Friday, May 24, 2019 - 06:29

Kharkov/Kharkiv: The Borderland Capital

March 2014

Kharkiv historian Volodymyr Kravchenko’s desire to follow the example of Western scholarship—interpreting local and regional history beyond the framework of Ukrainian national discourse—is The Borderland Capital’s most striking feature. This new work was published as part of the ‘Social Transformations in the Borderlands - Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova’ project, carried out by the European Humanities University in Vilnius. Employing such concepts as borderland and the great frontier, as well as regional and national identity, Kravchenko’s elucidation of the history of Slobozhanshchyna (Slobidska Ukraine) and Kharkiv is comparative, with methodologies from urban studies and cultural geography, backed by substantial theoretical explanations. The scholar offers Ukrainian historians new perspectives on regional history writing. While it seems odd that he bases his monograph entirely upon published works and sources, in the context of the intellectual history of this region’s exploration/formation, this decision seems logical enough. Moreover, this approach actively promotes the popularization of previous research by local historians, such as Volodymyr Masliychuk. Indeed, Masliychuk’s vision of Slobidska Ukraine’s past quite markedly influenced Kravchenko’s recreation/interpretation of the region’s 17th–18th century history among other individual subjects of later historical periods. 

In his analysis of Slobidska Ukraine’s history in the 18th–21st centuries, the historian repeatedly emphasizes the important role modernization played in the life of the city. Kharkiv’s modernization, carried out by both imperial and Bolshevik authorities, undoubtedly facilitated the city and the region’s inclusion in the ‘Rus-Russia-Little Russia-Ukraine-Southern Rus-Southern Russia’ mental geography framework. Tracing the making of, and changes to, the city and region’s intellectual mapping and national identification in Russian, Soviet and Ukrainian narratives, Kravchenko focuses upon individuals. From the late 18th century, these figures’ works defined their places within the frameworks of both national/cultural and modernization discourses. It is worth noting that Kravchenko’s ‘great cohort’ includes Hryhoriy Skovoroda, Vasyl Karazin, Illya and Hryhoriy Kvitka, and Dmytri Bahaliy, among others. In addition, we find Anton Sliusarskyi, Hennadiy Zgurskyi and Konstantin Kevorkian among them, who seem quite controversial given that their work produced little public impact, even in  Kharkiv—a fact that the scholar acknowledges in passing.   Yet, the desire to provoke controversy is inherent in many passages of Kravchenko’s work. Take, for instance, his comparison of the current Academy of Sciences of Ukraine to a ‘cultural Donbas’ or his entire analysis of Kharkiv’s history since Ukrainian independence. Such provocations are precisely what make this monograph a compelling read, bound to attract public interest and discussion.