Historians As Enablers? Historiography, Imperialism, and the Legitimization of Russian Aggression
Keywords:Ukrainian historiography, Russian imperialism, Russian aggression, Ukrainian nationalism, Western academia
This essay raises the issue of historians’ responsibility to the communities that they study. While some purported version of history has been central to the Kremlin’s justifications for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the region’s historians have failed to make a stand against this misuse of history. Moreover, in many instances they endorsed and disseminated the Kremlin’s narratives about Ukraine’s past and present. Aiming to explain the anti-Ukrainian biases that have become well entrenched in both Western academia and Western public opinion, this essay examines the regional subfield of area studies, to which Ukrainian studies are usually relegated, as well as the expectations and agenda of the Western-educated public. I argue that the subfield is dominated by Russian studies and frequently uncritically adopts the positions, concepts, and explanations of Russia’s imperialist ideologists. At the same time, Western public opinion, while opening up to the historical injustices committed by Western empires, still sees the world through retrograde imperial lenses. The essay also discusses in detail what happens when researchers shaped by both these trends write Ukrainian history. Looking for ways forward, I suggest rethinking the issue of intellectual responsibility and “de-imperialization” of Ukraine’s Western historiography.
Amar, Tarik Cyril. “Minsk Remains Only Path to Ukraine Peace.” Russia Today, 12 Feb. 2022, https://www.rt.com/russia/549148-ukraine-deal-anniversary-war. Accessed 16 Sept. 2022.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 2006.
Bevzenko, Stepan. Dialektolohiia. Vyshcha shkola, 1980.
Bobrzyński, Michał. Dzieje Polski w zarysie. V. G. Gebethner i Spółka, 1890.
Bujak, Józef. Galicya. Vol. 1, H. Altenberg, 1908.
Desai, Radhika, et al. “The Conflict in Ukraine and Contemporary Imperialism.” International Critical Thought, vol. 6, no. 4, 2016, pp. 489–512. DOI: 10.1080/21598282.2016.1242338.
Dmowski, Roman. “Kwestia Ukraińska.” Geopolityka, 11 Oct. 2013, https://geopolityka.net/roman-dmowski-kwestia-ukrainska-cz-2. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Dmowski, Roman. Myśli nowoczesnego Polaka. Grunwald, 1989.
Drahomanov, Mykhailo. “Der kleinrussische Internationalismus.” Jahrbuch für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, vol. 1, no. 2, 1880, pp. 422–32.
“Evraziistvo (Opyt sistematicheskogo izucheniia). Kollektivnaia monografiia pervykh evraziitsev (1926 g.).” Osnovy evraziistva, edited by Aleksandr Dugin, Arktogeia tsentr, 2002, pp. 107–65.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. “Will Ostracizing Russia Bring about an End to the War in Ukraine? The Western Media’s Narrative Might Be Morally Satisfying, but It Could Prove Counterproductive.” ABC, 21 Mar. 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/religion/sheila-fitzpatrick-anti-russian-rhetoric-and-western-media/13805488?fbclid=IwAR2KchpkwObL4EYtmaKZBH-iABlJgRYqMiRg1i9q-lYzf6A42DXng-6Flj8. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Gerasimov, Ilya. “Ukraine 2014: The First Postcolonial Revolution. Introduction to the Forum.” Ab Imperio, no. 3, 2014, pp. 22–44. DOI: 10.1353/imp.2014.0072
Graziosi, Andrea. The Great Soviet Peasant War: Bolsheviks and Peasants, 1917–1933. Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University, 1997.
Hen-Konarski, Tomasz. “No Longer Just Peasants and Priests: The Most Recent Studies on Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Ukraine.” European History Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 4, 2015, pp. 713–37. DOI: 10.1177/0265691415606881.
Janowski, Maciej. “Ukraińskość to część polskiego kręgosłupa. Kiedyś zaprzeczali temu komuniści, dziś nacjonaliści.” Gazeta Wyborcza, 8 Jan. 2018, https://wyborcza.pl/alehistoria/7,162654,22855864,bez-niepodleglej-ukrainy-nie-ma-niepodleglej-polski.html. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Khromeychuk, Olesya. “‘Where Is Ukraine on the Mental Map of the Academic Community?” The 2022 British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies Conference, 8 Apr. 2022, Robinson College, Cambridge, UK, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJthJb1tK0Y. Accessed 25 June 2022. Opening Keynote Lecture.
