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New Book on Border Towns

01. Feb. 2013

"Borders in Imperial Times" is a new publication by the Cluster members Frank Grüner, Susanne Hohler and Sören Urbansky. The special issue of the series "Comparativ" focuses on the daily life and urban spaces in border towns in Northeast Asia.

The seven articles of this special issue compare and analyse the social history of urban spaces in so-called "border towns" of Northeast Asia (Russian Far East, Siberia, and Northeast China), such as Manchuria (Manzhouli), Harbin, Dalian and Vladivostok, during the first half of the twentieth century. This area and timeframe present a complex amalgam of competing powers and diverging colonial interests. Japan, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, China, the United States, and other Western powers pursued their own political, economic and geostrategic objectives in the region. One of the outcomes from this power struggle were frequent encounters between different social, political, ethnic, and cultural groups, which demonstrates that borders could not be easily discerned and did not always correspond to the official boundaries, defined by the regimes in power.

The contributors to the special issue focus on the extent to which cross-border phenomena were shaped by individuals, groups, and institutions and by their respective performative actions. All papers analyse borders (social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, or religious) in public spaces of everyday city life among various groups. The authors understand urban spaces as contact zones in which groups of people with different conceptions of life, various sets of values, and diverging habits met, interacted, commingled, interfered with or separated from each other. The articles contribute to a deeper understanding of the different levels of borders by examining the functions of borders in the daily lives, actions, and experiences of citizens and their organizations. In this context, borders are not exclusively understood as state borders. Instead, they are traced and analysed apart from their topographical definitions traditionally dictated by nation-states. Thus, cities such as Harbin and Dalian in China, and Vladivostok in Russia are understood as border cities because of their multicultural population, colonial concessions, ethnic ghettos, and competing political systems.

The publication is a special issue of the series "Comparativ. Zeitschrift für Globale Geschichte und Vergleichende Gesellschaftsforschung". Issue 5/12 "Borders in Imperial Times. Daily Life and Urban Spaces in Northeast Asia" was edited by the Cluster members Frank Grüner, Susanne Hohler and Sören Urbansky. Further contributors to the publications are Blaine Chiasson, Rudolph Ng, Christian A. Hess and Benjamin lsitt. The articles are a selection from papers presented at the conference "Daily Life and Urban Spaces in Northeast Asian Border Towns (1900-1950)" in Heidelberg in November 2010. Both the conference and the publication were initiated by Junior Research Group Leader Dr. Frank Grüner who coordinates the project B10 "Transgressing Spaces and Identities in Urban Arenas - the Case of Harbin".

More information:

Table of content of the new book


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  • Book cover