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Duration: 2001 – 2003

Project of the Centre for Advanced Study Sofia (2001 – 2003)

The project "Regional Identity Discourses in Central and Southeast Europe, 1775-1945"  was initiated and administered by CAS. It was carried out by a core group of 7 junior scholars from different Central European and Balkan countries, working in various research fields, and a wider circle of over 30 contributors. Its aim was to put together an authoritative and representative collection of fundamental texts that have contributed to and/or reflected upon the formation of various narratives of regional identity. The project was administratively supervised by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, while the Centre for Advanced Study in Sofia was in charge of the scholarly and logistical co-ordination and supervision of the research.  

The purpose of the initiative was to provide a framework of reference different from the one usually referred to in the traditional nation-state-centred narratives, which still predominates in these countries. The project was profoundly based on comparative analysis. It examined specific political and cultural identities against the background of a shared or rejected regional identity (the `regional canon`) and established broader patterns of similarity and cultural connections that can serve as a basis for further attempts to create an interpretative synthesis for Central and Southeast Europe. The underlying research strategy of the `Identity Reader` is to revise the conceptions of national uniqueness by highlighting the situational but also discursive-structural similarities between regional traditions. The conviction behind this project is that it is impossible to understand these cultures from the standpoint of their internal referential systems. Instead, the project contributes to the establishment of a regional canon of key authors and formative texts. The innovative heuristic value of the project lies not only in the compilation of a Reader, but also in the intensity and frequency of scholarly interaction as well as in the comparative approach aimed at constructing a regionally encompassing framework of interpretation. Thus the interpretative `negotiation` and intercultural communication between the participating scholars, representing different national and educational traditions, have been essential to the project.

The stages through which the project developed were:

1) Compilation of a representative selection of texts illustrating the various modalities of regional identity discourses and their arrangement in accordance with a transcultural thematic framework. The research started on the basis of a preliminary historical scheme (Late Enlightenment, National Romanticism, Fin-de-Siecle, Interwar Period), but the final organisation of the texts was the result of the research interaction itself, which sought to reach both a context-sensitive and a broadly comparative perspective. The criteria for selecting the texts depended on various aspects of `representativity`. First of all, certain texts are crucial because the given national narrative is based upon them. Second, texts that reflected upon the national discursive canon, rather than forming it, are incorporated. Third, there are texts, which, although they never became `mainstream`, have indeed created discursive alternatives to the canonical texts and thus can be considered as paradigmatic even if their practical effect was limited (e.g. the projects of regional confederation).

2) Preparation of the critical apparatus of the texts, with a multilingual glossary of the key terms of the given cultures. The texts are also accompanied by short (3-4 pages each) contextual interpretations, pointing out some of the most important specific characteristics of the given discourse, and, at the same time, locating it in a comparative regional framework.

Each thematic-chronological unit is introduced by a prominent scholar of the region and the given period. To reach a maximally encompassing comparative analysis, these scholars were provided with the extensive philological and critical apparatus of the research.

In addition to their individual research, the `Identity Reader` fellows held regular research meetings at the Centre for Advanced Study Sofia and presented their research in various academic centres of the region, which gave them an additional opportunity to interact with the local academic communities. Thus the preliminary results of the research were presented in the form of a `core panel` at the July 2001 Workshop (`Texts/Images of History: Representations and Uses of the Past`) organized at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

The outcomes of the project are published by CEU Press (2006-2011) in a four-volume series with original texts and interpretations titled "Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Eastern Europe (1770-1945)" (for more details, see

The `Identity Reader` project was funded by the Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation in the Netherlands. As a form of appreciation for the quality of the research work accomplished, the Foundation also provided an additional grant for the translation of the texts into English.