Kotkin, Stephen. “1991 and the Russian Revolution: Sources, Conceptual Categories, Analytical Frameworks.” Journal of Modern History, vol. 70, no. 2, June 1998, pp. 384–425.
Kotkin, Stephen. “Myth of the New Cold War.” Prospect, April 2008, pp. 38–44.
Kulyk, Volodymyr. “Bizness As Usual, idi na khui.” Slavic Review: Interdisciplinary Quarterly of Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, Discussion, 3 Mar. 2022, http://www.slavicreview.illinois.edu/discussion. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Mikhnovs'kyi, Mykola. Samostiina Ukraїna. Diokor, 2002.
Mikhnovs'kyi, Mykola. Suspil'no-politychni tvory. Smoloskyp, 2015.
Miller, Alexey. The Ukrainian Question: Russian Empire and Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century. Central European UP, 2003.
Mogilner, Marina. “There Can Be No ‘Vne.” Slavic Review: Interdisciplinary Quarterly of Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, Discussion, 28 Feb. 2022, http://www.slavicreview.illinois.edu/discussion. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Mogilner, Marina. “Ukrainian (and East European) Studies Now. Conversation 1st.” YouTube, uploaded by Entangled History of Ukraine / PRISMA UKRAÏNA, 14 Apr. 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guWMKHAyxBY&t=2s. Assessed 25 June 2022.
“‘Novaia etika’ i istoriia Ukrainy. Chto dumaiut eksperty o neochevidnykh temakh press-konferentsii Putina.” BBS News, Russkaia sluzhba, 29 Dec. 2021, https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-59810520. Accessed 16 Sept. 2022.
Orwell, George. As I Please, 1943–1945. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 3, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968.
“Papiery różne związane z działalnością Komitetu Obrony Narodowej we Lwowie z lat 1918–1920.” Part 3, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, Dział Rękopisów. Manuscript 13500/III.
Pavlyshyn, Marko. “Post-Colonial Features in Contemporary Ukrainian Culture.” Australian Slavonic and East European Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, 1992, pp. 41–55.
Pifer. Steven. “One. More. Time. It’s not about NATO.” Brookings, 26 July 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/one-more-time-its-not-about-nato. Accessed 30 Aug. 2022.
Portnov, Andrii. “Der Holodomor als Genozid. Historiographische und juristische Diskussionen.” Osteuropa, nos. 1–2, 2020, pp. 31–50.
Portnov, Andrii. “Full Historiographical Legitimacy to Ukraine.” Slavic Review: Interdisciplinary Quarterly of Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, Discussion, 3 Mar. 2022, http://www.slavicreview.illinois.edu/discussion. Accessed 25 June 2022.
ProudLakota, Leah (she/her). Tweet [@LeahGazan]. “As a descendent of a holocaust survivor….” Twitter, 23 Jan. 2022, https://twitter.com/leahgazan/status/1485371378245292032. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Putin, Vladimir. “Address by the President of the Russian Federation.” President of Russia, 21 Feb. 2020, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67828. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Putin, Vladimir. “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” President of Russia, 12 July 2021, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Riabchuk, Mykola. “Za vashu i nashu svobodu.” Zbruč, 29 April 2022, https://zbruc.eu/node/111703?fbclid=IwAR3MwGdeZTmQtyQLBPaQymWkr0XQDhKKn8QzsOwcO8oFJSckVNDaNyNmEYY. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Rosdolsky, Roman. Engels and the “Non-historic” Peoples: The National Question in the Revolution of 1848. Critique Books, 1986.
Rossoliński-Liebe, Grzegorz. Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist. Fascism, Genocide, and Cult. Ibidem-Verlag, 2014.
Schumpeter, Joseph. Imperialism and Social Classes. Meridian Books, 1966.
Sereda, Ostap. Shaping of a National Identity: Early Ukrainophiles in Austrian Eastern Galicia, 1860–1873. 2003. Central European University, PhD dissertation.
