Constructing the Imperial Frontier: Colonization, Migration, and the Built Environment in the Polish-German Borderlands, 1886–1914
- Author(s): Ball, Roi
- Advisor(s): Sabean, David
- et al.
The dissertation explores the administrative practices and social dynamics of imperial settlement in the German-Polish borderlands before WWI. Between 1886 and 1914, Prussia, the dominant German power, invested a billion Marks in settling about 120,000 Germans in small farms in its majority Catholic and Polish border region. By bringing in new populations and tying them to the land, the state attempted to shift the ethnic composition and reshape political loyalties in the region. Against the backdrop of the anti-Catholic Kulturkampf, increasing tensions with the Russian Empire, and an intransigent Polish national movement, settlement was a pivotal strategy for buttressing Prussian-German imperial authority, which was increasingly defined in national terms. Rather than a matter of state policy, as most of the existing scholarship suggests, German settlement in Polish Prussia was a multifaceted and contradictory social process. The state’s settlement agency, the Colonization Commission, purchased large estates, divided them into small plots, and recruited German-speaking, predominantly Protestant farmers to settle the land. Looking at the interplay between the administrative practices and the social dynamics of settlement, the dissertation shows that the creation of a frontier of settlement in the imperial border region involved multiple historical actors as well as a range of institutional and personal networks that stretched across Imperial Germany. Working-class children and their families, welfare officials, municipal politicians, and radical Pietist villagers played a role in settlement and often asserted their own interests, contesting and subverting official policies and the hegemonic, ethnically exclusive notion of Germanness that underpinned them. The dissertation demonstrates how empire-making and nation-making coalesced at the intersection of settlement as a state project and a social process by focusing on three sites of social production and reproduction: recruitment and migration, architecture and the spatial organization of social life, and the provision of German labor to settler households. Showing how settlement in the border region was intertwined with the imperial heartland to the west, the dissertation re-centers Polish Prussia in the history of Imperial Germany, highlighting an internal colonial trajectory that was present not only in cultural representations of otherness but in concrete institutions and practices of settlement.