In the context of the much-discussed "spatial turn" in the humanities and social sciences, there has been increased interest in the history of collective concepts of the subdivision of the European continent into geographical or historical macro-regions in recent years.1 This expanding field of mental maps research in the cultural sciences includes, for example, research into the construction of Europe as an imagined historical and cultural space, as well as research into the "invention" and conceptualization of the "North", the "Balkans" or " ". However, the concept of the "mental map", which has been borrowed from cognitive psychology, does not represent a clearly defined research method or theory. The heuristic instruments employed in historical mental maps research are instead borrowed from more closely related areas of research, such as research into borders and stereotypes, discourse history, cartographic history, and the history of travel and of travel writing. The following article briefly outlines the concept of the "cognitive map" or "mental map", and explains the heuristic potential which it holds for historical research. A short overview of the state of mental maps research to date relating to Europe as a whole is followed by a discussion of the "invention" or construction of "Eastern Europe", which has been a particularly intensively discussed topic in this area of research.
Definition of the Concept of the Mental Map
The concept of the mental map, which has been adopted in the disciplines of geography, history, and cultural anthropology, originated in cognitive psychology. The term "cognitive map" was coined by the American psychologist Edward C. Tolman (1886–1959), who researched the sense of direction of rats and went on to discuss the representation of spatial knowledge in the human brain.2 Subsequently, developments in the areas of geography and urban planning contributed to the concept of the cognitive map or mental map becoming a paradigm for interdisciplinary research on the spatial orientation capacity of humans in the 1960s.3
In the relevant academic literature, the abstract term "cognitive mapping" refers to those cognitive or mental abilities "that enable us to collect, organize, store, recall, and manipulate information about the spatial environment."4 According to this definition, cognitive maps are representations of spatial knowledge in the human brain. These maps can be described as subjective understandings of spatial reality which are determined by the individual's position, perspective, and range of movement. They represent the world as it appears to the respective observer.5 A cognitive map helps the human to get his bearings in his spatial environment. It "reflects the world as some person believes it to be; it need not be correct. In fact, distortions are highly likely."6
While "cognitive map" (or "cognitive mapping") has become the standard term in psychological research, the concept of the "mental map" ("mental mapping") has become more common in the discipline of geography.7 However, the description of mental representations of spatial structures as "maps" is not entirely uncontroversial.8 Thus, other terms are also used in the area of orientation research, such as "environmental images",9 "spatial representations", "topological schemata", and many others.10 However, the term "mental map" has become fairly standard in historical research on collective concepts of geographical and historical macro-regions.11
The Concept of Mental Maps in Historical Research
"Classical" mental maps research had already pointed to the fact that, in addition to "locational information" regarding position and direction, cognitive maps contain information on the "qualitative characteristics" of the represented object.12 "Cognitive maps are not just a set of spatial mental structures denoting relative position, they contain attributive values and meanings."13 This observation regarding cognitive maps in general is particularly relevant to the representations of spaces which have been the object of inquiry of historical mental maps research for some time. For example, when the genesis and potency of Western concepts of the are investigated, particular attention is paid to the "attributive values and meanings" that are connected with these spatial concepts.14
The normative charge of cognitive maps is one of the reasons why the concept of "mental maps" lends itself so readily to historical inquiry.15 However, while cognitive psychology and geographical research primarily concentrate on the role that cognitive maps play in the individual's spatial orientation, mental maps research in the cultural sciences and history has a different aim. In the case of the latter, the focus is on how personal concepts of space are influenced by (world)views which are transferred culturally, and how shared collective representations of an – experienced or imagined – spatial environment in turn affect processes of cultural group formation and identity formation. While the influence of cultural, social, and gender-specific factors on an individual's representation of space is now also acknowledged in cognitive psychological research, the issue of the influence of collective concepts of space on historical processes of group formation goes beyond "classical" mental maps research.16 For example, when in historical studies the "invention of Eastern Europe"17 is being investigated, the primary aim is not to compare these concepts of space against an "objective reality". Instead, the representations of the spatial environment which are manifested in the concept of "Eastern Europe" are treated as a historical "reality" in their own right, and an effort is made to identify the degree to which these representations influenced the actions of historical actors.
