Historical Regions in Comparison
The course is made up of twenty-four classes (one hour and forty minutes each). The introductory classes assess the epistemological status and academic relevance of area studies, and explore the intellectual history and ideological connotations of the concepts of historical regions (e.g. “Central Europe” “Eastern Europe” and “the Balkans”), and their usage in constructing mental maps and “symbolic geographies.” The main part of the seminar reviews key issues in the history and cultural identity of the four historical meso-regions in question (Central, Southeast and Eastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean), in view of several central analytical categories, such as nationalism, ethnicity, and social change, as well as issues pertaining to the region's history, such as mechanisms of nation- and state-building and strategies of modernization employed in ethnically-mixed areas, ethnic conflicts and the mediating role played by external powers and international organizations. Each occasion will consist of a lecture and a seminar discussion. Analytically, the main aim of the course is to de-emphasize the practice of national-centered history writing in favor of relational and transnational approaches. On the other hand, by promoting an integrative historical perspective, the seminar will expose the prevailing tendency of essentializing the experience of European historical regions such as “the West,” “Central Europe,” or “the Balkans.”
The reading materials are chosen to illustrate a variety of socio-political, cultural and intellectual debates pertaining to the historiography of these regions. They are made up of articles, chapters from textbooks, monographs and historical documents.
This class attempts to push students to move beyond East-West dichotomies, dwelling on the origins of backwardness or the political incorrectness of talking about people from the region in certain ways, or Westernization paradigms featured in mainstream historiography in order to promote new methodological and theoretical frameworks that help tease out important social issues and dynamics that societies in Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe share with other societies past and present. This class seeks to instill in students the ability to demonstrate how diachronic comparisons between twentieth-century processes and their antecedents in Ottoman, Habsburg, or Romanov, or Venetian rule over the region help explain recurring phenomena like mobility, para-militarism, ethnic cleansing, economic dependence, etc. Other important social issues the class will help students mine out of historical comparison are: inter/intra confessional/ethnic relations, tolerance and intolerance, governmental vs. “private” disciplining, coercion, the governing mechanisms of modern democratic as well as totalitarian states, knowledge and intelligence transfers, post-colonial conflict and civil war as a legacy of the outsourcing of imperial violence, =gender relations, as well memory and the tenuous appropriation of ambiguous histories and folklore cultures in the crafting of nation states.
Students are expected to attend all seminars, read the assigned readings and prepare to actively participate in seminar discussions. The requirements and grading breakdown of the seminar are as follows:
- Active seminar participation (50 percent);
- Thematic Essay (either two shorter ones – 2600 words each, one after each broader thematic part comparing two historical regions in view of a topic related to the research project of the student, or one longer one – 5500 words) (50 percent);