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Uncovering the Shared History and Connected Cultures of the Black Sea Region Through Charles King’s “The Black Sea”

  Today, the Black Sea region has once again become the focus of the world. Unfortunately, knowledge about the Black Sea seems to be insufficient, which is why Charles King’s The Black Sea: A History is so important. The book begins with a clear statement: “About a sea and the people and countries around it, that is, the role it plays in history, culture and politics.” After being released by Oxford University Press in 2004, “The Times” “Literary Supplement, World History Review, Russian Review and other mainstream book review media unanimously agreed that this small but information-dense booklet not only has a broad historical perspective, but also is full of “elegant prose style”.
  Charles King received strict training in history and philosophy in his early years. He once worked at a British university and currently leads the School of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University in the United States. His several historical monographs are praised by academic circles. It is regarded as the “Black Sea Series Research”. “The Moldovans: Romania, Russia and Cultural Politics” in 1999 was the prelude to “History of the Black Sea”, and “Odessa” met readers in 2012. On the eve of writing “History of the Black Sea”, he received funding from Oxford University Press and the American Association of Russian Historians, and traveled to the Balkans, Ukraine, Turkey and the South Caucasus in the Black Sea region from 1998 to 2000. During fieldwork, I once walked into a bomb crater next to a mosque and let myself “jump into the history of the Black Sea.” In his “Acknowledgments,” Charles King quotes the Armenian historian Agathangelos, who likens writing to a sea journey because writers and sailors alike voluntarily “endanger themselves” and After returning home, I am eager to tell people the story of my journey.
1. “The Black Sea is a whole in itself”

  In today’s context of the prevalence of micro-history, “History of the Black Sea” still attempts to continue to expand the overall historical horizons and lead readers into an unbiased, “Black Sea history-led” history that is not determined by any single country. process, and emphasized that the Black Sea is a bridge, not a barrier. The Black Sea Basin is “a region as real as anywhere else in Europe or Eurasia” and “just as there are historians, ethnographers and other intellectuals who have appropriated the sea for their own people’s benefit, there are also those who have begun Realize that the Black Sea is a whole in itself.” Until the early nineteenth century, the Black Sea region was not the powder keg we think of today. “It would be too narrow-minded to regard the Black Sea as a region as a mere arena for high-level politics.” For example, in 1832, the first preliminary hydrographic atlas of the Black Sea appeared in St. Petersburg. In 1841, Egor Manganari (1796-1859), a descendant of Greece, dedicated a more detailed “Atlas of the Black Sea” to Tsar Nicholas I. The Mangaloni Atlas remains an effective attempt to map the physical features of the Black Sea as a whole, rather than “just the parts controlled by one power after another.”
  Throughout history, the Black Sea has been a self-contained region composed of cross-sea connections. In Charles King’s writing, this connection involves people and individuals, trade and ideas in the Black Sea basin. The peoples surrounding the Black Sea region are related to each other by their connections with Europe, and a pluralistic and unified regional identity transcends national narratives. For example, in the 19th century, “Greek” not only refers to the Greeks we now use the national concept, but also includes Romanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians, Arabs, Turks, etc. This picture of ethnic integration at least continues to the 1860s. “Border-crossers” have always been the narrative subject of “History of the Black Sea”, especially the vast number of people who have crossed the “physical boundaries between political systems” for thousands of years: migrating, transferring, fleeing or fighting. Charles King writes that as the new century progressed, those eager to move, which had long linked the entire Black Sea region, sought a better life in the urban areas of the interior, with a select few going further, even to London, Berlin and New York. Vibrant Black Sea societies can be found far from the sea, and although outsiders may use neat categories—civilized or savage, native or foreign, purebred or mixed-race—it remains the same to face the sea and embrace its diversity. a desirable lifestyle. The author hereby pays tribute to the view held by Arnold Toynbee in “The Western Question in Greece and Turkey”, that is, there may be so-called distinct classifications at a distance, such as Christianity and Islam, Europe and Asia, civilization and barbarism, “But once one travels and reaches the trains and ships of Istanbul or Odessa or Batumi, they find these classifications ridiculous.”
