The Future of the Past: New Perspectives on Ukrainian History

Future of the PastHURI Publications is pleased to announce that The Future of the Past: New Perspectives on Ukrainian History, edited by Serhii Plokhy, is now available.

The Future of the Past: New Perspectives on Ukrainian History
Harvard Papers in Ukrainian Studies, edited by Serhii Plokhy

Published: November 2016
516 pages, 12 color maps, $29.95
ISBN 9781932650167
Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute Publications

Table of Contents

Bringing together the insights of 21 historians, this collection is the fruit of a conference on Ukrainian historiography held at Harvard University in October 2013. The event was the last in a series of three conferences that were inspired by the rising use of divergent historical narratives in politics. The conferences examined interwar national and nationalist historiography (Munich, July 2012), the legacy of Soviet historical writing (Lviv, May 2013), and the future of Ukrainian historical studies (Cambridge, MA, October 2013).

This collection of essays proposes to rethink the meaning of Ukrainian history by venturing outside the boundaries established by the national paradigm, and demonstrating how research on the history of Ukraine can benefit from both regional and global perspectives. 

Quo Vadis Ukrainian History?

In his introductory essay to the collection, Plokhy remarks:

“During the last few years, history has taken center stage in Ukrainian political debates and spilled over to the East European scene. In fact, battles over history have become part of a very real, not virtual war.”

However, Plokhy notes, the rise of history to prominence in Ukrainian politics preceded the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. For instance, it was utilized in January 2010 when the court found Josef Stalin and his associates guilty for the Holodomor and when President Yushchenko named Stepan Bandera a “Hero of Ukraine.”

Academic debate over Ukrainian historiography also has deep roots, writes Plokhy. In 1963, Slavic Review showcased the first North American academic debate on the topic, with Omeljan Pritsak—Turcologist and HURI cofounder—engaging in dialogue with Arthur E. Adams and John S. Reshtar, Jr. (two specialists on the Revolution of 1917-1920), as well as Ivan L. Rudnytsky, an intellectual historian of East-Central Europe. Central to the debate were issues such as “the historical or nonhistorical status of the Ukrainian nation, continuity in Ukrainian history, the nature of the revolution in Ukraine, and its historical position between East and West,” Plokhy explains.

Another debate emerged in 1995—also in Slavic Review—over an essay entitled “Does Ukraine Have a History?” by Mark von Hagen, who argued that Ukrainian history would have to be incorporated into North American historiography before the country could be deemed to have a history. What followed was a critical review and reexamination of the field, with an eye to its future. The progress since then, Plokhy writes, was the question at the heart of the third conference, and of the essays that make up The Future of the Past.

With the events that soon followed the conference—the Euromaidan protests, the Revolution of Dignity, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the Russo-Ukrainian conflict over East Ukraine—both inspiring revisions and validating the themes in many of the papers, this collection provides “an invaluable historiographic context for understanding the ongoing conflict,” Plokhy says.

Ukrainian Historiography: The State of the Field

Collecting the perspectives of 21 historians of Ukraine, this volume sheds light on the way Ukrainian history is studied and taught outside of Ukraine. It considers both the current historiography within Ukraine as well as the field of history in general.

The first section, Toward a New Narrative, examines the national history paradigm and suggests several different ways of overcoming its limitations. Contributors include: Alfred J. Rieber, Liliya Berezhnaya, Georgiy Kasianov, and Oleksii Tolochko.

Next, The Transnational Turn addresses the deep influence transnational trends have had over Ukraine, rendering the transnational approach to its historiography beneficial. For this reason, studying Ukraine could also illuminate new aspects of the history of its broader region. Contributors include Andrea Graziosi, George O. Liber, Mark von Hagen, Hiroaki Kuromiya, Steven Seegel, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, and Mayhill C. Fowler.

The Return of the Region follows. This section considers the other key approach frequently used to overcome the limitations of the national paradigm: the regional approach. In addition to surveying recent historiographic studies of Ukraine’s regions (such as Galicia), the essays propose new relations between Ukraine’s national and regional histories. Contributors include Larry Wolff, Iryna Vushko, Faith Hillis, Heather Coleman, Zenon E. Kohut, and Serhii Plokhy.

Finally, Representations of the Past discusses the ties between society and history, both in Ukraine and abroad. This includes how ideas are disseminated, the issues of working in the field outside of Ukraine, and divergent historical narratives, such as the Soviet legacy. Contributors include Marta Dyczok, Volodymyr Kravchenko, Tatiana Tairova-Yakovleva, and Paul Robert Magocsi.

As a whole, this volume offers an answer to the question Plokhy leads with, that of the direction the new Ukrainian historiography in the West is heading. However, the book’s insights are not restricted to Ukraine; The Future of the Past also shows how studying Ukraine’s past enhances our understanding of Europe, Eurasia, and the world—past, present, and future. Furthermore, it reveals the need within historiography for a new genre that transcends the ethnonational paradigm and incorporates the strengths of multiple approaches. For Ukraine, whose internal divisions are fueled by different historical experiences, this more inclusive "new national history" could truly be transformative.

The Future of the Past is available through the Harvard University Press catalog and Amazon. Read the complete Table of Contents here.

Publication of this book has been made possible in part by the Ilarion and Donna Kalynewych Fund and the Jurij and Oksana Lyczkowskyj Publication Fund in Ukrainian Studies.

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