The Book of My Lives

by Lisa Beiswenger, PhD candidate in Anthropology, GAA for The Global Mobility Project

On Wednesday, October 11, I joined Dr. Dragostinova’s History 4650 class.  On this day, the class was visited by Tomislav Longinovic (University of Wisconsin), Scholar-in-Residence for The Global Mobility Project, to discuss Aleksandar Hemon’s The Book of My Lives.  Both Longinovic and Hemon were born in Yugoslavia and watched from the United States as their homeland dissolved into war.


The students, Longinovic, and Dragostinova touched on many themes in their discussion.  After briefly explaining Longinovic’s personal journey to America, they discussed the value of memoir in providing a unique personal narrative that offers context to statistics and cold data that come along with global mobility and immigration.  This book provided the unique perspective of describing the experience of war vicariously through friends, family, and through the television screen.

Next, they discussed the atmosphere of Yugoslavia prior to the war.  Following World War II, Yugoslavia was set up as a federation of six republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Two autonomous provinces were established within Serbia: Vojvodina and Kosovo.  In the 1950s, Josip Broz Tito, Prime Minister of Yugoslavia (1953-1963) and later President for Life (1963-1980), was ejected from the communist block by Stalin.  Unlike Stalin, he believed that politics should not dictate aesthetics, and thus abandoned socialist realism which demanded that all writers and painters followed certain guidelines.  Yugoslavia allowed writers to write whatever they wanted.  Also in contrast to other countries in the Communist bloc, uncensored American movies were permitted, presenting audiences with additional perspectives.

In the 1960s, joint ownership of companies allowed foreign capital into Yugoslavia.  This and other economic reforms led to high unemployment forcing workers to leave the country to find other employment opportunities, leading to student demonstrations in 1968.

Throughout the following decades, revolution continued on the margins and became mainstream.  Young people were trying to present alternatives to Communism.  It was part of the youth subculture that moved as the culture changed.  These youths, took political symbols and played with them out of a desire to provoke without necessarily thinking about the consequences of toying with such powerful symbols.  One example was the band Laibach, an avant-garde music group which was part of the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) collective.

Following Tito’s death in 1980, federal government was left unable to cope with economic and political challenges, including increasing nationalism and a demand for more autonomy by the republics within Yugoslavia.  In the early 1990s, Yugoslavia broke up along its republics’ borders leading to increased ethnic tensions and the Yugoslav Wars.

For both Hamon and Longinovic, watching the war from a distance took an emotional toll.  Footage from the war-torn country showed areas that should have been familiar but were left unrecognizable.  Ultimately, reading the account from Hamon and hearing the experience of Longinovic demonstrated how the past and present can meld together into multiple lives.

Research Methodology Workshop

Date: Tuesday, November 14, 1:00-2:30
Location: Enarson, Room 160

On Tuesday, November 14, 1:00-2:30 we will be hosting a discussion on Research Methodology.  The workshop will feature presentations from our faculty affiliates and team members.

Join the GMP affiliated faculty, Robin Judd (History), Hannah Kosstrin (Dance), Yana Hashamova (Slavic), Arati Maleku (Social Work), and Ryan Skinner (Music), as they discuss research methodologies related to questions of global mobility and migration.

Research Update – Nationality before Nationalism: Ethnic Politics, Geopolitics, and Sustainability of the Magyar Kingdom in the East

by George Andrei
Faculty Mentor: Nicholas Breyfogle

Panoramic from Citadel ruins (Râșnov Fortress, Brașov County). Photo by George Andrei

This honors-thesis project examines the migration and settlement of the Saxon “nationality” in the province of Transylvania within the Hungarian Kingdom from 1191 to 1400 (from just before the Mongol invasions (1241) to the middle of the Late Medieval Period). It attempts to understand the political and inter-ethnic effects of Saxon settlement in the context of the political, military, and social integration of Carpathian Transylvania into Hungary. The project analyzes how the Hungarian Kingdom utilized these relocated Saxons as an empire-building tool, allowing the Hungarian Kingdom to expand its empire. It also analyzes early governmental centralization efforts in Central- Eastern Europe by the Hungarian Kingdom. The differential utilization of different ethnicities became a significant topic at this time because religious differences between the Catholic Hungarian kings and the Orthodox Romanians played a part in the larger struggle for the dominance of Catholicism in Europe.

City wall of Sibiu (Sibiu County). Photo by George Andrei

This summer, I took an archival research trip to Sibiu, Romania, one of the first major administrative centers of the Transylvanian Saxons. Upon arrival to Sibiu, I met Prof. Dana Dogaru, professor of German at the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu and an expert on the Transylvanian Saxons, who agreed to help with my research.

My time in the archives was limited by a combination of national holidays and protests which delayed access to the archival materials until nearly the end of my trip; however, I spent several days in the archives and got what materials I could.  Luckily, I discovered that many of the documents have been digitized. Prof. Dogaru assisted me in learning how to read the centuries old, handwritten Saxon script. The time spent in the archives, though it was short, was incredibly useful, and now I have access to scanned original sources which I can (slowly) read.