  Based on the overall historical belief that emphasizes the relationship between each other, the narrative of this book implies the characteristics of the Annales School. Fernando Braudel’s Mediterranean studies are often used as a reference. Compared with the former, there are obviously many gaps in common sense and knowledge in Black Sea studies. Charles King also drew on Owen Lattimore’s perspective on the study of interior Asia, which provided him with the most important historical concepts of “frontier” and “boundary.” “History of the Black Sea” demonstrates Lattimore’s vision – the border is the furthest distance of power, and the frontier as a region gathers many people who cross it. Historians who appear in the book also include Romania’s Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940) and Ukraine’s Mykhai loHrushevsky (1866-1934), both of whom have an emphasis on the Black Sea. The connection in the sense of poetry and consciousness, way of thinking and emotion is to “lead the national historical narrative to the sea of ​​the south”, a whole in itself.
2. Modern changes in the Black Sea

  In order to compare with the modern Black Sea after the mid-19th century, Charles King vividly described how a merchant ship sailing from Marseille in the 18th century arrived at Kherson, a port city on the Black Sea and the Dnieper River. , and how to transport wheat, honey and tea back from there. Merchants gathered along the Crimea coast, with a variety of people and languages. The bells of different monasteries echoed each other. In the second half of the book, Charles King carefully uses the term “these te of acenturies-long struggle” in order to echo the reflection at the beginning of the chapter: “The composition of the Black Sea region depends not only on our examination of The method also depends on the period of review.”
  On November 30, 1853, a fierce sea battle was going on in the port of Sinop. Charles King wrote like a true novelist: “In the dim light of morning, in the freezing winter rain, Admiral Pavel Nakhimov ordered his six battleships to open fire.” A year later, Tin Nakhimov, the hero of the Battle of Knop, was also included in the list of casualties. The Crimean War and the Treaty of Paris from the end of 1853 to the spring of 1856 meant the end of a Black Sea era, and the entire Black Sea region turned to a modern conflict narrative. The direct cause of this confrontation was the British, France, Italy, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, with many more countries joining later, competed for Black Sea interests. The continuous conclusion of various international conventions and treaties has gradually become a common practice in response to conflicts in the Black Sea region since the mid-19th century. Sometimes they are emergency measures, sometimes they are the consequences of war, and sometimes they may be the result of another war. Build momentum. Empires, states and treaties, steam, wheat, railways and oil define the changes of the modern Black Sea. In addition to the Caucasus, Istanbul, Baku or Sevastopol that readers are already familiar with today, the author lists emerging ports in the Black Sea basin one by one. Their names may correspond to emerging nation-states such as Bulgaria, Romania or Moldova. Charles King requires that his readers must be able to imagine that crude oil produced in Ploiesti, Romania, was poured into barrels and transported overland in horse-drawn carriages in the late nineteenth century, while its international investors came from Germany until the 19th century. The construction of the railway from Batumi to Poti in the 1980s ended this Pennsylvania model of oil transportation. In the western part of the Black Sea, for the purpose of transporting grain, the Sultan directed a group of foreign engineers to lay sleepers. In 1895, the railway connecting the port city of Kstans to the upper reaches of the Danube was completed and handed over to independent Romania. Kstans was renamed Kang. Constanta, today the port of Constanta houses a statue of the Roman poet Ovid.
  Between 1860 and 1990, the Black Sea region’s political boundaries, national identities, and ecosystems underwent dramatic changes. “Politicians and planners worked hard during this period to make the Black Sea no longer an integrated region,” Black Sea Gradually, it has been shaped by regional conflicts, historians’ writings and the discipline of modern history into a solidified zone dominated by the concepts of “outsiders and marginalized people”, “homogeneous nation” or “hegemonic country”. According to Charles King’s analysis, in modern historical research, the Balkans are even regarded as “a collection of ethnic histories that have no connection with each other.” Southern Russia is the history of the Tsarist Empire, while “Ukraine is accustomed to writing its own history. A tragic story of belated national liberation,” the Black Sea basin, like the landmass it borders, is cut into conflicting tectonic plates. The real Black Sea was the strategic focus of the Byzantine, Ottoman or Russian empires, but “there is little discussion of the Black Sea in historical research on these empires.” Charles King believes that Black Sea research has been deeply influenced by American Cold War geography in modern times, which directly led to the Black Sea basin being limited to different disciplinary frameworks, or cutting off connections, or speaking in general terms. For example, in the humanities and social sciences establishment in the United States, the Balkans belongs to the history of Central Europe, and “Eastern European Studies” usually only funds research on the “Soviet Union” or “CIS Countries”; while research on the Ottoman Empire, which is obviously related to modern Turkey, Southeast Europe will only be included when needed, and more often it will be an important part of the study of Middle Eastern history.
