- New Spatial Histories of 20th-Century Russia and the Soviet UnionExploring the Terrain
In another article I have presented some preliminary thoughts on a new direction in historical research on Russia and the Soviet Union that I term the "new spatial history."1 I argue that this new spatial history does not constitute a self-conscious 'school' of historiography, nor is it characterized by any unifying conceptual framework or methodological apparatus. What has transformed the wide range of recent historical scholarship on space into a coherent body of scholarship—and differentiates this new genre from "traditional" historical geography—is a shared critical interest in the interaction of space with human agency and the mediating role of culturally defined [End Page 433] spatial practices in history. The potential of this new direction is exemplified, though by no means exhausted, by the three works evaluated in the present review essay. I focus here first on Karl Schlögel's volume of interlinked essays Im Raume Lesen Wir die Zeit, which exhorts historians to widen the angle and, at the same time, to sharpen the focus of their spatial optics. I then consider The Landscape of Stalinism, a volume of articles written by specialists in Russian cultural studies and co-edited by Evgeny Dobrenko and Eric Naiman, and finally examine Emma Widdis's monograph Visions of a New Land. While Schlögel's ambition is primarily to explore the terrain and survey the scholarly potential of the new spatial history, the latter two works paint rich and nuanced pictures of the many landscapes and visions of space that shaped the history of Russia and the Soviet Union in the 20th century.
Karl Schlögel's recent publication Im Raume Lesen Wir die Zeit offers an elegantly crafted and stimulating introduction to the new spatial history. This work will yield few new insights to the specialist as regards theory or method, but it provides an efficient overview of the main empirical and conceptual issues exercising the mental energies of scholars in this emergent field and a perceptive account of the origins and development of the new spatial awareness in its historical, intellectual, and political contexts. In part 1, "The Return of Space," the author is particularly concerned to salvage spatial scholarship from distortions wrought by geopolitical determinism and, specifically, from the German "obsession" with racialized constructions of space, Boden as defined by Blut, which dissolves real space into a crass biological historicism (52–59). Schlögel's project invokes instead the humanistic traditions of scholars such as Herodotus, Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Ritter, or Walter Benjamin, all of whom sought in their diverse ways to explore and explain the world in its rich, living complexity and whose work exhorts us to repudiate modern scientific specialization and the divide between theoretical and applied knowledge. Using these examples, Schlögel celebrates synthesis, interdisciplinarity, and a rapprochement between practical experience and abstract thought.
The second part of the book, "Reading Maps," includes a brief examination of the cultural nature and political significance of maps and an engaging, though rudimentary, outline of the evolution of cartography in relation to systems of power and knowledge. For these sections, the author relies heavily on a limited range of mainly English-language secondary sources, all well-known to Anglo-American scholars but perhaps less familiar to his German readership. The work is at its most interesting when the author ventures beyond the well-trodden territory of historiographical synthesis to offer [End Page 434] his own studies of modern space and the spaces of modernity, constructing an anthology or...