Socialist Historians and UNESCO’s History of Humanity (1978-1989)

by Bogdan C. Iacob

at the panel Global Institutions and the East-South Circulation of Knowledge, the Fifth European Congress on World and Global History (Budapest, 31 August – 3 September, 2017)

Abstract

In the second of the fifties, socialist states found a new arena to showcase and perfect their identity narratives – the United Nations system. UNESCO, for instance, would often have for East Europeans the same role as it had for other so-called peripherials – the recently de-colonized societies. It was a platform for cultural emancipation. Peoples whose histories had often been doubted, marginalized, or ignored in Western centric frameworks would claim their place in a global exchange based on the alleged mutually beneficial interconnectedness of civilizations.

My paper will discuss this common ground between the socialist East and the post-colonial South in the context of UNESCO-led efforts to design a new universal history. In 1978, UNESCO decided to draft a second edition of “History of Humanity. Scientific and Cultural Development”, as the first (English title History of Mankind, published during the sixties) was deemed too Eurocentric and out-of-date in contrast with the rise of the Global South. I will examine various stages of the activity of the International Commission created for the new edition simultaneously with developments within the field of historical studies, as evidenced at the International Congresses in Bucharest (1980) and Stuttgart (1985). My aim is to flesh out different responses to the accelerated globalization of history-writing within UNESCO and the International Committee of Historical Sciences.

I am going to focus on East Europeans readings of specific issues such as imperialism, national originality, revolution, or development. I wish to signal out moments of overlap or dissonance between state socialist scholars and representatives of the Global South on matters such as the critique of the West or the affirmation of national/regional identities. In parallel, I will analyze how the dialogue between the East and the South within international fora expanded and internationalized the former’s conceptualizations about modernity.

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Together but Apart: Balkan Historians, the Global South, and UNESCO’s “History of Humanity”

by Bogdan C. Iacob

at New Europe College, Bucharest, 3 May, 2017.

The presentation showed how AIESEE (International Association for Southeast European Studies) and pressures from local political regimes propelled Balkan scholars into high profile positions within UNESCO’s project for a new world history entitled History of Humanity. I focused on the Cold War time frame of implementation of this global initiative: 1978 to 1989. History of Humanity aimed to create a universal narrative that reflected the radical transformations which had taken place since mid-1950s: de-colonization, the rise of the Global South in the UN-system, the critique of Eurocentrism/Westerncentrism, and, most importantly, the ever-growing emphasis on the originality of national cultures. This was UNESCO’s second attempt at a world history. The first was History of Mankind, which had been published from 1963 to 1976. I argued that the new edition created two horizons of opportunity for Southeast European scholars. First, the visibility they acquired within AIESEE consolidated their international academic status. Second and more importantly, many of the general issues debated within AIESEE were exported into the preparatory meetings for History of Humanity and later in its published volumes. Taking advantage of UNESCO and Romanian archives, the presentation discussed multiple levels of political and intellectual interaction – national-regional-global. History of Humanity was a context of epistemic internationalization within which Balkan historians could affirm regional and national identity on the basis of pre-existent conceptual, institutional, and personnel alignments. However, this cross-fertilization between local and international contexts cannot be detached from the tumultuous years of the late Cold War. By 1989, both Southeast Europe and UNESCO had suffered shocks that radically affected Balkan historians’ patterns of self-representation, both at home and abroad.

History’s Debris. The Many Pasts in the Post-1989 Present

“History’s Debris. The Many Pasts in the Post-1989 Present,” Südosteuropa 64 (2016), no. 2, pp. 119-141.

by Bogdan C. Iacob

Abstract

The article is a reassessment of the aftermaths of the events of 1989 in (South-)Eastern Europe. It supplements the well-worn debate pitting civil vs. uncivil society with examinations of the role nationalism has played in the formerly socialist bloc and of the (self-)identification practices within the region’s societies. Here I map the various postcommunist legacies that have affected the region’s countries. Grand explanations of the upheaval of 1989 tend to obscure and simplify the continuities that have extended beyond this threshold year. Common trends within the region, which often remain hidden in the long shadow of 1989, may explain contemporary tensions between the revival of civic mobilization and the rise of populism. I conclude that only by clearing history’s debris—from before and after 1989—will we understand the nature and identity of the ‘we’ who claim, contest, or (increasingly seldom) celebrate this annus mirabilis.

Full text here.

The project „Turning Global” at the workshop „Romanians in Diaspora and Diaspora in Romania” (26-28 April 2016, Timișoara)

Between April 26 and 28 in Timișoara, Bogdan C. Iacob participated at the workshop entitled “Romanians in Diaspora and Diaspora in Romania. Similarities and Differences in Academic Cereers” organized by New Europe College within the conference “Diaspora in Romanian Scientific Research and Higher Education.” At the event, Bogdan presented the project „Turning Global” and discussed with the other participants potential recommendations concerning Romania’s higher education policies and strategy for developing academic research.

Click here for further details on the NEC Workshop at the conference in Timisoara.

Click here for the program of the workshop.

Between Global and Regional. The Balkans, UNESCO, and History of Humanity

by Bogdan C. Iacob, at the Institute of Contemporary History, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, October 19, 2015.

During the postwar period, the Balkans were the underbelly of the Cold War order. Such ambivalence was owed to two factors. First, before 1962, the region was one of the most dangerous fault lines of bipolarism. Second, during détente, the translocal outlook underwent a radical reversal: Southeast Europe seemed to have become a symbolic geography alternative to the borderlines of the Iron Curtain. The new Balkans, as a space of ambiguous cultural and political entanglement where the East-West and North-South axes met, was the result of a complex negotiation by the area’s countries of regional and global agendas. Continue reading Between Global and Regional. The Balkans, UNESCO, and History of Humanity