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A Cultural History of Transnational Mobility in East Central Europe

From Paris to St. Petersburg and From Kovno to New York. A Cultural History of Transnational Mobility in East Central Europe

Dr. Jan Musekamp

The long nineteenth century was a time of radical changes in all spheres of society. Numerous innovations ushered in an irrevocable acceleration of globalization. The revolution in transport and communication would eventually cumulate in the development of a European railroad system. The research project is a cultural history of mobility in East Central Europe. I am focusing on the Royal Prussian Eastern Railroad (Ostbahn) as an excellent example of the emergence of international transportation networks prior to the First World War: The first train running from Berlin reached Königsberg (Kaliningrad) in 1857. Four years later the Ostbahn was connected to the Russian net.Henceforth, the railroad transported travelers, goods and ideas from Paris to St. Petersburg and vice versa.

In contrast to previous research in the field of transportation history, focusing mainly on national history, this project analyzes the impact of the railroad on the development of international networks. The research thus contributes to a growing branch of the history of technology, examining the role of infrastructures for the importance of European networks in different fields of society and economics. Research is scarce, notably when it comes to Central and Eastern Europe, on how the cross-border movement of passengers and goods impacted the exchange of ideas and the development of auto and heterostereotypes. This is especially true for the interdisciplinary and transnational approaches that are drawn from social and cultural history and that I have chosen to apply in my project.

Research is directed at the impact of cross-border railroad connections in three fields. First, I explore how the mobility of elites experienced a rapid transformation following the establishment of cross-border railroad connections for travel between St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Berlin, and Paris. Second, I focus on the Prussian/German-Polish/Russian borderlands, a region that can be described both as a "transitional space" and as a self-contained space with strong interconnectedness. Third, I use the Ostbahn as an example for how the transportation revolution facilitated transatlantic mass emigration from the Russian Empire. At the same time, the project contextualizes these developments within the changing constellation of Prussian/German-Polish/Russian relations.