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Robert Pyrah

Robert Pyrah, of Wolfson College at the University of Oxford, is a historian specialising in post-Habsburg identity politics in East-Central Europe from 1918, with special emphasis on Austria, Poland and Ukraine. He jointly runs the research project ‘Sub-Cultures as Integrative Forces in East-Central Europe, 1900-present’, which explores phenomena that fall outside traditional nation-building projects. He was previously a CEELBAS Postdoctoral Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford (2007-2011) and a Senior Fellow at the International Cultural Centre in Krakow, Poland (2012). His publications include ‘Recontextualising East-Central European History. Nation, Culture and Minority Groups’ (2010); ‘From Borderland and Bloodlands to Heartland? Recent Western Historiography of Ukraine’ (2014) and a monograph, ‘The Burgtheater and Austrian Identity’ (2007).

Virtual New Nationalisms: Comparative Public Uses of (20th Century) History on Selected Polish and German Websites 

The role of public history appears to need urgent re-examining and revision for the internet age. Today, there is a range of websites that selectively use elements of national history, to present new and partial national identities in the present, but little attention has been given to them as historical sources within the wider taxonomy of materials. Note: this is not construed as media studies; rather to enhance historians’ tools for assessing ‘new nationalist’ discourse.

The paper is based on a pilot research study, comparing up to 3 websites each from Poland (e.g. www.lwow.com.pl) and 3 from Germany (including http://www.der-deutsche-osten.de). Each site projects a version of national identity, using overlapping episodes from Polish/German 20th Century history, pivoting on territories that were lost/gained by either side due to the Stalinist redrawing of Europe after 1945.

This overlapping territorial and temporal focus offers scope for comparison. Thus, one aim will be to offer a very brief suggestive typology (this paper can only offer limited results, and will be a spur to further investigation). The other (main) aim is to suggest ways in which we can update the study and understanding of historical sources for the internet age, by turning our focus to websites.

Methodology: (1) discursive and historical analysis of content. This will first identify historical tropes, mythologies, discussions, and help define a typology of approaches to history (using Svetlana Boym’s types of nostalgia between politicized or cultural); (2) internet research, using the toolkit developed by the Oxford Internet Institute (see: http://microsites.oii.ox.ac.uk/tidsr/). To then understand how these sites, unlike ‘traditional’, offline materials, function as sources: the OII’s tools assess the relative weight, prominence and importance of these sources within the wider websphere (e.g. though link analysis, referral analysis).