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Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map Of Civilization On The Mind Of The Enlightenment.

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Larry Wolff. Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment.

Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994. xiv + 419 pp. Maps, notes, and index. $45.00 (cloth),

ISBN 0-804-72314-1.

Reviewed by Thomas J. Hegarty, University of Tampa.

Published by HABSBURG (July, 1995)

In a book based on an extraordinarily rich

array of fascinating sources, including eighteenthcentury

Western European travelers’ accounts of

trips to Eastern Europe, maps and atlases drawn at

the time, and letters and literature of the

Enlightenment about Eastern Europe (ranging from

personal accounts, to philosophical treatments, to

pure fantasy), Larry Wolff has written a delightful,

erudite, and useful work of intellectual history in

which he sketches implications for later European

political and social history. He has traced how

Western Europeans came to view the continent of

Europe as sharply divided into a Western and

Eastern half, and to conceive of the latter as

backward and uncivilized.

The concept of the underdeveloped East

came into vogue just as travel to Eastern Europe

was on the increase. Though the line of

demarcation between East and West on the

continent might vary with the individual and his or

her grasp of geography or truth, wherever it fell in

the mind of the writer or traveler, a great chasm

opened and "Europe" ended. The boundary

between the Europes was, of course, changeable:

sometimes it was at the Don River, at other times

further east at the Volga, and at other times, it was

(as now) at the Urals.

Moreover, Wolff shows that the distinction

between East and West did not arise by chance, but

came about as the result of an intellectual agenda,

related both to Western European ideological selfinterest

and to scholars’ and writers’ selfpromotion.

The invention of an Eastern Europe

that was found to be seriously wanting had a great

deal to do with the emergence of the concept of

civilization and the reinvention of a "civilized"

Western Europe that would suit--and be worthy

of?--the aspirations and tastes of the


The East-West distinction was, Wolff points

out, new. As late as the Renaissance, the division

of Europe that dominated thought and thinkers was

still that between the North and the South. "Just as

a new center of the Enlightenment superseded the

old centers of the Renaissance, the old lands of

barbarism and backwardness in the north were ...

displaced to the east. East and west were suddenly

defined by ’opposition and adjacency’." A straight

line connected Paris to Poltava.

It was only in the eighteenth-century

Enlightenment that the philosophes and others

interested in affirming the superiority of Western

Europe created a sense of difference from, and

prejudices toward, Eastern Europe. This, Wolff

opines, was later updated to accommodate new

circumstances and reinforced the West’s decision

to fight the Crimean War, the Germans’ and

Austrians’ steady Drang nach Osten, the eastern

campaigns of Nazi Germany, and the Iron Curtain

of the Cold War. Even today, as the former Soviet

satellites and Newly Independent States move

toward the West and work to emulate aspects of

Western capitalist development, the "scratches on

our mind" (to use a wonderful phrase that Harold

Isaac applied to Westerners’ views of China),

stemming from an old tradition of East-West

cultural separation, still subtly govern our


In emphasizing the false similarities, the

philosophes judged the western part of Europe to

be superior according to the then evolving notion

of "civilization." The process of invention

consisted not just of endowing real countries with

mythic attributes, though much of that happened;

the greater work of invention lay in a "synthetic

association" of peoples that drew on both fact and




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