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Reviewed by:
  • The Balkans as Europe, 1821–1914 ed. by Timothy Snyder and Katherine Younger
  • Balázs Balatoni (bio)
Timothy Snyder and Katherine Younger (Eds.), The Balkans as Europe, 1821–1914 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2018). 171 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-1-58046-915-9.

Over recent decades, historians of the Balkans have engaged with different theoretical frameworks seeking to transcend the limitations of traditional national narratives and frame their research by transnational and global contexts.1 This is also the goal of the collection of articles under review. The book resulted from a series of workshops held at the Institute of Human Sciences (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen) in Vienna between 2011 and 2014. Whereas for centuries the Balkans have epitomized Europe's marginality (both literally and figuratively), this collection places the Balkans at the center of European history. As Timothy Snyder, one of the book's editors, declares in the [End Page 339] Introduction, the aim of the authors was not to reproduce again "our own discourses of Balkan backwardness as a European phenomenon. … The goal was rather to reverse the field, to consider politics rather than discourse, and actors in the Balkans as forward-looking agents rather than as subjects of retrospective discussions" (P. 2).

The collection consists of six chapters, each written by a well-known expert on Balkan history. Chapter 1, by Dominique Kirchner Reill, presents comprehensive portraits of two nineteenth-century Dalmatian intellectuals, Luigi Serragli and Ivan Stipčević. Despite their peripheral location, they were actively engaged in the shaping of the notion of Europe. Mid-nineteenth-century Dalmatia was one of the most underdeveloped provinces of the Habsburg Empire, populated by a mixture of nationalities and creeds. Serragli and Stipčević strived toward promoting the economic modernization and prosperity of their homeland within the empire. To this end, the local intelligentsia used the available channels of news and ideas circulation to propagate the adaptation of European colonial practices to local needs (Pp. 12–19). Thus, Luigi Serragli proposed to the provincial chamber of commerce to establish a reciprocal economic policy with Austria à l'Algerienne. This initiative can be understood only given the context of a very specific coverage of Algeria by Dalmatian newspapers. Algeria was presented there not just as a colony of France but as a "New France" or "New Europe". Dalmatians envied the French imperial economic policies toward Algeria and hence aspired to Algeria-like status within the Habsburg Empire (P. 17).

A different take on pan-European convergence was promoted by Ivan Stipčević, a businessman, journalist, and amateur linguist. In 1848 he published a study propagating his project of "pangrafia" – a universal translation system promising to overcome the predicament of multilingualism of the Habsburg Empire that hampered its administrative and economic integration (P. 19). The revolutionary upheaval of 1848–1849 that followed soon after the publication of Stipčević's work and subsequent political developments prioritized individual national projects over developing a common, panimperial cultural sphere. Therefore, although Stipčević continued his attempts to convince the Habsburg authorities in the value of his system, it was never implemented. Still, his vision of a truly pan-European common cultural milieu that allows people of various nationalities to partake in the imperial economy and administration and in international trade as equals, is remarkable. [End Page 340]

In chapter 2, focused on the role of schooling in Bulgarian nation-building, Dessislava Lilova argues that "the key role of geography as an instrument for national identity formation is one of the specific characteristics of Bulgaria in the nineteenth century" (P. 31). The Bulgarian national movement took off relatively late and had to compete against rival national projects that relied on better developed historical claims for control over territories and population groups. Therefore, the Bulgarian intelligentsia and politicians resorted to geography and demography as arguments in territorial disputes (P. 35). Coupled with the relatively slow accumulation of geographic data, this extensive reliance on and high expectations from geography in the nineteenth century made many Bulgarian intellectuals perceive their homeland as a terra incognita, in need of comprehensive exploration. Intellectuals, such as Lueben Karavelov, came out with the project of...


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