Global Imagination after Versailles: Alternative Histories of Science in Modern Eastern Europe

Thursday, November 21, 2019
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room, 1219 International Affairs Building (420 W 118th St)

Please join the East Central European Center at the Harriman Institute for a roundtable discussing Contemporary European History 28, a special issue on post-Versailles human and social sciences in Eastern Europe with historian Eugenia Lean, and the co-editors of the volume, Katherine Lebow, Małgorzata Mazurek, and Joanna Wawrzyniak.

With the ‘global turn’ in social and humanistic sciences, one often wonders: does Eastern Europe generate ‘world-scale’ ideas? As historians have critically examined center-periphery frameworks and geopolitical hierarchies in the making of ‘global knowledge,’ the history of science can be now, in principle, be told from any place where people have reimagined their relationship to a shared global modernity. This panel addresses the salience of this insight for modern Eastern Europe, building on a recently published special issue of Contemporary European History. The issue looks at scholarly innovations in Eastern Europe to tell an alternative history of science. Its point of departure is that post-Versailles Eastern, Central and Southeastern Europe was a particularly fertile space for the production and circulation of social scientific ways of knowing. Its aim is to recover the radical and world-scale potential of some of these forgotten projects and scholars to challenge perceptions of Eastern European science as an exclusively ethnocentric project. The issue also considers how the geopolitical shift from a world of empires to one of nation states, which started in the Balkans and East Central Europe in 1918 and continued in dependent and colonial territories after 1945, impacted knowledge globally. Finally, it explores the entanglement between local and global aspects science, bringing together historians driven by broader questions of ‘historical epistemology.’

The special issue of Contemporary European History will be available on-line. The roundtable will focus on the introduction in particular, but also include discussion on the volume as a whole.


Eugenia Lean, Director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute; Associate Professor of Chinese history, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University

Katherine Lebow, Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford

Małgorzata Mazurek, Associate Professor of Polish Studies, Department of History, Columbia University

Joanna Wawrzyniak, Associate Professor at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw


Eugenia Lean is an Associate Professor of East Asian Language-Culture and Director of Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. She is interested in a broad range of topics in late imperial and modern Chinese history with a particular focus on the history of science and industry, mass media, consumer culture, emotions and gender, as well as law and urban society. She is also interested in issues of historiography and critical theory in the study of East Asia. In her award-winning book Public Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China (2007), she examines a sensational crime of female passion to document the political role of emotions in the making of a critical urban public. Her newest book, Vernacular Industrialism in China: Local Innovation and Translated Technologies in the Making of a Cosmetics Empire, 1900-1940 (Columbia University Press, 2020), examines the manufacturing, commercial and cultural activities of maverick industrialist Chen Diexian (1879-1940). 

Katherine Lebow is teaching History at the Oxford University. Her research interests are social and cultural history of 20th-century Poland in a global context; everyday life under state socialism; autobiography and testimony, especially 'everyman autobiographies' ca. 1930-50; history of social science. She published Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949–56 in 2013 and "The Conscience of the Skin: Interwar Polish Autobiography and Social Rights," Humanity 3:3 (2012), which won the 2013 Aquila Polonica Prize for best English-language article in Polish studies. Her current book project, The People Write! Polish Everyman Autobiography from the Great Depression to the Holocaust, addresses the Polish sociological tradition of "social memoir" and its transatlantic echoes before, during, and after World War II.

Małgorzata Mazurek teaches modern history of Poland and East Central Europe at Columbia University. Her interests include history of social sciences, international development, social history of labor and consumption in the twentieth-century Poland and Polish-Jewish studies. She published Society in Waiting Lines: On Experiences of Shortages in Postwar Poland (Warsaw, 2010). Her current book project Economics of Hereness: The Polish Origins of Global Developmentalism 1918-1968 revises the history of developmental thinking by centering east-central Europe as the locality of innovations in economic thought in post-imperial Europe and the postcolonial world. In 2014-2018 she has also been a also a member of an international research project Socialism Goes Global: Cold War Connections between the ‘Second’ and ‘Third World’ 1945-1991 funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Joanna Wawrzyniak has been an associate professor the Institute of Sociology of the University of Warsaw since 2008. She was recently a visiting professor at European University Institute, Florence. She is interested in a wide range of topics: East Central Europe, public history, cultural heritage and oral history, and intellectual history. Among her recent books are: co-authored Enemy on Display: The Second World War in Eastern European Museums (2015; Pb2017), co-edited Memory and Change in Europe: Eastern Perspectives (2016, Pb2018), and a monograph Veterans, Victims, and Memory: The Politics of the Second World War in Communist Poland (2015). She is also a co-leader of an international ECHOES project City Museums and Multiple Colonial Pasts, and a a leader of two national research grants on transformation of work and on history of sociology.