaneously reveal the city’s diversity, but also create common ground? Are there specific points of reference for the myths and mythmaking in Odesa in what others, such as Patricia Herlihy, have observed: “while geography and language use have a strong correlation with Ukrainian political positions, they are not exclusive markers of Ukrainian identity, any more than ethnicity.” Do the particularities of the public spaces, traditions, and institutions in Odesa lend themselves to opportunities that are somehow more or less pluralist than in other civic locales? Are the temporal qualities of these opportunities bounded or open? How do exchanges, borrowings, and adaptations shift different narratives, policies, and visions for the city by its inhabitants? What are the impacts of new technologies and mediascapes on socioeconomic (in)equalities?

 This Special Issue of EWJUS asks authors and audiences to chart the unique cartographies of Odesa on the global map of the 21st century. Potential contributors are invited to address the following (including, but not limited to):

  • Social Ecologies: displacement, gentrification, architectural preservation and renewal, land-use;
  • Liminality/Inventiveness: trade, economic sustainability, tourism, criminology;
  • Affinities/Conflicts: linguistic patterns, sociocultural relations, styles of governance;
  • Postcolonialism/(In)Equalities: migration, diasporas, theories of globalization and cosmopolitanism in context;
  • Cultures of Interpretation: museums, visual culture, literature, translation, monuments;
  • Virtual Futures: access and management of information, mediascapes, networks, digital divides.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words to Dr. Jessica Zychowicz ( by January 1, 2020. Authors whose abstracts are approved by the editors will be invited to submit complete manuscripts of up to 10,000 words, including references, by the deadline of June 1, 2020.

For more information on East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies, see For submission guidelines, please refer to