What is a Borderland Child? Age as a Central Category of Analysis in Border Research

After the end of the First World War, decisionmakers in Paris adhered indiscriminately to the vaguely defined principle of self-determination while mapping peace onto the continent of Europe. But instead of fixing the world, they thrust their problems onto European borderlands. Borderlands in Europe became the places where the political geography of interwar Europe experienced its deepest challenge, and are therefore a window to a new understanding of 20th century history. With state involvement in children’s lives on the rise in what has been called “the Century of the Child”, borderland children were called upon to play a crucial role in the stabilisation of interwar order.

I argue in this keynote lecture that the children in the Polish-German borderlands and in the Belgian-German borderlands which switched state sovereignty following the Treaty of Versailles held much in common. A comparative contextualised reconstruction of the underlying power relations in which borderland children and their caregivers articulated their approval, negotiation or refusal of degrees of national loyalty, enables me, for example, to illustrate how the change from a politico-geographical entity to a socially lived and networked space occurred along the principle of what the Swiss geographer Claude Raffestin has called human territoriality. These and other examples serve to demonstrate that borderland children faced more rules than children growing up elsewhere in the country, but also, that these rules were often more negotiable.

Machteld Venken is an Assistant Professor and Senior Postdoctoral Researcher (Elise Richter Fellow) at the University of Vienna, where she habilitated in May 2018. She holds degrees in Slavic Studies and History from the Catholic University in Leuven (KU Leuven), and Cracow (Jagiellonian University). She is the author of Straddling the Iron Curtain? Immigrants, Immigrant Organisations, War Memories (2011), and editor of Growing Up in the Shadow of the Second World War. European Perspectives (European Review of History 2015, together with Maren Röger) and Borderland Studies Meets Child Studies. A European Encounter (2017).


Dr. Venken's speech will be introduced by Dr. Jussi Laine.