Uncovering Barents History – connecting the past with the present

Trade, the Sámi culture, open borders, and the living conditions in the North are some of the characteristics that brought people close to each other already many decades ago in the area that in 1993 was named the Barents Region. But despite the long-standing relations there is a historical gap between the past and the dynamism of our times.

Lars Elenius, Professor in history and education at Umeå University and also Lector in history at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden, travelled the Russian part of the Barents Region in 2001 to create a network of historians.

The conclusion from my trip was that as much as there was a lack of contemporary knowledge there was curiosity”, says Elenius who initiated the project Barents History Book.

He explains that the history of our region has traditionally been described in the light of a suppressive power of rule and conquering. Recent change of the political landscape; the end of the cold war, the expansion of the EU and the increasing importance of regions, are some of the features that opened up a need for new systematic transnational research in social sciences from a Barents perspective.

The eight chapters present 1200 years of Barents history – from 800 to 2012. It is a remarkable combination of international and trans-regional history in one book. We emphasize the cross-border history both nationally and regionally as well as the minorities in the region”, says Elenius.
The Barents History Book covers an area stretching from Mo i Rana in the west to Novaya Zemlja in the north, Vorkuta in the east and Petrozavodsk and Syktyvkar as southern regional centers. It is comparable with the area of today’s France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands together.

Lars Elenius who is also the Chief Editor has spent part of his summer to write the concluding chapter. Now – with the book almost in hand – he concludes that the main findings are the many similarities both regarding the establishing of state power in the area and the aim of the modernization process. There is also a Northern periphere dimension that is similar. What differ is the shape of a civil society, which is very much lacking in the Russian part of the region, and also the political and concomitant economic systems of the 20th century.

An additional aim of the project has been to strengthen the cooperation between universities in the Barents Region. The cooperation between the historians in the region has proceeded since 2001 and is today an established network. The Barents History Project has participated in many international conferences including the Nordic History Meeting in Tromsö 2011. The network has especially strengthened the East-West cooperation both within the countries and transnationally.

As the book is primarily targeting students, Lars Elenius hopes that the Barents History Book will enter the History curriculums of universities in the Barents Region. The Barents History will also be useful to a wider public with interests in history or in the Barents Region.

Soon also Barents Encyclopedia

A parallel project is the Barents Encyclopedia that is also planned to be finalized shortly. It has 400 entries and involves as many as 200 researchers in humanities and social sciences from all Barents universities and also other research institutions in the Region. Chief Editor is Doctor Mats-Olov Olsson, Umeå University. The Encyclopedia will provide a source of knowledge about the region in a wider sense with politicians, civil servants, business people, and of course academics as the main target groups. The Barents History and the Barents Encyclopedia will be published by the Norwegian publishing company PAX and will be available in English.

Website: www.barentshistory.eu

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Professor Lars Elenius (on the left) is the leader of the project and has edited the history book together with Professor Hallvard Tjelmeland, Tromsø University, Professor Maria Lähteenmäki, Joensuu University, and Doctor Alexey Golubev, Petrozavodsk University.


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