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Races to Modernity

Metropolitan Aspirations in Eastern Europe, 1890–1940


Edited by Jan C. Behrends and Martin Kohlrausch

Jan C. Behrends, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam, and East European History, Humboldt University in Berlin

Martin Kohlrausch, Associate Professor of European History, KU Leuven, Belgium

The comparative presentation of the birth of metropolises like St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Kiev, Belgrade, or Athens confirms the importance of the Western model as well as the influence of international experts on city planning at the periphery of Europe. In addition, this volume presents an alternative perspective that aims to understand the genesis of Eastern European cities with a metropolitan character or metropolitan aspirations as a process sui generis.

The rapid expansion of metropolitan cities such as London and Paris began in the 17th and 18th centuries. Large parts of Central and Eastern Europe underwent urbanization and industrialization with considerable delay. Nevertheless beginning in the second half of the 19th century, the towns in the Romanov and Habsburg empires, as well as in the Balkans grew into cities and metropolitan areas. They changed at an astonishing pace. This transformation has long been interpreted as an attempt to overcome the economic and cultural backwardness of the region and to catch up to Western Europe.


1. Introduction; 2. The social and the national question in the Eastern metropolis (Modernity as Mask: Reality, Appearance, and Knowledge on the Petersburg Street; Modernist Visions and Mass Politics in Late Imperial Kiev; Modern Moscow: Russia’s Metropolis and the State from Tsarism to stalinism; Weeks Creating Polish Wilno 1919-1939); 3. Urbanism goes east: the development of capitals, infrastructure, and planning (Athens 1890–1940: Transitory Modernism and National Realities; Between Rivalry, Irrationality, and Resistance: The Modernization of Belgrade, 1890-1914; Architectural Praxis in Sofia: The Changing Perception of “Oriental” Urbanity and “European” Urbanism (1879-1940); Warszawa Funkcjonalna: Radical Urbanism and the International Discourse on Planning in the Interwar Period); 4. Ostmoderne? East European modernism (Capital Modernism: Kaunas’s Architecture for a New Lithuania; Helsinki: Shaping an Imperial or National Capital City?; Modernizing Zagreb: The Freedom of the Periphery); 5. Bibliography; 6. List of Contributors; Index

380 pages (incl. maps, tables and figures–12 black and white illustrations), cloth, 2014
ISBN 978-963-386-035-9
$60.00 / €45.00 / £38.00

"The 'race to modernity,' as the editors of this excellent collection of case studies put it, was frequently an eff ort to catch up, to overcome the apparent backwardness of their situation in a rapidly changing global climate, and to become, in the parlance of the day, more 'European.' But, as Jan Behrends and Martin Kohlrausch also argue, the experience of modernity was by no means unilinear and nor were the conditions in which these cities modernized the same. The cities described in this volume, which range from Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Riga, Kaunas, Moscow, Wilno, Warsaw, and Kyiv in the north to Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofi a, and Athens in the south, exhibited alternate manifestations of modernity, from suspicion and botched planning to various creative strategies that took advantage of their peripheral position." - Slavic Review

"The title of this collection accurately reflects the book's overarching emphasis: modernity as a goal for Eastern European cities, and for many of these cities, the race to develop a modern city, often a capital city.  Following an excellent introduction by the editors, the essays divide into three parts.  The first examines urban development to reveal the national aspirations and social turmoil of pre- and post-imperial Moscow, Kiev, Wilno, and Petersburg.  The second examines Athens, Belgrade, Sofia, and Warsaw as new capital cities attempting to reflect the modern idea of centralized control over their new nations.  Kaunas, Talinn, Riga, Helsinki, and Zagreb provide the background for essays that actively question the meaning of modernity in the urban capitals of the East.  The authors' use of modernity as a cohesive theme is commendable.  Modernity, however, has many different meanings, as revealed in the essays themselves.  While all of the essays are in American English, most of the sources are (quite naturally) in a variety of languages. Summing up: Highly recommended". - Choice

"Die Lektüre des Bandes „Races to Modernity" ist sehr zu empfehlen, möchte man sich über architektonisch-urbanistische Praxis, Symbolpolitik und den Modernediskurs im Zuge der Staatenbildung in den jeweiligen Ländern – oder, ja, in der Region östlich eines wie auch immer einzugrenzenden Westens – informieren. Die sehr umfangreich und sorgfältig recherchierten Beiträge dienen als guter Ausgangspunkt für weitere Recherchen. Darüber hinaus ist der Band anschaulich illustriert und ansprechend gestaltet. Das insgesamt hohe Niveau der einzelnen Beiträge und die vielen Ausschläge nach oben lassen dann auch einige etwas schwächere Teile nicht ins Gewicht fallen und schmälern den großen Mehrwert keineswegs." - Polenstudien.Interdisziplinär Fachinformation und internationaler Austausch

"...this work is a convincing read that greatly adds to our understanding of urban developments in semi-peripheral regions." - European History Quarterly