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Edin Hajdarpasic is assistant professor of eastern European history at Loyola University in Chicago; he has been an AHA member since 2006.
Alma mater: University of Michigan
Fields of interest: Balkan, eastern, and central European history; Ottoman and Habsburg Empires; nationalism
When did you first develop an interest in history?
In the most immediate sense, what made me study history was the war in Yugoslavia. I lived in Sarajevo until war broke out in Bosnia in 1992; after leaving the city I came to the United States about a year and a half later, eventually turning to modern Balkan history at the University of Michigan. My personal experience of displacement was obviously crucial in shaping my interest in Yugoslav pasts. But I also had a prior, deeper interest in history, in its strangeness. I don’t mean strange in the sense “how strange and different is the past,” though it may be that. Instead, I remember reading at a young age books about ancient Rome, about auspices and augury, and I remember thinking, how strange it is that I can glimpse and in some way understand the fascination with the voices and flights of birds. That was cool. I think experiences like that made me think about the present and the past, and that drew me to history as a subject.
What projects are you working on currently?
Last year I finished up my archival research in the former Yugoslavia for my book in progress, tentatively titled Whose Bosnia? Imagination and Nation-Formation in the Modern Balkans. It deals with the politics of nation-formation in Bosnia-Herzegovina over the course of the long 19th century, a crucial period that witnessed the rise of several converging and competing national movements in the Ottoman and Habsburg Balkan provinces. By analyzing how Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim activists discovered and fostered identification with their co-nationals in Bosnia, who appeared simultaneously as their “brothers” and their “enemies,” my study is a contribution to historiography of the modern Balkans (which has grown tremendously since the 1990s) and also an engagement with larger methodological questions about how the complex workings of nationalism can be more fruitfully studied.
What is the last great book or article you have read?
As usual, summer is a great time to explore a lot of different kinds of reading. For example, I just finished some scary fairy tales by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, and now I picked up London: A Social and Cultural History by Joseph Ward and Robert Bucholz (my Loyola colleague).
I also read Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject, and am reading a great work in progress on conflict and memory by my fellow Yugoslavist colleague Max Bergholz. Of course, summer is always a good time to revisit Bruno Schulz.
What do you value most about the history profession?
It’s hard to distill thoughts about one’s work into a sentence, but I’d say what I like the most about history is its potential to rethink its bounds as a “profession” and engage with other disciplines, practices, and publics. The recent exciting changes in the media of history—on the Internet, in video, on the stage, etc.—have made professional historians all the more aware of what Dipesh Chakrabarty called the “public life of history” beyond the academic institutions and scholarly organizations. Engaging with these public dimensions of our work and rethinking the social implications of our profession are vital parts of what makes history such a dynamic field.
Other than history of course, what are you passionate about?
Seas, alphabets, stamps, cats.
As historians nowadays are busy exploring the digitization of so much historical material (periodicals, posters, archival records, books, etc.), it seems important to me to raise a point about the benefits of these processes for areas like the former Yugoslavia, where a lot of libraries and archives have experienced great material losses during and since the wars of the 1990s. Digitization won’t bring back all the destroyed records, but digitizing, compiling, and disseminating the existing holdings is very important for studying and teaching about politically divided areas where archival and even library access can be difficult. The digitization project by the Media Center in Sarajevo, for instance, placed online the contents of many Bosnian periodicals since the late 19th century (see the Infobiro website). Similar projects are underway in Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia. In addition to preserving very valuable resources, these kinds of services could also productively change our classroom practices, providing our students with interesting primary sources and more easily accessible materials for future research questions.