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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček


The ‘Identity Reader’ Project

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1The present volume is the second one of the series entitled Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770–1945): Texts and Commentaries. The history of this venture goes back to the meeting of a group of young scholars at the Balkan Summer University in Plovdiv in 1999. Step by step, a research project, hosted by the Center for Advanced Study Sofia, was formed with the intention of bringing together and making accessible basic texts of the respective national traditions. The ensuing ‘Reader’ was envisioned as a challenge to the self-centered and ‘isolationist’ historical narratives and educational canons prevalent in the region. On the whole, the ‘Reader’ is expected to fill in the lacunae concerning the knowledge of Central and Southeast Europe pertinent to the very core of the schooling process and academic socialization in these countries. It is hoped that our project will broaden the field of possible comparisons and make researchers look at the process of nation-building in Central and Southeast Europe from a comparative perspective.

2The grouping of the texts follows neither the national provenience, nor stricto sensu chronological order. It is determined more by thematic similarities and resonances. The four ‘meta-themes/periods,’ around which the four volumes are organized, are the following: Late Enlightenment (the emergence of the modern ‘National Idea’); National Romanticism (the formation of national movements); Modernism (the full development of national movements and often the creation of national states); and Anti-Modernism (concentrating mainly on the radical ideologies of the inter-war period).

3Within these thematic units the project analyzes various aspects of identity-formation, such as ‘symbolic geography’, the symbolic representation of the national community, images of the past and the production of cultural markers (i.e., national language or national character), as well as the images of the other and the ‘construction’ of identity in religious and socio-cultural contexts – domains that themselves exhibit revealing similarities. This framework challenges the usual taxonomies through the disaggregation of a nominally unified past. In particular, this perspective questions the idea of a single point of departure that we are confronted with in nationalist histories. In fact, most of the texts selected consciously participate in many registers of identity-construction, seeking to turn the entire symbolic framework of identities into a more dynamic configuration.

4In order to create a common basis for the analysis of the collected texts, each entry has a similar structure. The first section refers to the bibliographical data containing the language in which the text was written, its author and the publishing house; this data is complemented by short information about the author, such as his (her) place of birth and death, a concise biography, and main works. The second section contains a short ‘contextualization’ of the text, describing its political and social background and the intellectual environment in which it originated. Then, a textual analysis, a description of its ideological tendencies and historical influence and its function in the respective canon follow. In addition, the most important interpretations of the text are provided. All this is followed by the translated texts. If possible, we chose to publish them in their entirety, but in many cases their length exceeded the dimensions of the volume, and thus we strove to present the most characteristic excerpts.


5During the years of intensive research and interaction, our group incurred a number of precious debts. First of all, we would like to thank Diana Mishkova who supported the project from the beginning and has helped us far beyond the scope commonly expected from the director of a hosting institution to bring these volumes to completion. We are also extremely grateful to the entire staff of the Center for Advanced Study Sofia who facilitated our work immensely during our numerous meetings and provided a pleasant working atmosphere in all regards.

6No collaborative project of this sort is viable without substantial financial help making it possible for the participants to meet regularly. We are grateful to the Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation (The Netherlands) for providing generous funding that made it possible for the group to meet on six occasions over the period of three years. When the first phase of the project was finished, the Foundation also offered a further grant to prepare the texts for publication. Without this generosity, it would have been impossible to share our findings with the broader public. Our special thanks goes to Wouter Hugenholtz (NIAS), who took upon himself the role of introducing the project to the Foundation and who followed with immense trust and sympathy our work throughout these years.

7A natural focus of any comparative research in the region, the Central European University also gave us generous help to accomplish our venture. Most of all, we would like to thank László Kontler and Sorin Antohi who have been with us from the very beginning of the project, offering logistic help, sharing their advice with us and also contributing to the volumes with their insightful introductions. We are grateful to Halil Berktay (Sabancı University, Istanbul) for his intellectual support throughout these years and also for hosting us for a workshop in 2001 where the project was first presented to a broader academic public.

8While preparing the manuscript for publication, the editors at CEU Press, Richárd Rados, Anikó Kádár and Linda Kunos, provided us with important advice and took care of the burdensome institutional side of the publishing with exemplary commitment. Last, but not least, Frank Schaer edited the material linguistically with utmost care and showed extreme empathy towards the various regional variants of pigeon English.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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