Call for Papers, Conference «Networks of Infrastructure and the Phantom Borders in East Central Europe»

The conference from the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin (project “Phantom Borders in East Central Europe”, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research) is working in cooperation with the European University Viadrina, the University of Basel and the International Society for Railway History.

European University Viadrina, from September 6th – 7th, 2012

Deadline: February 29th, 2012 


A look at the railway network from the Polish State Railway clearly depicts the borders of the former partitioned areas. Consequently, 90 years after the Polish state reemerged and nearly 60 years after its borders were shifted towards the West into areas which belonged to the former Prussian Empire and German Reich, the railway network is significantly denser in these areas than in other regions of the country. This fact highlights the challenges emerging East Central European states faced when building an integrated, national infrastructure for a railway network after the First World War. This observation can simultaneously be combined with the question: to what extent has the structure and alignment of transport and communication networks, such as railways, roads and canals, sustainably influenced social and cultural development as well as social practices in the newly constituted states of East Central Europe after the shift of political borders in the years 1918/20 and 1945?

The Polish example is only one of many when regarding the persistence of regional infrastructure networks which were present prior to the corresponding border shifts. Over decades and even centuries, new borders of broken infrastructure networks have been recognizable after the end World War I not only in Central and Eastern Europe, but also for example, on the German-Danish border, in Alsace-Lorraine or in the area of the former Ottoman Empire. Another break of this magnitude has occurred again with the emergence of new borders and states after 1945 and – with regard to Southeastern Europe – again after 1989.

The conference on “Networks of Infrastructure and the Phantom Borders in East Central Europe” aims to discuss the topic outlined above from three angles. Firstly, the conference will approach the question on strategies used by the governments of the newly formed states in Central and Eastern Europe after 1918/19 (or after 1945 when the borders were ‘shifted’ on the map) to promote the development in their own countries by setting up integrated, national infrastructure networks (railroads, telegraph, telephone, roads, waterways, etc.). In this context it is of particular interest to evaluate how the structural legacy of predecessor states was dealt with and which measures of integration were used to change regional networks into national networks. Secondly, we will discuss the extent to which regional infrastructure networks – regardless of attempts to integrate these into new national contexts – influenced and shaped the economic, social and cultural development in Central and Eastern Europe beyond the aforementioned historical turning points. The final point that will be looked at during the conference is the historical traces noticeable to date which indicate the existence of infrastructural ‘phantom borders’ in Central and Eastern Europe. In this context it is not only worth looking at the railway network maps, but also the remnants of the structural legacy of older infrastructure networks in general, such as the former border stations between the German and Russian Empire or between the Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empire.

Academics and experts from various disciplines, such as History, Geography, Economic History, Area Studies, Infrastructure Planning and other related fields, along with their research projects are invited to discuss these issues. The city of Frankfurt an der Oder is an appropriate venue to discuss such topics in both historical and thematic terms: the railway administration for the remaining East German provinces after 1920 was located here and contributed to an economic revival of the city. Today, Frankfurt and the Polish city of Słubice still struggle with the broken channels of communication in Central Europe, which have only begun to be gradually re-established in recent years.

To ensure a balanced international analysis on the subject, academics and experts from around the world are invited to participate. The conference’s main focus is on Central and Eastern Europe. However, comparisons to other regions, which offer a contribution in terms of methodology on how to analyze the problem of “Phantom Borders”, are offered. The history of transportation and communication as an academic discourse has only recently experienced a ‘renaissance’ of sorts again. Within the framework of this conference, a relevant contribution will be made on a subject that currently gets little attention. The meeting will be followed up by a publication of the findings.


Academic Contribution:

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schenk (University of Basel)

Dr. Jan Musekamp (European University Viadrina)

Please send your proposal (max. one page, format A4) and a short CV by February 29th, 2012 to Dorothee Ahlers:

The conference will be held in English.

Speakers will be selected in March 2012. The presenters will be reimbursed (up to a certain amount) for their travel expenses and are guests of the Centre Marc Bloch and the Viadrina. Attendees are welcome to register for the conference and are responsible for their own travel costs, accommodation, etc. The Viadrina is a family friendly university and can therefore provide child care during the conference if necessary. Please direct inquiries to Dorothee Ahlers (contact information above).