Quadrangle Spring 2023


Maria Todorova honored for a career dedicated to understanding history and culture

Eurasian Studies, a scholarly association that aligns with her work at the intersections of modern Balkan, Ottoman, and European social and cultural history. Her 1997 book, “Imagining the Balkans,” examines her theory. “When the Yugoslav war happened (1991-2001), the stereotypes of irrational, aggressive, intolerant, barbarian, savage, semi- developed, semi-civilized, semi-oriental countries began floating as explanations for the war,” Todorova said. “I knew the literature about how the Balkans were perceived throughout the ages. What I was able to show was that these stereotypes, which journalists attempted to explain as ‘ancient hatreds,’ had crystallized relatively recently—at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.” Has Balkanism subsided? “With the branching out of the European Union, the Balkans, with the exception of the newly devised area of the ‘Western Balkans,’ are effectively part of Europe,” Todorova said. “The Balkanist rhetoric no longer serves power politics, although it is there, conveniently submerged but readily at hand. It is like claiming racism does not exist because one does not use the N-word.” She added: “I am pleasantly surprised that, to this day, young people are writing to me, from all over the world. ‘Oh, I read your book. I’m proud now that I am from the Balkans.’ There is something emancipatory in what I wrote. Even young people who left the region in the 1990s feel the stereotype, and they can see

You may have heard the term “Balkanism.” It was coined by Maria Todorova, Edward William & Jane Marr Gutgsell Endowed Professor Emerita at Illinois, as a way to explain how the Balkan region in Southeastern Europe is perceived as Europe’s “other”—an area that is seen to exemplify European backwardness and political unrest. Countries that were once part

of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia, are now constructed as less than a part of “civilized” Europe. Todorova’s examinations of these dynamics are among the reasons she was recently one of only seven historians nationwide elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the oldest honor societies in the nation. She also received the Distinguished Contributions to Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Award, which she terms a lifetime achievement award from the Association for Slavic, East European, and

6 / Spring 2023

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