The Creation of National Spaces in a Pluricultural Region: The Case of Prussian Lithuania

The Creation of National Spaces in a Pluricultural Region: The Case of Prussian Lithuania


Vasilijus Safronovas

Series: Lithuanian Studies without Borders
ISBN: 9781618115249 (hardcover)
Pages: 464 pp.
Publication Date: December 2016

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Honorable Mention: Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies Book Prize, 2018

This book is essential reading on the spatial concepts that two erstwhile neighboring cultures, Lithuanian and German, once associated with one physical space—a Lithuanian region in Prussia. Covering a period of five centuries, the author explores how, when, and, most importantly, why these concepts have been developed and transformed, regulating the spatial imagination of several generations. The study focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, presenting the narratives, representations, and geographic conceptions of the region that existed in these two national cultures. The volume shows how knowledge about “their own” space ended up serving as a tool for both Lithuanian and German political aspirations and how it challenged the spatial concepts about this area in the previous century.

Vasilijus Safronovas is principal investigator at the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology, at Klaipėda University. He has published widely on issues of memory, identity, and cultural contact. His recent study Kampf um Identität: Die ideologische Auseinandersetzung in Memel/Klaipeda im 20. Jahrhundert (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2015) was awarded the Immanuel-Kant-Forschungspreis from the German Federal Government.


By bringing the neglected case of Prussian Lithuania into a dialogue with research on the Russian Empire, Safronovas’ book fills an important gap in scholarship, and enables us to build up a picture of the complex articulation of ideas about ‘Lithuania’ that occurred within different states and across borders. … The book is well written, extensively researched and draws attention to a region which has often been overlooked in the wider discussion on spatial concepts of Lithuania. One of the particular strengths of the book is Safronovas’ ability to bring German, Lithuanian, Russian and Polish sources into a dialogue with one another to historicise the spatial discourse on ‘Lithuania’ within the multilingual and pre-national context of the long 19th century. The book no doubt occupies a key place in the historiography of 19th-century Lithuanian and Prussian history, but also raises many questions and topics that will resonate with scholars who are interested more broadly in the invention and construction of national spaces spanning administrative or imperial border regions.
— Catherine Gibson, European University Institute, Lithuanian Historical Studies Vol. 22
Maps are not made in a vacuum. In this geographically sophisticated book, Vasilijus Safronovas shows how Lithuania was formed by its diverse peoples as a space for interaction. Interrogating how the toponyms of East Prussia, Lithuania Minor, and Prussian Lithuania evolved as regions, and fed into modern nation-building, irredentist, or diasporic projects, the author skillfully analyzes the country’s social and political history. Making fine use of German, Polish, Lithuanian and Russian sources, he persuasively challenges us to reconsider the criteria behind Lithuania’s slew of mental maps—why some systems of meaning persisted, while others were suppressed or altered beyond recognition.
— Steven Seegel, University of Northern Colorado
Of all the regions of Lithuania, its far west—until 1920 under Prussian/German rule—is the least known. This book should change that by giving western readers a sophisticated, well-researched, and engagingly written overview of “Prussian Lithuania” and its importance in the history of the Baltic region. Emphasizing the tensions between diverging national and spatial conceptions, Safronovas makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the role this region played in the development of Lithuanian national identity.
— Theodore R. Weeks. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Chapter 1. East Prussia: An Arena for Cultural Meetings and Conflicts
Chapter 2. Lithuania in Prussia: Changing Concepts in the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries
Chapter 3. Lithuania as a Peculiar Region of Germany (1850s–1910s)
Chapter 4. The Invention of Lithuania Minor (1870–1910s)
Chapter 5. Interaction of the German and Lithuanian Concepts of Prussian Lithuania in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
Chapter 6. Battles over Spaces "of Their Own”: Changes after 1918
Concluding Remarks

Index of Names
Geographic Index
Subject Index