Discovery of the Interest in Ukraine in German Intellectual History

Key to the Discovery of the Interest in Ukraine in German Intellectual History on the Shelves of the Research Library of Herder Institute in Marburg

Prof. Dr. Volodymyr Potulnytskyi (Kyiv, Ukraine)

In the end of 2016-beginning of 2017 I had the pleasure of spending about three months as Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the Herder Institute, Marburg. My general goal was to examine the library holdings (both within and outside of the library of Herder Institute), and, in particular the collections of works of the prominent German historians and political thinkers about Ukraine.

Specifically, I was interested in two topics: (a) the image of Germany in Ukrainian historical thought in the end of the nineteenth – first quarter of the twentieth century, (b) the image of Ukraine in German intellectual history approximately at the same period of time. I made considerable progress in each of these topics while I was in Marburg. I have prepared the article “The Image of Ukraine and Ukrainians in German Intellectual History from the End of the Nineteenth to the First Half of the Twentieth Century: Concepts and Context”. The article was based on research conducted at Herder Institute. It relies heavily on the materials I found during the work at Herder Institute, taking into account the comments and suggestions of German colleagues expressed during the discussion of two my speeches and presentations to be held in Marburg (February 23, 2017) and in Kyiv (November 14, 2017) on the conference “New Perspectives in the Research of Regions of Conflict in Eastern Europe” with the report “Models of European Co-existence for Ukraine, Shaped by Leading German intellectuals from Bismarck’s Time up to the Beginning of Second World War (on the Materials of German Sources).

Prof. Dr. Volodymyr Potulnytskyi and Prof. Dr. Peter Haslinger
Prof. Dr. Volodymyr Potulnytskyi and Prof. Dr. Peter Haslinger

In general, my fellowship at Herder Institute, Marburg was both productive and creative. I wrote two separate pieces and delivered the speech in the seminar of Herder Institute, which enabled me to discuss with German colleagues the perspectives of my project and to see where my bigger projects – two books in fact – are going. With the first book “Locating Ukraine within the Image of Dominant and Related Nations (Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews)” I would like to conclude 20 years of research experience in Japan, Israel, USA, Germany, Austria and Ukraine. In the framework of the preparing of the second book “The German Influences on the Developing of Ukrainian Historical Thought from Seventeenth till Twentieth Century”

I am going to finish my first Alexander von Humboldt research project, started with my former Academic Host Professor Andreas Kappeler twenty years ago in Cologne. All of this was made possible by the team of Herder Institute – it’s astounding staff, its library, its visitors, its building and its special location at the heart of medieval city near its real treasure – the Castle of Marburg. In fact the entire city reminded me much more of a fair city from the tales of brothers Grimm than a modern city.

My expectations for the Herder Institute research facilities were completely fulfilled. I and my wife Dr. Taisa Sydorchuk, who was doing in Marburg the survey of Ukrainica and Judaica in archival and library collections of Herder Institute, were enjoying creative work in splendid conditions. Research work and writing require quietness and inspiring surroundings. We got all of that by coming to Marburg. We got much more: new unforgettable impressions, new knowledge, new colleagues and friends. The members of the office staff from Herder Institute went out of their way to make our visit easy and pleasant, particularly Antje Coburger with her devotion to duty and Tamara Peil with her helpfulness. The library proved to be truly excellent, even for some publications of the representatives of German intellectual thought from 1938 and 1942 which I did not expect to find in Marburg. I want to express my gratitude to the librarians of Herder Institute, especially to Mandy Barke, for her efficiency during our stay.

I would like to add a personal thank to Professor Peter Haslinger, one of the Germany’s leading experts in the history of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and in East-European historical and political thought and identities for supporting my application to be once again Alexander von Humboldt visiting fellow that time exactly at the Herder Institute, Marburg. It was very nice to meet in Herder Institute Dr. Anna Veronika Wendland with whom I made acquainted more than twenty years ago in L’viv and later in Cologne.

It makes me pleasure to mark that in the time span from my first Alexander von Humboldt research in Cologne in 1994-1996 she was able with her persistent attitude and intensive work to make considerable progress in scholar career from young postgraduate preparing her Ph.D. about Ukrainian Galicia to research coordinator of Herder Institute.

Anna Veronika Wendland und Gäste des Vortrags
Dr. Anna Veronika Wendland (left) and Dr. Silke Fengler (right) during the discussion of Professor Potulnytskyi’s speech and presentation

I also met a number of pleasant younger colleagues here and at presentation I gave in conference hall I have a much better idea with the articles that I managed to get accomplished. Finally, my conversations with the representatives of the younger generation of historians from Germany, such as Dr. Svetlana Boltovskaja and Dr. Silke Fengler and from the former Soviet Republics, now independent states, foreign research fellows at Herder Institute, such as Dr. Igor Barinov from Moscow, Dr. Gustav Strenga from Riga, Oleg Evstratjev from Minsk about our mutual research interests in global history have been very rewarding, and my wife and I carried home warm memories of them.

I am grateful to all my colleagues from Herder Institute for permitting to discuss and to complete for the publication in Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung the article, while I left Marburg with some kind of version of each chapter in the future books. When I first arrived at the Herder Institute in November 2016 I could not have imagined that in the time span of three months I would find exactly on the shelves of the research library of Herder Institute in Marburg the methodological and historiosophical key to the discovery of the origin and continuous interest in Ukraine of the well-known German scholars in nineteenth-twentieth centuries, as well as to the similarity or difference between the general concepts put forward by the representatives of two different trends in German intellectual history and their attitude to Ukraine.

I want to conclude, that after the three months in Herder Institute, the experience of living and conducting research in Marburg became the part of our own life. We were leaving our Host Institute and Marburg with fond memories that we will cherish for a long time.

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