While "classical" and historical mental maps research have some important theoretical assumptions in common, they differ in particular with regard to their methodological approaches. Whereas in psychology and geography mental maps research primarily investigates cognitive representations of individual "environments" (i.e., proximate spaces such as routes to work and school, city districts, etc.), historical mental maps research discusses representations of spatial-social contexts, "which extend far beyond the limits of the space experienced by the individual" (such as "West", "the Orient", etc.).18 Additionally, cognitive psychologists have the option of questioning their subjects about their individual concepts of space and of having them draw physical maps of experienced and imagined spaces, while historians must depend on surviving documents in order to reconstruct the concepts of space of a particular person or group. These sources include geographical and cultural-historical descriptions of countries (chorographies), travel accounts, and travel guides, as well as the reports of correspondents from abroad, maps, caricatures, and other visual material, though historical mental maps research has in the past primarily focused on textual sources. This focus on the history of discourses has led to the criticism that historical mental maps research neglects visual source material and concentrates on reconstructing the mental maps of social elites.19 However, more recently there has been increased interest in maps as a source for the reconstruction of spatial concepts of the past in historical research.20", "the
The extent to which historians, by focusing on the history of particular historical macro-regions, have contributed and continue to contribute to the reification of traditional spatial concepts is an open question. Regional subdisciplines of history, such as Eastern European History, have in the past often endeavoured to depict their own object of investigation as an "objective" historical reality, not least in order to justify their existence as an independent university subject.21 For example, during the lively debate in the late 1990s about the construction of the Western image of the Balkans, it was suggested that contemporary historical research on stands in a long tradition of tendentious Western discourses on the region, and that regional historical studies contribute to the consolidation of stereotypical spatial concepts.22 In response to this criticism, it was asserted that considering divergent regional processes of development is a central task of historical research, and that the analysis of structural differences between various European regions should not be equated with a normative Western discourse on "Balkanism".23
This debate is ultimately connected with the question of to what extent historians are able to make value-free statements about difference and the borders of "objective" historical structures in European history without getting themselves caught up in traditional mental maps and perpetuating the latter.24 In the discussion about the Western concept of Southeastern Europe / the Balkans, there was ultimately a degree of convergence between the opposing standpoints. While the one side acknowledged that it is necessary to consider the potency of mental maps in historical studies as well, the other side conceded that it is also possible to explain structural differences in present-day cultural and political developments in Europe by looking at the distinctive "historical inheritance" or "legacy" of the respective historical regions.25
Case study: "Eastern Europe" as an Object of Historical Mental Maps Research
There is so much research literature on the history of mental maps of Europe and of its macro-regions, that it is difficult to retain an overview. There has been intensive research into both the history of Europe as an imagined and "invented" cultural space and the history of discourses and perceptions of the main European macro-regions, such as 26 The following sections give a brief overview of the research to date on an important European macro-region: "Eastern Europe"., , / , / , Southeastern Europe / the Balkans, and Eastern Europe.
Where is "Eastern Europe"?
When one attempts to locate "Eastern Europe" on mental maps of the European continent, one is quickly confronted with the problem that the corresponding terms (Osteuropa, "Eastern Europe", L' Europe orientale, vostochnaia Evropa, Europa wschodnia, etc.) are not as broadly used or as strongly anchored in some European languages as in others, and, additionally, they refer to a space that is often delineated differently. For example, while the current edition of the German Brockhaus encyclopedia contains a separate entry entitled Osteuropa, there is no entry for "Eastern Europe" in the Encyclopedia Britannica.27 According to the Brockhaus, "Im allgemeinen geographischen Sprachgebrauch" Osteuropa encompasses the "Länder im Osten Europas, also , , , , , die und der europäische Teil ". However, the entry also stresses that the usual German concept of Osteuropa encompasses all "Gebiete östlich der (historischen) deutschen Sprachgrenze ohne regionale oder ethnische Differenzierung".28
According to the definition of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSTATS), "Eastern Europe" comprises the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, as well as 29 By contrast, the World Factbook of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assigns the Russian Federation to "Central Asia", while it includes Ukraine and Belarus in "Europe".30 Conversely, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova are described as "other European countries" in the established usage of the EU administration.31, , the , , , and .
