AHA Member Spotlight: Theodora Dragostinova

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular “AHA Member Spotlight” series. The members featured in have been randomly selected and contacted by AHA staff, but if you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.

Dr. Theodora Dragostinova is assistant professor of eastern European history at the Ohio State University. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, and has been an AHA member since 2004.

Alma mater/s: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Fields of interest: modern eastern Europe; comparative nationalism; migration and displacement; Cold War cultural politics; transnational history

When did you first develop an interest in history?

Growing up in communist Bulgaria, I attended a rather privileged but wonderfully creative high school, called the National Gymnasium for Ancient Languages and Cultures, which included an extensive training in various historical subjects as well as in languages such as Latin, ancient Greek, and Old Church Slavonic; this experience provided me with a solid historical background and convinced me to pursue a degree in history. While studying at the University of Athens, Greece, however, I became acutely aware, through my own experiences, how different countries offer different interpretations of the same historical events. This is when I decided to make a shift from ancient to modern history, as I became fascinated by how the present selectively creates a certain vision of the past. I thus decided to pursue a PhD in history with Maria Todorova who had just published her groundbreaking work Imagining the Balkans. And this is how my journey began.

What projects are you working on currently?

I published my first book, Between Two Motherlands: Nationality and Emigration among the Greeks of Bulgaria, 1900–1949 with Cornell University Press in 2011; this book focuses on nation-building and refugee movements in the Balkans. My second book, Communist Extravaganza, will examine cultural policies, commemorative practices, and international exchanges in late socialist Bulgaria from a comparative, transnational perspective, placing developments in the wider context of Cold War cultural practices. I am also co-editing a volume, Beyond Mosque, Church, and State: Negotiating Religious and Ethno-national Identities in the Balkans, which will offer a comparative and interdisciplinary analysis of these issues from the Ottoman period to the present.

What books or articles are you currently reading?

I am reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot while I am also reviewing two academic books and editing an edited volume; because of the intensive reading required by the reviews, I alternate with fiction. I am also spending a lot of time reading on migration in modern Europe; currently, I am finishing Saskia Sassen’s Guests and Aliens.

What do you value most about the history profession?

My favorite part of the history profession is the opportunity to be a public intellectual and pursue intellectual connections among various fields. Together with my colleague at the OSU History Department, Judy Wu, I co-coordinate a group called Race, Ethnicity, and Nation whose goal is to invite comparative conversations about these concepts across geographical and chronological boundaries. Such conversations challenge the perceived hierarchies and divisions in world history while they also facilitate unexpected connections among disciplines; they further create opportunities for public debates on, for example, race and migration in a global historical context and its meaning for contemporary issues. When a conversation like this happens, I know that I have achieved my goal to create and disseminate knowledge that will also have an impact beyond the academic circles.

Final thoughts

I am currently exploring various options to incorporate digital technologies in my teaching of history. I recently attended a workshop at OSU, organized by the Center for Digital Storytelling, on how to make short movies using iPhones and iPads. My short movie, called “In Between,” turned out to be, rather unexpectedly, a personal story about who I am. Yet, through this experience, I re-discovered the power of stories, and I am considering incorporating this technology in the classroom.

I am also exploring other options to visualize history, such as Vuvox and Prezi, for assignments that use both images and text. I am hoping to implement these technologies in a new course that I am teaching in fall 2012, Empires and Nations in Eastern Europe, 1500-Present, which will ask students to choose one city in eastern Europe and to visually trace its major historical transformations over the longue duree. Inspired by a recent discussion in Perspectives, I may also ask my students to create short Wikipedia entries for each of the cities (as, generally, information on eastern Europe in English is extremely lacking).

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