The Medieval Colonization of Central Europe as a Problem of World History and Historiography

The Medieval Colonization of Central Europe as a Problem of World History and Historiography

By Jan M. Piskorski

German History, Vol.22:3 (2004)

Abstract: The author of this article asks two main questions. First, what was the nature of the so-called medieval colonization in the eastern half of central Europe? Secondly, which factors decided that in the second half of the nineteenth and in the twentieth century, during the era of a rising modern nationalism and imperialism, colonization became the—not always conscious—tool of manipulation in the fight for so-called ‘historic rights’ in certain territories and the battle for the ‘forging of nations’. In particular, in German historiography the myth of medieval colonization was born, which had very little in common with medieval reality. Even German peasants were supposed to have marched East, not in order to seek out better living conditions, as one Flemish song went, but to subject for Germany ‘empty space’ in the barbaric East. At the same time, the author presents the thesis that several ideas about the topic of medieval colonization developed under the influence of the colonization of North America, especially in California—contemporary to many of these German scholars. This found its expression in the terminology used, in numerous comparisons, and even in the fundamental suggestion that German law legitimized the German claim for almost the whole of central and eastern Europe. The basic conviction among German historians and politicians was that these territories should belong to the Empire under the same conditions as India ‘belonged’ to the English, and Algeria to the French.

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