At the Institute of Contemporary History we have conducted research on borders in the context of the project titled History of Administrative Borders and Boundaries (Slovenian Research Agency (SRA), 2011–2014). We are now researching borders in the Phenomenon of Border Rivers project (SRA, 2014–2017). As the historical dependence of borders is at the forefront of our research interests, the concept of phantom borders, developed by the international interdisciplinary research network Phantom Borders in Eastern Central Europe, is especially important for our work. Phantom borders are former political borders that continue to structure the modern world. In many cases these historical spaces persist or “keep returning” in the form of social practices, electoral geographies, infrastructural networks and the like.
Although the collocation of phantom borders includes the word “border”, the concept was coined as a means of researching the spaces, spatial practices and the actors in space. Borders as political divisions, registered in the spatial projections, descriptions (official descriptions, newspaper articles) as well as in the landscape itself (fences, border stones) are not the focus of interest in this case. We are interested whether phantom borders can be used to research contemporary borders. Can contemporary borders likewise be phantom borders? In order to conceptualise the historical dimension of the borders, we have, in the course of our research, developed the concept (or a metaphor) of administrative legacy.
What is administrative legacy? Borders are not merely lines on maps and markers in the field: they are “virtual spaces” with a horizontal and vertical dimension. We can envision borders as historical/social phenomena, with their own height, width, length (and weight). The horizontal encompasses the social influence of the borders, while the vertical includes the historical layers. The layers recorded in the official bureaucratic sources may also be referred to as administrative legacy. As far as phantom borders are concerned, the past, structured in the present, is essential. At the same time, administrative legacy is the phantom past, structured in the official records of the states and, as such, literally represents the old in the new. It is pure history in the sense of what has been preserved and recorded, something that never dies, but also never remains the same. Each time it comes to life it acquires a different form and has a different effect. Administrative legacy is vital for the legitimacy and status of the present. The legitimacy and meaning of the contemporary borders stem merely from the official records.
Phantom and actual political borders may overlap. Borders can outlive the states that created them. It is obvious that when the constellation of the political spaces changes or when new spaces are being created, a crack may open and the phantom past may ooze out, possessing the border. As the political space changes, the parts of the administrative legacy that had been technical, even obscure, suddenly become important: cadastral municipality borders, police districts, fishing zones, landscape parks, etc. The Slovenian-Croatian maritime border, for instance, never existed in Yugoslavia, but what did exist was the administrative practice of (federal) police supervision over the waters of the Adriatic Sea, and the Slovenian side supervised the entire Bay of Piran. When the issue of the maritime border between the new independent countries arose, the technical “division of labour” – police supervision – became a question of national interest.
The purpose of this conference is to critically assess the methodological and conceptual power of the administrative legacy and to subject it to theoretical and empirical historical research.
We especially wish to address the following questions:
The concept of administrative legacy has been envisioned as a theoretical tool for border research. Is the concept also suitable for researching the history of nationalism? Studies of nationalism, especially focusing on Central and South-East Europe, underline the role of the state bureaucratic apparatus (schools, army, administration, law) in the nationalisation of the population. The administrative measures implemented by states (also non-national early-modern empires and multinational multicultural federations) create particular national categories or reproduce the discourses of national exclusivity – often unintentionally.
What is the relationship between the nationalist “border-making” at the level of discourse and the administrative legacy of existing borders? Nationalist activists keep looking for concealed historical facts (also in the pool of administrative legacy), creatively assembling them into myths of the “true borders”. The (para)historical discourse, which is in blatant opposition to the novelty of the dispute, has been an interesting characteristic of the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute since 1991. Is the use of historical myth (P. Kolstø) as a mechanism for defining the borders methodologically justified in case of the existing borders? How can we capture the significance of the historical discourse for the processes of the contemporary nationalist delimitation?
We are also interested in the relationship of landscape, administrative legacy and history. Our exploration of the border river is based on the analysis of these components. In border rivers, the phantom aspect of administrative legacy is even more complicated: border rivers are, by definition, also physical spaces with a physical width, depth and influence on the landscape. They are also, first and foremost, active natural elements, which may both move on their own and speak for themselves. The former river beds, marked on cadastral maps, possess a strong phantom potential.
The conference language is English.
Abstracts no longer than 300 words together with a short CV should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Well-founded panel proposals will also be considered. Selected papers will be published in the journal Contributions to Contemporary History / Prispevki za novejšo zgodovino (http://ojs.inz.si/pnz).
The deadline for proposals is September 10, 2016.
Accommodation and meals during the conference will be provided. Travel costs are not covered.