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Seminar Series: "Multiple Language, Cultural, and Ethnic Self-Identities of the German Lutheran Population in 'Russian Poland' in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries"

Niles Gallery (Fine Arts Library)
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s):
Dr. Cynthia Vakareliyska (University of Oregon)

Most studies of language and confessional minorities focus on the self-identity, singular, of members of a minority community. Some minority populations, however, have two or more concurrent language, cultural, and ethnic self-identities (although usually only one confessional self-identity). This talk examines the self-perceptions of an understudied minority population, the Lutheran Russian Germans living in the western part of the Russian Empire known as Congress Poland or “Russian Poland” (now eastern Poland and southern Lithuania) during the 19th and early 20th centuries, before they were forcibly resettled by the Russian government into interior Russia during World War One.

The Russian Germans, also known as “German Russians,” were Russian citizens, the descendants of German artisans who had migrated to Russia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by invitation of Catherine the Great and Paul I. Those in Russian Poland lived mostly in integrated communities together with Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Belarusians, and Russians. Most were trilingual in Polish, Russian, and Low German, with some knowing Lithuanian as well. Based on documents in Lithuanian and Polish archives and a private collection in the U.S., the talk focuses on the Lutheran Russian German populations in the adjoining provinces of Suwałczyzna and Łomża (now Suvalkija in Lithuania and Mazowsze in Poland, respectively) and their adoption of Polish, Lithuanian, and Russian cultural features, as reflected in their naming and signature practices, language choices, cuisine, and self-identity as a group during a period when the concept of ethnicity had not yet been developed in Russia.