While waiting for the archives to reopen following the unexpected closure, Prof. Dogaru allowed me to examine and photograph analytical works from her personal collection.  I also visited sites important to the Saxon settlement – such as Slimnic, Biertan, and Sighișoara – and collected texts from local historians to get a local view of events.  Some of the books I purchased include:

  • Geneza orașelor medievale în Transilvania (The Genesis of Medieval Cities in Transilvania) by Paul Niedermaier
  • Die Ansiedlung der Siebenbürger Sachsen (The Settlement of the Transylvanian Saxons) by Thomas Nägler
  • Hermannstadt (Sibiu) by Harald Roth

Fortified Church at Biertan (Sibiu County). Photo by George Andrei

Upon return to the United States, I collected additional materials from OSU’s outstanding library and Inter-Library Loan Services, and shifted my focus from gathering to analyzing.  I still have quite a bit to go.  I have been able to find, online, four volumes of published primary sources gathered by Saxons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, titled Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen.  They are divided into volumes based on the dates of the documents (going back almost a millennium) and attest to Saxon presences and colonization.

My thesis will explore Saxon colonization, the Mongol crisis (first Mongol invasion), rebuilding, the Second Mongol invasion (which took place in 1285 and was repelled), internal struggles, and the lasting impact of these events.

 

George Andrei with his faculty mentor, Nicholas Breyfogle, at the Fall Undergraduate Research Forum – Photo by Theodora Dragostinova

Skills Gained

There are two skills that I believe I have gained that will be invaluable to my future aspirations: (1) the ability to read hand-written medieval documents in the script of the Saxons and (2) the research method that I had constructed for myself.

The handwriting of the Saxon notaries, of course, varied greatly, but there were many patterns and symbols that one can only learn in-person with a professional. I am very thankful that Prof. Dogaru took time out of her busy schedule to come with me to the archive and instruct me in the script. Without her assistance, I would have been completely lost, for while the German was similar to modern German, the letter fonts and symbology were radically different. Very importantly, I know how to access scanned documents through the archive’s website.

The research method that I have come up with is more than just reading the sources. I have come up with a way of indexing the materials that I read and wish to use, noting content, page numbers, and personal comments/thought process at the time of reading and analysis. This enabled me to make connections between texts, both secondary and primary.

Ellis Island and the NYPL Digital Collections

Twelve-million immigrants came to the United States through Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay from 1892-1954.  At its peak, immigration officials reviewed about 5,000 immigrants per day, two-thirds of whom came from eastern, southern, and central Europe.  According to the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation, the all-time daily high was April 17, 1907 when 11,747 immigrants were processed.

Numerous photographers documented arrivals at Ellis Island, and many of these photographs are available through the New York Public Library Digital Archives.  These photographers captured the atmosphere of the immigration center as well as those arriving, many of whom wore the traditional dress of their home countries.  Below are some of those images.

William Williams, the original collector of these images, was the federal commissioner of immigration for the Port of New York, from 1902 to 1905 and again, from 1909 to 1914.

Immigrant Station, Ellis Island, with ferry docked at adjacent pier.
Date: 1902-1913
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Edwin Levick

 

View of the Immigration Station, Ellis Island (front side).
Date: 1902-1913
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Edwin Levick

 

Immigrants seated on long benches, Main Hall, U.S. Immigration Station.
Date: 1902-1913
Collector: William Williams

 

The pens at Ellis Island, Registry Room (or Great Hall). These people have passed the first mental inspection.
Date: 1902-1913
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Edwin Levick

 

Immigrants being registered at one end of the Main Hall, U. S. Immigration Station.
Date: 1902-1910
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Edwin Levick

 

Large dining hall, empty except for about ten members of the dining hall staff. The place settings consist of a worn porcelain-enameled plate, a fork and knife.
Date: 1902-1913
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Edwin Levick

 

Uncle Sam, host. Immigrants being served a free meal at Ellis Island.
Date: 1902-1913
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Edwin Levick

 

Ready for travel and going north, south and west. Immigrants with baggage lined up at teller’s windows marked money exchange.
Date: 1902-1913
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Edwin Levick

 

Three women from Guadeloupe.
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Augustus F. Sherman

 

Slovak woman and children.
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Augustus F. Sherman

 

German stowaway.
Date: 1911
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Augustus F. Sherman

 

Dutch woman.
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Augustus F. Sherman

 

Group photograph captioned ‘Hungarian Gypsies all of whom were deported’ in The New York Times, Sunday Feb. 12, 1905
Date: 1902
Collector: William Williams
Photographer: Augustus F. Sherman

The Question of Refugees: Past and Present

by Peter Gatrell

This article was originally published on Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, created by the History Departments at The Ohio State University and Miami University. Professor Gatrell recently spoke as part of our Immigrants and Refugees: Comparative Experiences Lecture Series.  You can watch his lecture here.

A great deal of ink—and much blood—has been spilled during the current “refugee crisis.” But what do we mean by that phrase?

It describes what has happened recently when Syrian, Afghan, and other refugees attempted the difficult journey to member states of the European Union in their ongoing search for safety. By extension, it describes the response of governments and the media to the refugees on Europe’s doorstep, a response many call inadequate.

The desperation of these refugees and asylum seekers and the challenges they face should not be minimized. But the shorthand of “refugee crisis” (meaning, in effect, “a crisis for European states,” rather than a crisis for refugees) neglects two fundamental issues.

One consideration is that, since 2011, most Syrian refugees either remain in Syria as internally displaced persons outside the scope of international legal conventions, or have found shelter in adjacent states such as Turkey and Lebanon.

Likewise, Afghan refugees are mainly sheltering in Pakistan: only a minority attempt the hazardous journey to Europe.

Continue reading on the Origins website.

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