Alex R. Tipei

  • Fellowship year:2014-2015
  • University: Indiana University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
  • Dissertation Title: For Your Civilization and Ours: Greece, Romania, and the Making of French Universalism
  • Historians of Eastern Europe consistently make three claims: First, West European discourses and political maneuvering cast Eastern Europeans as backward, a description that became an integral part of cultural and political identities in the region. Second, from the nineteenth century on, a ubiquitous, yet un- or ill-defined, French "influence" has permeated everything from art to economics in the region, particularly in the Balkans. Finally, the rise of Eastern European nationalist ideologies was inevitable. Based on three years of archival research in Greece, Romania, and France, my dissertation challenges all three of these assumptions. It explores how Eastern European intellectual and political elites actively participated in the development of a concept of civilization linked to Christianity and antiquity. For these elites, the concept of civilization allowed them to strategically position themselves at its borders, while at the same time eliciting support for cultural, political, diplomatic, and even military undertakings. I examine how these same notables worked with French liberals to import models for everything from education to healthcare to cultural production in order to make their peoples as civilized as the French. By analyzing the mechanisms of French influence, I demonstrate how these relationships were actually seen as mutually beneficial and reciprocal rather than unilaterally driven by West European notables. Finally, I explore how reform projects, many with French pedigrees, were initially intended to foster a Franco-centric, universal civilization, yet were transformed into tools of nationalism. Schools, for example, required Balkan elites to codify languages and write historical narratives, which created national differences among people who until then had belonged to a pan-Balkan Orthodox commonwealth.

    This study confronts a number of politically and intellectually relevant issues. For instance, it implicitly and explicitly calls for a reassessment of the Cold War-era's geography of Europe by questioning long-standing notions about the relationship between Eastern and Western Europe. It pushes transnational historical scholarship to go beyond a merely comparative approach by examining relationships, ideas, and programs that both traversed and helped to build national borders. Finally, it sheds light on the historical-cultural rationales that play a role in keeping an economically devastated Greece in the European Union and a profitable Turkey out.