This list, which could be extended ad infinitum, demonstrates the extent to which the mental maps in society are influenced by the political standpoint and disciplinary perspective of the respective observer. Even within specialist regional disciplines such as Eastern European History, there is by no means a clear consensus on the geographical and historical/structural borders of the region under investigation. While historians in the English-speaking world who specialize in "Eastern Europe" claim expertise in the history of countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, etc., Eastern European Studies in German-speaking countries usually assigns these countries to the historical region of "Ostmitteleuropa" (East-Central Europe). Russia or the 32 The picture described here becomes even more complicated and confusing if one takes into account the dimension of legacy and longue durée, that is, the history of the development of the (Western) concept of "Eastern Europe". In many countries, the mental maps of the Cold War continue to have a profound effect and "Eastern Europe" continues to be equated with the " ".(and in some cases the entire eastern Slavic and Orthodox space), on the other hand, are viewed as "Osteuropa im engeren Sinne" (Eastern Europe in the narrower sense).
An analysis of the concept of "Eastern Europe" in the present day shows that it is primarily used to refer to an alterity, an "other", a "foreign" macro-region. This region is vaguely described as lying "to the east" of "one's own" territory and often has negative connotations. While in the German language the term "Osteuropa" generally refers to a political and cultural space which begins at the 33 Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians usually define themselves as belonging to (East-) Central Europe, instead of Eastern Europe. In Ukraine and Belarus, there is still a commonly held view that these countries are not situated in Eastern Europe, but lie between Western and Eastern Europe.34 Further to the east, Russia has for centuries been intensively debating its own relationship with the "West" (zapad). However, in these debates Russia is not described as belonging to "Eastern Europe".35 In Russian, the term "east" (vostok) traditionally refers to the " ".36 Since the 19th century, Russian mental maps have defined Russia as either a cultural-spatial entity of its own (witness, for example, the debate about "Russia and Europe"37) or as part of the Orthodox (pravoslavnii) or Slavic cultural region (according to, for example, the "Slavophil" antecedents of Pan-Slavism). During the 20th century, the territory was additionally described as a part of " " or the "progressive (socialist) world".38 "Eastern Europe" is perhaps the only European macro-region which is deeply rooted in the mental maps of many people, even though there are few people who accept that this "foreign designation" refers to them.39 Eastern Europe is thus a macro-region without "Eastern Europeans". Restaurants which describe themselves as serving "Eastern European cuisine", for example in Poland, Hungary, or Russia, are thus peculiarities.or beyond the which lies between , , and the Czech Republic,
On the History of the Western Concept of "Eastern Europe"
The convention of mentally dividing Europe into a western half and an eastern half is a relatively recent phenomenon in historical terms. It was not until around 1800 that the understanding of the world which emerged in classical antiquity and which divided the continent into a "civilized" south and a "barbarian" north declined in importance.40 For example, Russia was considered a "Nordic" country in the geographical understanding of the German, English, and French-speaking territories right up to the beginning of the 19th century. Thus, researchers demonstrated as early as the mid-1980s that the Russian Empire had moved from "northern" to "eastern" Europe on Western mental maps during the first third of the 19th century.41 This process not only represented a terminological transformation. It also reflected "the change in the political-ideological worldview of large parts of Europe".42
After the Congress of 43 Negative attributes which had previously been applied to the peoples of the "East" in the context of the Western discourse on the "Orient" also occurred with increasing frequency in descriptions of Russia from the early 19th century onward. References to the "barbarian", "wild", and "half-Asiatic" character of the Russian Empire strengthened the perception of Russia as an "eastern" country. As the Russian Empire ruled large parts of eastern central Europe up to 1917, the terms "Russia" and "Eastern Europe" were used synonymously in western European languages up to the end of the First World War.– this narrative continues – Russia ascended to the status of guarantor of the ancien régimes and of anti-revolutionary "gendarme" of Europe, a development which was viewed with suspicion particularly in liberal circles in western Europe.
