Larry Wolff


On his book The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture

Cover Interview of August 15, 2010


I hope readers will take away a sense of the “evolutionary” history of geopolitical forms.

In the course of history, a province like Galicia can suddenly be created, evolve for more than a century, accumulate meanings and associations on the map of Europe, then lapse into extinction—and yet not be altogether forgotten, still playing a phantom role in the historical developments that follow.

In Eastern Europe we have seen radical changes on the map since the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of some countries, the emergence of others, a division and subdivision of former geopolitical spaces.  All this serves as a reminder that the map of Europe, as we see it at any given moment, represents the contingent reshuffling of many different forms that have appeared and disappeared over centuries.

Mapping is intellectual and cultural work, and every geopolitical space may also be represented by ideas and identities, which may survive in consciousness and memory even after the space itself vanishes from the map.  I hope that this book will unsettle and reshape readers’ sense of the Habsburg Empire, what it signified when it existed, and how— in fantasy and history—it continues to haunt and complicate the countries that have replaced it on the map.

I hope readers will take away a particular sense of how powerful is the role of fantasy (as, for instance, in the fictions of Sacher-Masoch) for shaping especially perspectives on Eastern Europe.

Finally, I hope that Americans whose families emigrated from Galicia more than a hundred years ago will take away from the book a sense of the complexity of the province that no longer exists, but that powerfully shaped the affiliations and identities of their grandfathers and grandmothers.

© 2010 Larry Wolff