UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Paths to empire : the production and mobilization of historical narratives by Baltic German émigrés, 1905-1918 Bredovskis, Eriks Eduards


This thesis examines how Baltic German émigrés living in the German Empire argued for the inclusion of the Baltic Provinces of the Russian Empire (Estland, Kurland, and Livland) into the Kaiserreich. At the start of the twentieth century, Baltic German intellectuals took up academic positions at universities in Germany. Embittered by their previous experience of Russification in the 1880s and then surrounded by a German nationalist environment, they produced numerous histories of Russia and the Baltic Provinces, which underscored the region’s Germanness and its perceived trajectory away from a German national teleology. World War One was a crucial moment in the development of these narratives as now there was a possibility of actually acquiring these provinces. This thesis argues that Balten narratives of eastern Europe demanded the incorporation of the Baltic Provinces into the German Empire through the construction of a specific historical narrative about Germany’s role in eastern Europe. These narratives were informed by existing German conceptions of history—particularly those propagated by Heinrich von Treitschke— and from other nineteenth-century discourses of empire—in particular the domestication of “wild” spaces and the “civilizing mission.” Their narratives can be understood as a form of “the civilizing mission,” which mobilized the concept of Kulturboden—the understanding that specific spaces (soils) had become Germanized over time. These various aspects came together in the decade before World War One in order to inform the German reading public of the social changes occurring in the Baltic Provinces. During World War One, however, Baltic German émigrés mobilized these narratives in order to contribute to broader discourses surrounding Germany’s role in Europe and its war aims. During the war, either collectively or individually, Baltic Germans produced histories and studies on the Baltic Provinces, all of which framed the Provinces as a German space possessing German forms, be they cultural, environmental, or historic. While the rhetoric can be seen as successful in convincing the German government to incorporate the Baltic Provinces in the German Empire in mid-1918, the collapse of Imperial Germany and the Treaty of Versailles resulted in territorial losses. The institutional memory and legacy of these works, however, informed future scholars of the type of language and evidence that would demonstrate the presence of Germanic spaces outside of Germany’s borders and show that individuals are able to transform the nature of spaces to suit their specific historical trajectory.

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