Archive for the ‘MattH’ Category

Matt Hobbs – Glenny’s “The Fall of Yugoslavia”

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Trying to conceive of European metropolitan capitals and bucolic rural countryside as the setting for vicious genocide and internecine conflict at the close of the twentieth century can cause cognitive dissidence for those who have seen the Continent in casual tourism. Mental images in collective memory of the world wars leave grainy, black and white images of destruction and physical suffering, safely removed by decades of time. The breakup of the Yugoslav republic in the 1990s, however, challenged these conceptions by throwing stark light onto struggles of incredible violence and ferocity, enacted very publically in a part of the world which, while certainly not Paris is London, was certainly no backwater.


Matt Hobbs – Reid & Crowley’s “Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Susan Reid and David Crowley’s Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe

The study of material culture is a subset of the wider field of cultural history. While a cultural historian will “read” the texts of various events, places, and subjects such as fairs and expositions, r the development of specific themes within a culture’s art, the material culture historian will look at the physical aspects of these same things. To continue the examples used, the material culture historian may be more interested in the commemorative trinkets produced for the exposition than in attendance or specific exhibits, or the actual physical production, exhibition, and/or sale (consumption) of art of a specific genre within a culture. It is important to remember that historians in this field are not antiquarians or appraisers. There interest in the physical ephemera of past times is important only because it tells us about the people of that time, not the physical items themselves. Style and Socialism is a collection of essays from historians of Eastern Europe who specialize in material culture, and what it can say about the societies of the Soviet bloc during the 1950s and 1960s.


Matt Hobbs – Sugar’s “Native Fascism in the Successor States, 1918-1945″

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Native Fascism in the Successor States, 1918-1945 (Peter Sugar, ed.)

The collapse of the Habsburg monarchy after the First World War produced a multitude of states in East Central Europe.  Some of these countries were the rebirth of states that had existed in the past (Poland), some were multinational themselves (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia), and others were mere “rump states,” shadows of their former selves (Austria, Hungary.)  All of them faced similar challenges in postwar Europe.  Economies were struggling, or occasionally being united under a common state government for the first time; a large influx of veterans returning to private life, in both defeated and victorious states; and attempts to leave the monarchy of the Habsburgs behind and establish democracies.  In many ways, these successor states shared this situation with the two main Central powers of World War I, Germany and Italy.  Likewise, they all saw the development of significant domestic fascist parties.  Native Fascism in the Successor States sets out to “investigate what features of the fascism of Eastern Europe differed from those observed elsewhere and what common characteristics these local manifestations had that could be tied, at least to some extent, to their common Habsburg inheritance” (147.)


Matt Hobbs – Bucur & Wingfield’s “Staging the Past”

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present, edited by Maria Bucur and Nancy Wingfield, grew out of a panel discussion at the 1997 convention of the American Historical Association. The history of acts of commemoration is a relatively recent arrival to the field of cultural history, focused on the historical significance, meaning, and symbology of various acts of remembrance. The study of memory, in reference to our field of history, the researcher must ask two central questions: what is being remembered, and who is doing the remembering? (more…)

Matt Hobbs – Oscar Jaszi’s “The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy”

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Jaszi’s “The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy”

Jaszi argues that the Habsburg failure to recognize the danger posed by the development of nationalist sentiment among the various ethnicities of the empire was not the root cause of the collapse of the monarchy. Rather, this blind spot was merely symptomatic of a deeper breakdown in the Habsburg political state. The ultimate reason for the dissolution of the empire was the inability of the Habsburgs to construct a parallel civic, state-centered identity to offer in competition to the new national identities being constructed by the subject peoples of the empire.


Matt Hobbs – Davies’ “Heart of Europe”

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Norman Davies’ Heart of Europe

In hindsight, it is possible to see that the end of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe could be seen from a vantage point in 1984.  To contemporaries, however, the Cold War was still very near its apogee, and questions regarding the place and role of the Eastern Bloc European countries were still at the forefront of political and diplomatic thought.  Norman Davies, a professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of London, is something of a specialist in Polish history.  Heart of Europe, published in 1984, is subtitled A Short History of Poland.  The book is not so much a “history” in the traditional, chronological sense as an examination of themes and change over time in Poland.  Davies arranges his chapters in reverse chronological order, as he addresses the twentieth century version of the eighteenth and nineteenth century “Polish question.”  Specifically, Davies examines what Poland means to Europe, and what Europe means to Poland, and what place both have taken on the international stage, and where they are destined to journey together.


Beginning with the “legacy of humiliation” (post-WWII Poland), Davies look backwards at Poland’s “legacy of defeat” (World War II 1939-1947), “legacy of disenchantment” (World War I to 1939), “legacy of spiritual mastery” (Poland during the partitions, 1795 to 1918), and “legacy of an ancient culture” (Poland prior to 1795.)  By beginning in the present and moving back through the past, Davies attempts to show his reader that the most important fact of Polish history is continuity, that an understanding of the motivations of the Polish people and nation throughout their history will provide the tools for analyzing and coping with the problems evident in 1980s Poland.  Davies illustrates this point with biographical sketches of important Poles, analysis of cultural and political traditions, and more traditional narratives of military conflicts, diplomatic treaties, and political elections.  Above all, Davies wants his audience to understand that “Poland’s tenacious traditions were not just the product of modern politics or recent misfortunes…  They are grounded… in centuries of independence and of the uninterrupted promotion of the native Law, Language, and Literature.  In short, they are the fruit of more than a thousand years” (281.)


In effect, Davies flirts with being a sort of neo-primordialist.  To him, Poland is defined by a common language, a common religion, and a common culture.  Failure to share in each of these traits precludes being a Pole.  While Davies recognizes that there is not pre-historical foundation for the Polish nation by finding no evidence for it ten thousand years ago, as quoted above he has no compunction against finding a proto-Poland one thousand years ago.  While this may be true to an extent, it illustrates the radical departure of the new theories on nationalism argued by writers such as Anderson and Brubaker.

Matt Hobbs – Brubaker’s “Nationalism Reframed”

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

“Nationalism… is a heterogeneous set of ‘nation’-oriented idioms, practices, and possibilities that are continuously available… in modern cultural and political life” (10.) With that, Rogers Brubaker fires a salvo at the traditional understanding of nationalism, for to him nationalism is something that is happening, not a watershed event with a before and after. In his book Nationalism Reframed, Brubaker draws parallels between the incipient nationalism of the interwar period in East Central Europe and the current situation in post-Cold War East Central Europe. His viewpoint can be labeled revisionist in as much as while acknowledging the value of earlier 20th century scholarship on nationalism, Brubaker appeals for a deeper understanding. Whereas earlier writers on the topic would have argued for a binary “us vs. them” understanding of nationalism, Brubaker posits a triadic division of nationalizing forces. This triad is characterized as consisting of the national minority, the nationalizing state, and the external national homeland. For example, prior understanding of the events in post-Communist Yugoslavia would have focused on attempts by the Croatian authorities to establish a political state coextensive with the scope of Croatian “national culture.” This would have been contrasted with political agitation by the Serbian minority within the borders of natal Croatia for protection of their rights. Brubaker instead uses his three-level model of nationalism for explication: Croatia (nationalizing state), the Serb population in Croatia (national minority), and the Serbs relation to Serbia proper (external national homeland.) (more…)