Imperial Biographies: Elite Careers in the Habsburg, Russian and Ottoman Multinational Empires
Imperial Biographies: Elite Careers in the Habsburg, Russian and Ottoman Multinational Empires

International Congress of Leibniz-University, Hannover, and the University of Technology of Berlin

Berlin May 4th -5th, 2012

Deadline for papers: EXTENDED TO October 15st, 2011

The second half of the 19th century was the time of the dramatic changes that were taking place in the multinational empires of the Romanovs, Habsburgs and Ottomans: the continuing development of the state, industrialization, a revolution in transportation, and the growth of the cities resulted in a surge of mobility among their inhabitants. During this time, the new, mobile elites soon became essential actors of change. They contributed towards negotiating anew the relations between centre and periphery as well as the relations between state and society.

In the course of their professional careers, men of different professions were employed at several places of an empire, and they often circulated through various imperial provinces. Their biographies were imperial biographies, for in a number of ways they were connected to the imperial structures within which they had risen. Their professional paths were characterized by the constraints and possibilities of the new era, but also by the continued restrictions of the respective imperial constitutions. Furthermore, to a high degree their self-designs reflected this imperial framework, as it was there where they processed their experiences of cross-empire mobility.

In the course of their careers they became experts of the foreign, of remote areas and of the heterogeneity of the empires. They most intensively experienced the contradictions between the local realities and the demands of the state, they developed concepts and practices for overcoming them, and they propagated fundamental reforms of state structures. Thus, increasingly they became pressure groups for reorganizing the empires.

At the same time, these mobile cohorts acted as effective representations of their empires in those local spaces of encounter where they were active. These groups represented the face of the empire to the indigenous population. After all, how else than in the shape of these visible, inter-space actors could the empire as a communication horizon reach the many fragmented local milieus?

Not least, these experts formed milieus of their own, which were characterized by the respective mobility patterns, by mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion as well as by the career logics of their professional branches. Their careers as well as their trans-local circulation reveal the new opportunities and scopes of action in times of change, just as their continued restrictions and new limitations.

Thus, such imperial biographies allow for a new approach viewing the people who experienced the empire as a part of their life courses. Ideas of the imperial context as well as reform concepts become obvious, which are based on personal experiences made in the course of years of service, professional work and life at the peripheries of the empires. Furthermore, dealing with imperial biographies allows for analyzing those state structures as enforcing, making possible or preventing the mobility of imperial actors. And not least, this will contribute to researching the empires in question from a comparative actors´ perspective.

We call for papers with a (collective-) biographic approach on mobile experts from these three empires, primarily concerning the following fields of activity:

State officials, MPs or ministers

Technological elites (city planners, architects, engineers, hygiene or statistics experts)

Members of the armed forces

Academics (both professors and students) as well as clergymen

Entrepeneurs, lawyers and physicians

Writers, journalists or authors of travel reports

The following, interconnected issues are of particular interest for us:

1) Mobile experts as a dynamic factor for the change of mainland empires
Everywhere where mobile elites appeared, the heterogeneity of empires became visible. At the same time the former put them into question, by transgressing traditional boundaries while transfering experiences and expectations from old contexts into new ones. Furthermore, not seldom they formulated far-reaching concepts for overcoming the traditional variety of nations and religions in the empires, which was considered archaic. To what extent did the confrontation between the experts and local representatives trigger productive differentiation processes? In which cases did their actions increase local potential for conflict, and which dynamics did result from this? To what extent did they themselves initiate change? Which pressure could they exert on local or central decision-making authorities?

2) Imperial mobility patterns, career paths and elite circulation Each of the various empires as well as the individual professional branches developed their own patterns of social and spatial mobility. Age and experience, but also the origin of experts, influenced the places where they were employed as well as their professional circulation. Which principles of rotation were valid for which professional branches, how did the protagonists´ cultural capital influence the course of their careers? Was the empire the horizon for a career, or was occupation in another state desirable and possible? Which cross-empire transfers happened among the various experts?

3) Imperial images, loyalties and identities of mobile elites Mobile elites worked at the interfaces of centre and periphery, state and society. Their activities led to an interaction of the state´s expectations, local situations, professional functional logics, but also of the experts´ own ambitions. What were the experts´ (overlapping) loyalties to dynasties, to their nations as well as to their religious groups, and how did this change in the course of their careers in the imperial provinces? Which identification offers were made by the imperial elite and its professional sub-systems, such as public officials or the officer corps, but also the caste of engineers or the academics? Which ideas of the imperial context and which ways of perceiving problems did they develop from the experiences made at the various stations of their careers? How did they try to communcate these to a broader public?

The languages of the congress will be German and English. Very good skills of one of these languages as well as at least sufficient passive skills of the other one are a prerequisite for participation. Under the condition of funds granted, expenditures on travel, board and lodging will be taken over by the organizers. There is the intention to publish the contributions to the congress.

Please send your suggestion for a contribution – including an abstract (max. 1 page, in German or English) – as well as a CV to or to
Tim Buchen
Technische Universität Berlin
Ernst-Reuter-Platz 7
10587 Berlin
Date: 2011-09-27