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)


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as the first (English title History of Mankind, published during the sixties) was deemed too Eurocentric and out-of-date in contrast with the rise of the Global South.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.

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.

Proiectul “Turning Global” la Congresul Național al Istoricilor Români


Dr. Corina Doboș a participat la masa rotundă Anii 1970 sub lupa istoricului. Bilanţ şi deschideri istoriografice, desfășurată la Cluj-Napoca, în cadrul Congresului Național al Istoricilor Români pe data de 26 aug. 2016. Masa rotundă a fost organizată de dr. Marius Cazan (Institutul Național pentru Studierea Holocaustului din România „Elie Wiesel”) și lect. dr. Andrei Sora (Universitatea din București), și a reunit cercetători de marcă ai istoriei comunismului românesc: prof. univ. dr. Bogdan MURGESCU (Universitatea din Bucuresti), Dr. Alina PAVELESCU ( Arhivele Naţionale ale României), Prof. univ. dr. Mihai RETEGAN (Universitatea din Bucuresti), Prof. univ. dr. Virgiliu ŢÂRĂU (Universitatea Babeş-Bolyai), CS Dr. Cristian VASILE , Institutul de Istorie „N. Iorga”, Academia Română.

Dr. Corina Doboș a prezentat principalele obiective ale proiectului nostru, insistând asupra tipului de surse primare din România care fac posibil demersul nostru de cercetare. Cu ajutorul exemplelor concrete de fonduri arhivistice deosebit de bogate de la Arhivele Naționale (fondul ASSP, diferite secții) sau de la Arhiva Diplomatică a Minsterului de Externe (fondul Problema ONU), dr. Doboș a argumentat că starea actuală a resurselor primare permite o cercetare din perspectivă epistemică a comunităților de experți socialiși, cu condiția racordării rezultatelor cercetărilor din arhivele românești la tot mai bogata istoriografie internațională dedicată cunoașterii produse în contextul globalizării socialiste.