  What worries Charles King even more is that since the 21st century, there is a kind of “willing ignorance” prevalent in the countries in the Black Sea region, which manifests itself in “seeing nations as eternal. change, viewing countries as inevitable and viewing regions as transient and changeable.” All Black Sea countries are accustomed to distinguishing themselves from their neighbors, continuing competition with each other through membership in NATO and the European Union, and are accustomed to portraying themselves as more attractive to foreign investment, more politically stable, and even more civilized than other coastal countries. ; While the concept of pure nationality has gradually become the mainstream culture of the Black Sea, it has also brought about one tragedy after another.
3. The returning sailor

  From the border, the inland sea of ​​the empire to the common sea area cut off by different countries today, the history of the Black Sea written by Charles King is commendably not trapped in the binary narrative of “center and periphery”, and is not entangled in the past. Chronological records are based on historical figures or historical events. They did not choose an avant-garde historical theory for their own use during the transition period of the new century. They were still guided by the vast and complex historical documents, but they never deviated from the modern historical consciousness for a moment. He also clearly realized that compared with the writing norms of traditional and classic historiography, the real historical world has gone very far, and the historical reality of the Black Sea must, to a large extent, encompass literary reality. In order to maintain rhetorical consistency, the book quotes “Black Sea Notes” from archaeologists, writers, military generals, or travelers as introductions in each chapter. At the same time, the names of the seven chapters directly adopt various names of the Black Sea. Chapter 1, the “dark or dim sea” in early ancient Greece; Chapter 2, “Hospitable Sea” (Pontus Euxinus) in late Greek or Latin; Chapter 3, “Mare Maggiore” (Mare Maggiore, 500- 1500); Chapter 4, “Dark Sea” (Kara Deniz, 1500-1700); Chapter 5, “Russian Black Sea” (Chernoe more, 1700-1860), comes directly from the Russian “Black Sea” (черноеморе). As for the English expression “Black Sea” that is regarded as a norm, it was not used as a title until the last two chapters to describe the changes in the modern Black Sea.
  This book is filled with the Roman poet Ovid’s rhetorical and exaggerated lament for the Black Sea penal colony. By 1867, Mark Twain’s trip to the Black Sea was “like going home”: “There is nothing to remind us that we are now in Russia.” Since the nineteenth century, different writers have worked together to create vulgar images of the Black Sea, such as the strange East, the mysterious harem, the barbaric Turks and the stormy Black Sea, Charles King Criticize it as a positivist historical material and use “an army of disgraceful graffiti tourists” to describe the damage of second-rate literary works to Black Sea culture. The former “Seagull Army” Cossacks also appear in this book, which surprises readers who are familiar with world literature. After all, most readers’ reading experience is that Cossacks (from the Turkic word “free people”) belong to Russian-Soviet literature and are slaves. From Erstair’s “The Story of Sevastopol” to Sholokhov’s “The Quiet Don”. These were later defined in literary narratives as “whip-wielding riders galloping across the Eurasian steppes” and were also a powerful force on the Black Sea for a century from about 1550 to 1650. Since the 1920s, the unique multiculturalism of the Black Sea region has further disappeared, and the culture has become homogeneous. “Historians, writers and other national intellectuals have carried out similar work in their own fields: purifying historical records. , try to discover, or in most cases construct, ancient and obvious connections between the peoples of the interior and the Black Sea itself”.
  At the beginning of the book, Charles King provides four maps, namely “The Black Sea Today”, “The Black Sea in Late Antiquity”, “The Black Sea in the Middle Ages” and “The Black Sea in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries” “. In the last map, a new city named Taganrog is marked on the coast. It became a gathering place of Russian, Turkish, Italian and Greek cultures, together with Odessa, Nikolaev and Kherson. Together they will become an important transportation hub. Literary researchers often pay attention to the small town of Taganrog: on January 29, 1860, the writer Anton Chekhov was born in this port city, and young Anton studied in a Greek school. Their family ran a small shop in this small town, selling “colonial products” with “tea, sugar or coffee” on the signs. This chaotic, open port city with all kinds of people made it possible for the future writer Anton Chekhov to develop his early understanding of the world and people from the Black Sea region. Azov, Taganrog, Sevastopol or Kherson, these ancient Black Sea cities appear again today in front of every reader who cares about the world.