Europe in Between. Histories, cultures and languages from Central Europe to the Eurasian Steppes
Firenze University Press
The editorial board’s proposal and series has had a long incubation period. By the mid-2000s a working group was already set up to dedicate themselves to the study of Central-Eastern, Balkan and Eastern Europe that gave life to the Center of Studies on Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages (CeSecom). By 2009 CeSecom had established itself as both a web portal and a research group that has become an innovative editorial product of the Firenze University Press. In recent years it has also become a common space for scholars to dialogue and a “gym” for students to work and take advantage of the rich materials offered for their thesis. They can also do traineeships where they learn the most modern techniques for creating and updating a portal.
The focus since then has been on this large geographical area of Europe, mostly occupied by Slavic populations, and the process of acculturation and integration of their inhabitants into the Mediterranean culture that began at the time of the so-called barbarian invasions. This process – which lasted for centuries – was marked by the rivalry between the Latin-Germanic and the Roman-Eastern or Byzantine worlds and by its complex relations with Asia.
This route was a traumatic one, especially in the Germanic area, where the spread of Christianity was accompanied by assimilation that often took the form of violent colonization processes. If in the beginning the forms of resistance were coagulated around paganism, in the following period they resumed life with a cultural resistance, already grafted into Christianity both in the medieval Latin world and in the Byzantine world, but often with heterodox tendencies (Bogomilism). In the Western world the most radical form of resistance was represented by the Hussitism that opened the long season of religious wars that ended with the Thirty Years War. In this scenario the conflict was the ideological confrontation progressively oriented towards the confrontation between nations and ethnic groups.
No less traumatic was the pressure on Europe from the steppes, which correspond to the area of present-day Ukraine, with the arrival of new Asian populations, Pechenegs, Cumans and finally the Mongols, while the ancient Roman provinces in the Middle East were occupied by the Arabs converted to Islam and later by Turkish populations, which eventually gave rise to the Ottoman branch that dominated the Balkans for over five centuries.
This wide geographical space begins at the Adriatic shores, on which the Republic of Venice was firmly built, and extends to the east at the mouth of the Volga river: where the Asian route of the Silk Road began. If on the other hand one moves to the north of the Venetian lagoon, the area reaches the Baltic regions and even the forests of northern Russia.
For centuries these realities were almost unknown to the Western world, even though they tried to expand their economic and cultural influence towards the East during the Middle Ages, and later with the Polish-Lithuanian state, which became the last bastion of defense against the Oriental “threat” represented by the Ottomans.
In the meantime, Byzantium was territorially reduced to Constantinople, and its political, cultural and religious traditions were passed on to the Principality of Moscow, which at the beginning of the modern era was transformed into the Russian Empire. This, in turn began an expansion that would not end at the borders of Europe, but would occupy a large part of Asia, fulfilling a dream pursued, for the first time by Genghis Khan two centuries earlier.
The Western rediscovery of the classical world, began with Humanism and continued with the Renaissance, progressively spread to the European East and the Balkans, mainly due to the driving force of Polish culture, and finally reached Moscow during the seventeenth century in the forms of Baroque culture.
Western historiography has generally considered this European space as peripheral. These territories – placed beyond the Danube and the extensive plains that reached the Baltic - were perceived as being generally assimilated into the Asian world because of the strangeness of languages and cultures of the Christian East.
The descriptions of Western travelers in Ivan the Terrible Muscovy are well known. The process of integrating this space into Western culture, which aims to coincide with European culture, begins in the Early XVIII century, with the era of Peter the Great and subsequently with the national resurgences in the Balkans, and, in some respects, with Western colonialism in the Middle East.
The events of the last three centuries, however, are far more known than the previous period, and the single national historiographies of those countries tend to project the forms of their culture marked largely by strong tendencies, above all on the linguistic and literary level, to marginalize all the spurious elements perceived as extraneous.
In the search for a national canon, single countries have highlighted all those elements tightly connected to the roots of classical culture (mediated by the Western experience) or the origins of Christian culture. In this complex reconstruction, which is generally referred to as the "invention (or construction) of the nation," the presence of Middle Eastern and Asian populations, and the decisive role they have played (starting with the Jewish communities), remains in the shadows. Today we totally lack a global vision of this area and we find many pieces of a puzzle in our hands without having a map to reconstruct the entire picture.
The aim of the scientific board and the series, which we are proposing here, is to present monographs or collections of articles that help to make targeted excavations by focusing on aspects, areas, characters and peoples that have had a key influence on the region. The aim is also to attempt to go beyond even the boundaries of the individual disciplines and of the individual nations in an attempt to reconstruct more generally the cultural history of the centuries that preceded or prepared these processes of "invention".
Together with the present proposal, in addition to the scientific board which, as we can see, assumes a character of international importance, an editorial staff will continue to operate through the portal, CeSecom, making it increasingly an instrument of this cultural reflection. This editorial staff, already equipped with its own editor, aims to sponsor seminars and conferences, to create a network of scholars interested in the reconstruction of the cultural history of the "Europe in between" space before the advent of the contemporary world.