National Identity Formation in the Baltic Provinces of the Russian Empire: The Skerst Family in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The modern history of the Baltic provinces of the former Russian Empire has essentially been written from an ethnic/national perspective. It is basically the story of the formation of the Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian and German 'communities', of their 'specific' national identities and eventually of nation states. With those who acquired a German identity, the focus has essentially been upon the landed nobility, the so-called 'Baltic Barons', the traditional elite that formed a minority even of the ethnically German population. The existence of other German groups has been recognised, such as the 'literary estate' (Literatenstand), which in the nineteenth century 'brought into Baltic higher culture, rationalist viewpoints and represented a potential threat to noble control of local politics.' However, such groups have received comparatively little attention from historians, especially among those publishing in English. Even then there is limited acknowledgement of their possessing distinctive cultural and other forms of self-identification. A recent study by a Canadian scholar of the Germans of Riga before 1914 tends to impose the values of the landed elite upon them. In works published in post-1945 (West) Germany by emigres from the region, there is an inclination to present a distinctive 'Baltic German' identity that is largely derived from the experience of the landed elite.