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Constructing Lithuania: Ethnic Mapping in Tsarist Russia, ca. 1800-1914
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of History.
Responsible organisation
2007 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Up until now the discipline of history has most often used maps as a convenient tool for illustration. Scholars have thus touched only briefly upon the development of maps and their role in the processes underlying the formation of national territories and the establishment of ethnic boundaries. It is against this backdrop that the present study focuses on the use of maps and their significance during the construction of the Lithuanian ethnic/national territories in the period prior to 1914.

The work employs a wide spatial and contextual perspective. One of its main arguments is that at the beginning of the 20th century the Russian Empire could be perceived as a multi-ethnic and regional state. Although the imperial authorities and wider public may have rejected this notion or found it problematic to accept, it was a fact which was clearly evident in the research of Russian scholars. To demonstrate this, I focus on two processes: the gradual formation of the Lithuanian ethnic space on maps, and its transformation from an ethnographical concept to an ethnic and national territory.

The attempt to introduce a rational and optimal form of territorial governance in the Russian Empire depended on an increased level of geographical and statistical knowledge of the land and its peoples. Various investigations started in the early 18th century. A geographical perception was largely dependent on the mapping of the country, and from this perspective it can be argued that the Empire only really started to become visible in detail in around 1840, with the establishment of a stable administrative-territorial system. From this time onwards, Russian ethnographers, geographers, cartographers and statisticians started to investigate the state’s western borderlands, collecting, scrutinising and presenting information about the peoples that lived there. However, while the imperial authorities envisioned Russia as a solid “Russian” state, the work of scientists revealed that the Empire was not just regional, but also multi-ethnic.

In the case of the Lithuanians the separation of their ethnic territory occurred most clearly after the 1863-1864 uprising, and the growth and spread of propagandistic ethnic cartography that took place in its wake, which had as its goal the Russification and de-Polonisation of the western borderlands. Although the imperial authorities were able to identify the inhabitants of the multi-ethnic North Western provinces as a result of this process, at the same time it enabled the educated and nationalistically inclined local population to begin to perceive its own ethnic space. Therefore, every ethnic line placed on a map during this period not only allowed these peoples to be ethnographically separated, but also allowed the territory to be simultaneously disassociated in a nationalistic sense from its “other” neighbours. For the Lithuanian nationalists the imperial maps and other data acted as the springboard from which they produced their own cartographic responses designed to counter the Russian and Polish points of view. The specificity of the Lithuanian maps was that even though they claimed to depict either ethnographic, or ethno-linguistic Lithuanian territory, they nonetheless emphasised Lithuania in geo-political terms, thus undermining the claims of other ethnic groups living in the border areas.

The methods employed in this study can also be used in other contexts to undertake similar investigations on other ethnic groups, thus opening the possibility to obtain a better understanding of the evolution of particular territorial constructions, territorial conflicts, border disputes and so on. Moreover, although much work still remains to be done in developing this approach, the present study nevertheless points to the way in which a fusion of the history of cartography, historical geography and other related disciplines offers the historian a new way of understanding the past.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2007. , 309 p.
Stockholm studies in history, ISSN 0491-0842 ; 91Södertörn doctoral dissertations, ISSN 1652-7399 ; 21
Keyword [en]
The Russian Empire, Lithuania, Western provinces, Ethnography, Ethnic Mapping, Cartography, Nationalism, 19th century
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-7163ISBN: 978-91-85445-79-0OAI: diva2:197747
Public defence
2007-12-21, MA 636, Södertörns högskola, Alfred Nobels allé 7, Huddinge, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2009-03-11 Created: 2007-11-05 Last updated: 2012-10-03Bibliographically approved

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