Thursday, June 08, 2006

German Diasporas Conference

I will be blogging about the German Diasporas conference in Canada scheduled for late August just as I did about the Central Asian Cotton conference in London last November. I have already submitted my paper. The abstract was posted here at the end of last month. I have now printed out all the abstracts. I still have to read through all of them and decide which ones I will attend.

The first thing about the papers that bothers me is their unbalanced geographic coverage. The conference is heavily biased towards papers dealing with Canada, the US and other English speaking countries. There are papers dealing Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa. Countries that all have historically had quite small German communities. The much larger German communities in Namibia and Mexico are not mentioned at all. But, the German communities in the US and Canada completely dominate the abstracts. There are ten papers specifically on the US and eleven on Canada. They make up almost a full third of the scheduled presentations.

In contrast the Ostdeutsche communities are largely neglected. Out of 66 scheduled papers only three deal with the Russian-Germans, a population that exceeded two million at its peak. In addition to my paper there is one other paper on Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan and one on "Re-Migration" to Germany between World War I and World War II. While I am happy that there is another paper on Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan, the absence of any papers on the Russian-Germans in Siberia is a serious omission. Their are also no papers dealing specifically with the large Russian-German communities that existed in the Volga, Ukraine and North Caucasus up until 1941. Nor are there any papers on the large diaspora that developed later in Kygyzstan. The Russian-German population of Kyrgyzstan exceeded 100,000 in 1989. But, compared to other parts of Eastern Europe, the former territories of the Russian Empire and USSR are fairly well represented. The history of the Russian-German diaspora only dates back to 1763 after all.

The much older and larger diasporas in Central Europe and the Balkans are so poorly represented that it baffles me. There are no papers on the important Baltic-German populations of Latvia and Estonia. This diaspora reached 180,000 people, about a tenth of the region's residents and dominated the local economy under Tsarist rule. Its roots reached back to the 13th century. There is only one paper on the Romanian-Germans from Transylvania, a diaspora dating back to the 12th century that reached nearly a quarter of a million by the start of World War II. There are no papers on the other German communities in Romania such as those in the Banat. Nor are there any papers on the Germans who used to live in the states that formerly constituted Yugoslavia. During the interwar period these communities numbered around a half a million people. There are only two papers specifically on the Sudetendeutsche, a community that numbered over three million people between World War I and World War II. Yet there is a paper on the small German emigre community in the Ottoman Empire, a paper on Austrians in modern Spain and other presentations on marginal and miniscule populations that can in no way be described as diasporas.

I will be blogging about my problems with the subject matter of many of the presentations in my next post dealing with the conference. Let us just say that many of the abstracts suffer from the methodological and ideological problems that have destroyed historical research in the US. Apparently Canada has followed the US model in this regard rather than the more traditional models of the UK and Central Europe.

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