Empires: The Crisis of Diversity in the Nineteenth Century

To this day, the nation-state dominates our historical consciousness. Europe’s empires, in contrast, were anachronistic structures, not only in the eyes of many contemporaries. With their ethnic diversity, supranational forms of government, fluctuating borders, and complex relationship between center and periphery, they seemed inferior to the nation-state. But empires shaped the history of Europe for much longer and far more powerfully than the nation-state, which is an invention of a later era.

The research project aims to compare multi-ethnic European empires of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the heart of the investigation is the question of how empires―namely the Habsburg monarchy, the Tsarist Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire―dealt with their multi-ethnic societies. What is at issue are the opportunities and limits of their potential for integration. What mechanisms of integration and exclusion helped these empires attain stability, how did balances shift in the face of the new model of the nation-state, and how did empires and their multi-ethnic societies respond to this competition?

The project will undertake a systematic comparison of multi-ethnicity and domination, imperial cultures of interpretation, and war and the military. The study will contribute towards expanding our understanding of Europe to perceive it not only as shaped by its nation-states but also to comprehend former multi-ethnic empires and the diversity of their development as a part of European history.

During her stay at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research as a research fellow, Ulrike von Hirschhausen will be writing her study on questions of multi-ethnicity and domination.