The terms "North" and "Northern Europe" were also increasingly applied exclusively to the Scandinavian countries from the early-19th century onward, due in part to Germanic philology and ancient studies, and the "Scandinavianism" movement in the second half of the 19th century. This also contributed to shifts in European mental maps. At the same time, the emergence of the study of linguistics and literature as separate disciplines saw the area of dispersal of the Slavic languages being defined as a separate cultural-spatial entity, a concept which remains central to the Western concept of "Eastern Europe" to the present day.
The mental ascription of the Russian Empire to "Eastern Europe" can be dated to the first third of the 19th century by means of discourse-historical analysis. However, it was also a continuation of older space-related discourses and concepts. For example, from Roman antiquity onward, Orthodox Christians had been traditionally assigned to the world of the nationes christianorum orientalium, that is, the non-Latin "Oriental" "(Eastern) Church" (ecclesia orientalis).44 From this perspective, Russia (i.e., the ) had been a part of the "eastern" Christian world ever since its conversion to Christianity under Vladimir I Sviatoslavich (956–1015), known as Saint Vladimir, in the 10th century. The tendency to ascribe what were considered to be "northern attributes" – "barbarian character" and "hordes" – to Russia and Western fears of a "flood" from that territory also have a longer history, though it is often assumed that this trend emerged during the genesis of our present-day concept of "Eastern Europe". Since the early modern period and the "rediscovery" of the Russian Empire by travellers and diplomats like Sigmund von Herberstein (1486–1566) and Adam Olearius (ca. 1603–1671), references to the "barbarian" and "half-Asiatic" character of Russia and its inhabitants have been among the most persistent stereotypes of the Western concept of Russia.45 For this reason, it seems useful and reasonable to look for the roots of present-day concepts of "Eastern Europe" in a time when the term "Eastern Europe" had not yet emerged in the European languages.
The assumption of Larry Wolff that the emergence of the present-day Western concept of "Eastern Europe" dates back to the era of the Enlightenment, i.e. the late 18th century, is in the meantime widespread and influential.46 According to this argument, French philosophers, travellers, and polymaths in particular had re-ordered the mental maps of the continent during this period, and had replaced the traditional division of Europe into "south" and "north" with the picture of a cultural space divided into a western and an eastern half. According to this view, the central criterion of assignment was not the geographical location of the country, but the position of the society on a temporal axis based on an idealized concept of historical "progress". This has given rise to the controversial thesis that the division of Europe along the line of the Iron Curtain in the 20th century was to a degree preordained by the discourse of the Western Enlightenment. Those countries which subsequently belonged to the "Eastern Bloc", that is, to the political space of "Eastern Europe", had – the argument goes – already been perceived and described by philosophers in the 18th century as a spatial entity with numerous common characteristics.47
In travel literature and historiography, in geographical descriptions and first-hand accounts of the "enlightened" 18th century – the theory continues – "Eastern Europe" was invented as a foil to contrast with, and differentiate from, an imagined, progressive "West". In contrast to the idealized bastion of "civilisation" which they perceived Western Europe to be (so the argument continues), the western scholars perceived and depicted "Eastern Europe" as relatively underdeveloped. Unlike the "Orient", which from the Western perspective was viewed as a space of "permanent" backwardness, "Eastern Europe" was viewed by the philosophers as at least having the capacity to develop. From the western perspective, "Eastern Europe" was a classic space of transition – from "barbarianism" to "civilisation", from the timeless "Orient" to the progressive "West".48 Signs of "cultivated" life in eastern Europe were simply discounted by Western observers as superficial phenomena – the argument continues – as they believed that the "civilisation" and "Enlightenment" of the eastern half of the continent had only just begun.
