Map Men: Lives and Deaths of Geographers in Transnational East Central Europe

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Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Thursday, April 5, 20184:00PM - 6:00PM108N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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Conflicts over turf are geo-coded by grievance, particularly in Europe’s tumultuous borderland pasts of German-Polish, Polish-Ukrainian, Polish-Jewish, Ukrainian-Russian, Hungarian-Romanian, and Hungarian-Jewish relations. In tales of flawed “great men” and their selves, historians too conveniently reify categories of nationality, rationality, or modernity to psychologize group behavior by language and religion, instead of delving into the eccentric worlds of individuals and social contexts for generating maps. This lecture re-grounds maps as intersubjective human artefacts, colored in by relational patterns of everyday frustration and status-conscious anxiety, petty jealousy and human pride.

Where explanations fail, maps offer forensic clues: the obsessive passion for maps in matters of life and death, friendship and war, across borders and oceans from the 1870s to the 1950s. Looking at the mobile worlds of five “transnational Germans” who were also multilingual, Anglophile, and national-scientific geographers—Albrecht Penck (1858-1945) of Germany, Eugeniusz Romer (1871-1954) of Poland, Stepan Rudnyts’kyi (1877-1937) of Ukraine, Isaiah Bowman (1878-1950) of North America, Count Pál Teleki (1879-1941) of Hungary, he recreates the relationships of a generation of aspiring bourgeois experts. By retelling their lives and deaths, he looks at the history of borderland conflict and digs into the personal lives of men whose prejudices helped to shape the emergence of geography and cartography as modern sciences out of pre-1914 Ostmitteleuropa.

The lecture finally illustrates the ways in which today’s clickbait and functional grids depicted budding graphic projects on surreal and subjective terms. As maps are shipped around ever more dangerously as weapons, Seegel argues that they continue to define tensions of empire that are common to émigré trusteeships for mediating territorial conflict, as well as positions of privilege for a global technical intelligentsia’s multigenerational advancement.

Steven Seegel is professor of Russian and European history at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Mapping Europe’s Borderlands: Russian Cartography in the Age of Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2012), and Ukraine under Western Eyes: The Bohdan and Neonila Krawciw Ucrainica Map Collection (Harvard University Press, 2013). He has been a contributor to the fourth and fifth volumes of Chicago’s international history of cartography series, and has translated over 300 entries from Russian and Polish for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, in multiple volumes, published jointly by Indiana University Press. He is also a former director at Harvard of the Ukrainian Research Institute’s summer exchange program. His most recent book, Map Men: Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe, is published by University of Chicago Press in April 2018.


Olga Kesarchuk


Steven Seegel
Professor of History, University of Northern Colorado

Ksenya Kiebuzinski
Co-Director of the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine; head of the Petro Jacyk Central and East European Resource Centre

Main Sponsor

Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine


Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies

The John Yaremko Chair of Ukrainian Studies

Konstanty Reynert Chair in Polish History

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