Klaus Richter

Colleges, School and Institutes

Research interests

I am a historian of Eastern Europe with a specific interest in those regions located between Russia and Germany, i.e. especially modern-day Poland, the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine. In my research, I am particularly interested in nationalism, in the relationship between society and state and in the impact of economic crises. A fundamental questions I concern myself with is what people expect from "their" state and what happens if they think the state will no longer be able to meet these expectations in the future. I currently explore these questions using the Great Depression in Eastern Europe as a case study.

My past research include a monograph on the effects of territorial fragmentation were utilised to build states in interwar Poland and the Baltics (2020) as well as a monograph on anti-Semitism in Lithuania before World War I (2014), which focussed on anti-Jewish violence and strategies to “emancipate” the peasants from Jewish merchants. I am also involved in the following projects:

  • 'The Liminality of Failing Democracy: East Central Europe and the Interwar Slump' (as principal investigator). This project challenges the narrative that democratic failure and the rise of authoritarian leaders in interwar East Central Europe resulted from a lack of experience in political participation. Rather, it argues that authoritarianism was enabled during specific critical moments which endowed it with significant domestic and international support. Economic crises resulted in ‘liminal moments’, which transformed shared expectations towards the agency of states. Examining how these expectations aligned or diverged will show how anti-democratic, anti-liberal and anti-integrationist policies moved into the mainstream and gained support across different layers of society. Beyond the national contexts, the project explores how far the pan-European experience of the Great Depression changed concepts of modern states and thus, rather than pushing them to the margins, pulled the states of East Central Europe deeper into the European state order. Thereby it challenges the division of interwar Europe into democracies that either survived or failed. Two research fellows carry out the research, focusing on the two largest states of the region: Poland and Romania.
  • ‘The Fight against the Traffic in Women and Children in Interwar Poland’ (as principal investigator). This project retraces the networks of Polish anti-trafficking organisations and their connection to local and regional practitioners, such as the Polish Women’s police as well as railway and port missions. It focuses on how far Polish campaigns were shaped, facilitated or hampered by international efforts and how far they in turn shaped international policies, especially concerning the control of prostitution and of the movement of women. The research for this project is funded by the Thyssen Foundation and carried out by Dr Jasmin Nithammer and runs from May 2018 to April 2021.

Recently concluded research projects:

  • ‘Hinterlands and Hypertrophies. Assessments of the “Viability” of Empires and Nation-States in Central and Eastern Europe, 1900 – 1930's’ (as principal investigator). Together with Dr Jonathan Gumz, I analyse the origins, development and impact of the concept of “viability” and its practice in early 20th century Central and Eastern Europe. The project is thus meant to establish a starting point for a historiography of modern state assessment and its practitioners. Viewing a state through the lens of “viability” (from German: Lebensfähigkeit, literal translation “the ability to live”) meant interpreting it as a living organism – be it in the form of the allegedly overstretched and disaggregating Habsburg and Romanov Empires, of hydrocephalic post-war Austria, of incoherent post-partition Poland or of acephalic Lithuania. Our project investigates how the circulation of knowledge and practices associated with “viability” lent the concept a dynamic character that changed over time. The project was funded by an AHRC Early Career Standard Research Grant from September 2017 to January 2020.
  • ‘Practices and Perceptions of Property Redistribution in Poland and the Baltic States, 1917 – 1934’ (as principal investigator). This project looks at the development of property distribution and its connection with state building in the former borderlands of the German and Russian empires following WWI – specifically Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The project is funded with a British Academy Small Research Grant for the time period April 2015 – March 2017.
  • ‘Borders, Maps and Congresses. The New Order of East Central Europe from the Legacy of the Empires, 1917 – 1923.’ This project, which was co-ordinated by the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder, looked at the interplay of international diplomacy, practices of rule and spatial imaginaries in the drawing of borders after the First World War. The project ran from 2013 to 2016 and was funded by Viadrina University.
  • ‘Population displacement and its political and cultural heritage in 20th century Lithuania’ (Gyventojų dislokacija ir jos politinis bei kultūrinis palikimas XX amžiaus Lietuvoje). This project, which was co-ordinated by the University of Vilnius, examined the impact of displacement, refugee crises and deportations on Lithuanian society across the 20th century. The project, which was funded by the European Structural Fund, started in 2013 and concluded in 2015.

Biography

Dr Klaus Richter is a Birmingham Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Eastern European History at the University of Birmingham. After studying history, art history, English and German philology at the University of Cologne, he worked as a research associate at the Centre for Research on Anti-Semitism at the Technical University of Berlin (2009 – 2011). In early 2012, he joined the German Historical Institute in Warsaw as a visiting scholar. He took up work at the University of Birmingham in October 2012.