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Invitation to the conference “Global Easts: Entangled Histories and Memories”

Category: Events, I.3.13

“Global Easts: Entangled Histories and Memories” conference co-organized by the University of Warsaw will be held on 19-21.01.2023. This conference will be focused on commonalities shared in experiences of modernity, in their transition from dictatorship to democracy, and in the shaping of collective memory in the Global Easts. It may shed new light on the fluidity of East and West, the global complexity of historical memory and imagination, and the boundaries between democracy and mass dictatorship.

The Global East is the trans peripheral problem space where the East remains underdeveloped compared to the developed “West” in the trajectory of global modernity. The supposed solution for this problem space is to become a “West.” This co-figuring of underdeveloped East and developed West has regulated our historical imagination echoing Eurocentric Orientalism. Viewed from the East as a trans peripheral problem space, the divide between East and West does not equal the boundary of Asia and Europe. Neither is geographically fixed. The strategic location of each is constantly in flux in historical discourse. Each is a relational concept that takes shape and gains coherence only when configured in relationship to the other in the discursive context of the “problem space.” When Lech Wałęsa’s pledge to make Poland “a second Japan” subverts our imaginative geography, Poland ended up assigned to the East, Japan to the West.

Once our historical imagination is placed in the global chain of national histories, the fluidity of the East and the West as imaginative geography becomes clearer. German historical imagination pits German Kultur against French civilisation, Germany as the East vis-à-vis France as the West. However, Germany became the West vis-à-vis Poland, as the Ost in Ostforschung of Polish studies implies. In turn, Poland considered itself the West vis-à-vis “Asiatic” Russia. Japan went so far as to Orientalize Russia, positioning itself as the West after victory in the Russo-Japanese War. In Wałęsa’s 1981 address, Poland became Japan’s East/Asia and Japan Poland’s West/Europe. Far from fixed locations, “West” and “East” are adaptable categories whose fluidity can be understood through investigating entangled histories and memories of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and East Asia in conjunction with one another.

If the West theorized the Orient by essentializing Middle Eastern, Asian, and North African societies as static and underdeveloped, it invented Eastern Europe as “an intellectual project of demi-Orientalization.” Even before Asia, Eastern Europe became the West’s “first model of underdevelopment.” In turn, the nineteenth-century Polish intelligentsia defined Western Europe by contrast and positioned themselves as mediators between Europe and the Orient. The conceptual gradation of Oriental and demi-Oriental was determined by its distance to “West.” The shorter the distance, the less Oriental. Neither nationalist nor Marxist historians of Global Easts broke free from the Eurocentric discourse of historicism that projected the West as “History” scale, which feeds Eurocentrism and Orientalism. National histories of Global Easts became the epistemological twins of the Eurocentric national histories of the West by sharing the Orientalist value-code in the form of “anti-Western Orientalism.”

This conference will host papers focusing on the following topics:

  1. Historical Imaginations: (Self-) Orientalism in Global Easts.
  2. Making the East: Political Movements and Self-Identification.
  3. Global Memories of the East: power and opposition in the Cold War memory spaces, memory of modernization and development in the post-war Easts.
  4. Entangled and Comparative Memory of Dictatorships and Genocides: International transfer of memory and of denialist discourses.
  5. Displaying the Global Easts: collections, museums, and heritage about and within the Easts.
  6. Poland and the Global Easts: theory and practice.

Full information about the conference