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“The Eastern Question,” The Crimean War, and Lessons for Today

“Oh East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgement Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, thought they come from the ends of the Earth.”  Rudyard Kipling1889
From where do our concepts of “East” and “West” come?  When did the Fertile Crescent, the Cradle of Civilization, become what geographer Ted Danforth calls the “cockpit of conflict,” no longer the center but a “borderland… where battles are necessarily fought”?  The course will be a three-part series following in order the subjects noted in the title. We will see that the term “Eastern Question” has been most particularly associated with the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire between 1773 and 1921 and the Great Powers’ (England, France, Austria, and Russian) preoccupation with who would get what spoils, who would be the spiritual protector of Jerusalem and the Christian communities of the Middle East, the Balkans, the Ukraine and Crimea, the Caucasus, and the resources, waterways and commercial routes. However, it has historic roots dating back to the pre-Christian Era, and continues down to our time. In the current equation, representing Western values and traditions, America by the 1950s had assumed the mantle from the West European powers. Taking advantage of the chaos in Syria and in strategic concern to protect their naval and air bases there, Russia has recently reinserted itself into the mix where the Ottoman successor Muslim States represent the other side of the equation. While other factors are significant, the geography of Christendom (and its successor secular States) and of Islam continue to play a critical role in the contest. As we consider the politics of geography and the geography of politics in the Crimean War of the 1850s, and in the final lecture, the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the Russian-backed separatist movement in the east of Ukraine today, we will be reminded of the prophetic words of Robert Kaplan in his book, The Revenge of Geography,
“For maps are a rebuke to the very notion of the equality and unity of mankind, since they remind us of all the different environments of the earth that make men profoundly unequal and disunited in so many ways, leading to conflict. . . .”  

Instructor Bio:

Dr. Williams has received two master’s degrees and a doctorate in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, a joint Tufts and Harvard program, as well as degrees and diplomas from Culver Military Academy, the University of Virginia, the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the University of Florence, Italy. In addition to traveling extensively in Turkey, he lived in the country for six years, two of which were devoted to doctoral research and four working as an investment banker. He has published articles and lectured on Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa for many years, including at the UVA Miller Center. Dr. Williams has taught at Koc University in Istanbul and is expected to have just returned from teaching there during the fall semester, 2016.

Recommended Reading:

Khaldun, Ibn. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, 2015. (In particular, the concept of Asabiyya”). Danforth, Ted. The Eastern Question–a Geopolitical History in 108 Maps and Drawings, 2015. Figes, Orlando. The Crimean War: A History, 2010. Reynolds, Michael A. Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires 1908–1919, 2011. Kaplan, Robert D. The Revenge of Geography: What the Maps Tell Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, 2012. Plokhy, Serhii. The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, 2015.

Course Number Instructor Dates Day Time Location Available
A33 Phil Williams Feb 23, Mar 2, 9 Th 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Unity of Charlottesville A

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