Thus, great significance is attributed to the "invention" of "Eastern Europe" by travellers and thinkers of the Enlightenment period. The Western discourse on "Eastern Europe" is understood similar to Edward Said's (1935–2003) description of "Orientalism" as a discourse of superiority and dominance, which prepared the way for subsequent plans for military, political, and economic conquest and colonisation.49 The cognitive mapping of eastern Europe by western Enlightenment thinkers must – according to this argument – even be interpreted as the cognitive preparation for the territorial expansion of western powers into eastern Europe, which resulted, for example, in the Partitions of Poland, the conquest of Russia by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) and the Ostraumpolitik of National Socialist Germany.50 Thus, according to the derived argument, mental maps are not only very persistent. They also play a very significant role in directing the actions of states and individuals, and this function should be taken seriously by historical research.
The "Invention" of "Eastern Europe" in Discussion
This thesis of the "invention" of "Eastern Europe" during the Enlightenment is not without its critics in the academic literature. Criticism points out – among other things – that this concept includes countries and regions in a concept of "Eastern Europe", even though this term does not actually appear in the historical sources from the Enlightenment period.51 It has also been pointed out that this analysis only cites references to countries which were considered part of "Eastern Europe" in the 20th century. This gives rise to the accusation that concepts of space have been projected back into the 18th century from the present.52 For example, comparative studies of travel accounts on Poland and by German travellers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries have shown that aspects of the (supposed) Western discourse on "Eastern Europe", such as references to its relative "backwardness", are also contained in contemporary travel accounts describing rural France.53 It has also been repeatedly pointed out that the "invention" of "Eastern Europe" must not be viewed as being purely a consequence of Western descriptions of the "other ", and the role of the people in eastern Europe in this process of mental mapping must be given due consideration.54 Another study which deals with the history of the French discourse on "Eastern Europe" from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century completely calls into question the thesis of the "invention" of "Eastern Europe" in the period of the Enlightenment, and dates the "discursive formation" of "Euro-Orientalism" to the 1870s.55
Regardless of this criticism, the theory of the "invention" of "Eastern Europe" by the philosophers of the 18th century has inspired and promoted historical research into concepts of space in modern European history56 and can be viewed as one of the most important early studies of the history of cognitive maps of Europe. For future studies, it would seem particularly useful
- to investigate the dialogical mutual relationship between different historical spatial concepts such as "Eastern Europe" and "the West", "Eastern Central Europe", "the Balkans", etc.,
- to investigate the contribution of the various academic disciplines (geography, history, anthropology, literature studies, etc.) to the respective discourses on space, and
- to analyse the construction of the various perceptions of space as the result of a "dialogue" between discourses of self-description and description of the "other".57
The concept of mental mapping can now be viewed as an established paradigm of a direction in historical research which is interested in the history of collective concepts of the spatial structuring of the world and its constituent regions. With the help of the concept of the mental map, which has been borrowed from cognitive psychology and geography, it is possible to describe and investigate individual and collective representations of the experienced and imagined spatial environment. Historical research on the history of the mental mapping of Europe and its constituent spaces continues the work done in older research on travel and stereotypes, as well as research on the history of cartography and the history of science.
The spatial metaphor of the mental map would appear to contain further potential for new insights in a number of respects. For example, mental maps research could investigate the extent to which collective concepts of European macro-regions really exhibit the characteristics of a "map" by paying more attention to historical and geographical map material. The question of the power of shared collective concepts of space to influence action also remains to be answered. For example, concrete research is required to ascertain the extent to which Napoleon was actually guided by the emerging concept of "Eastern Europe" of the Enlightenment period while he was planning his Russian campaign in 1812. The acknowledgement of the historical conditionality of their own chosen spatial categories presents a particular challenge for subdisciplines with a regional focus, and this challenge must be kept in mind at all times during the research process.