Smith-Peter, Susan. “What Do Scholars of Russia Owe Ukraine?” NYI Jordan Center for Advanced Study of Russia News, 1 Apr. 2022, https://jordanrussiacenter.org/news/what-do-scholars-of-russia-owe-ukraine-today/?fbclid=IwAR1DyKptzr0TWHSx2rbfPn_453SzaVt2AoKf9IjNyMrGfgikvLB5nrrxEJY#.YmLx9drMKt7. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Snyder, Timothy. “Putin’s Essay on Ukraine Creates Mythical History to Cover Foreign Policy Failures.” Euromaidan Press, 12 Aug. 2021, https://euromaidanpress.com/2021/12/08/timothy-snyder-putins-essay-on-ukraine-creates-mythical-history-to-cover-foreign-policy-failure. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Suny, Ronald Grigor. “A Historian Corrects Misunderstandings about Ukrainian and Russian History.” The Conversation, 24 Feb. 2022, https://theconversation.com/a-historian-corrects-misunderstandings-about-ukrainian-and-russian-history-177697. Accessed 16 Sept. 2022.
Tiutchev, Fedor. “Russian Geography.” The Complete Poems of Tyutchev in an English Translation. Translated by Frank Jude, University of Durham, 1999, p. 137.
Turii, Oleh. “Ukraїns'ka ideia v Halychyni v seredyni XIX st.” Ukraïna moderna, nos. 2–3, 1999, pp. 59–75.
Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N. “Eurocentrism and Its Discontents.” Perspectives on History, 1 Jan. 2001, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2001/eurocentrism-and-its-discontents. Accessed 25 June 2022.
Wickett, Murray. “The Future of the Historical Study.” Canadian Historical Association – Société historique du Canada Bulletin, vol. 28, no. 1, 2002, pp. 14–15.
Witos, Wincenty. Moje wspomnienia. Instytut Literacki, 1964.
Wolff, Larry. Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford UP, 1994.
Yakovenko, Natalia. “Choice of Name versus Choice of Path: The Names of Ukrainian Territories from the Late Sixteenth to the Late Seventeenth Century.” Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography, edited by Georgiy Kasianov and Philipp Ther, Central European UP, 2009, pp. 133–41.
Zayarnyuk, Andriy. “A Revolution’s History, A Historians’ War.” Ab Imperio, no. 1, 2015, pp. 449–79.
Zayarnyuk, Andriy. “Paradox Illusions.” Ab Imperio, no. 2, 2016, pp. 436–52.
Zayarnyuk, Andriy. “Putin’s Lessons from History.” Active History, 10 Dec. 2014, http://activehistory.ca/2014/12/putins-lessons-from-history. Assessed 25 June 2022.
Copyright (c) 2022 East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Ⓒ 2023 Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, and EWJUS (East-West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies). For permissions and other inquiries, please contact the Editor-in-Chief: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Author transfers and assigns to EWJUS (East-West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies) and the CIUS (Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies), during the full term of copyright and any extensions or renewals of that term, all copyright in and to the Work published in EWJUS by the Author, including but not limited to the right to publish, republish, transmit, sell, distribute and otherwise use the Work in electronic and print editions of EW:JUS and in derivative works throughout the world, in all languages and in all media now known or later developed, and to license or permit others to do so.
Notwithstanding the above, EWJUS grants back to the Author the following distinct rights:
- The non-exclusive right to use, reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display the Work in any medium in connection with the Authors’ academic and professional activities, including but not limited to teaching, conference presentations, and lectures.
- The non-exclusive right to create derivative works from the Work.
- The non-exclusive right to make full use of the Work in future research and publications, including the right to republish the Work in whole or in part in any book that one or more of the Authors may write or edit after the Work has appeared.
The Author represents and warrants that the Work is the original work of the Authors and that it does not violate or infringe the law or the rights of any third party and, specifically, that the Work contains no matter that is defamatory or that infringes any literary or proprietary rights, intellectual property rights, or any rights of privacy. The Author also warrants that he or she has the full power to make this agreement, and if the Work was prepared jointly, the Author agrees to inform the Authors of the terms of this Agreement and to obtain their written permission to sign on their behalf. The Author agrees to hold the Journal harmless from any breach of the above-mentioned representations.
Works published by EWJUS are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Under the terms of this license:
- You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
- You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
- If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.