Sommerschule 2013: "Area Studies in a Globalized World: New Approaches and Concepts"

16.09.2013 - 20.09.2013

The summer school “Area Studies in a Globalized World” that was held from September 16-20, 2013 at Central European University was organized by the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, which is a cooperation between the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Universität Regensburg, together with Pasts Inc., the center for historical research at CEU. The summer school brought together over 25 PhD students and faculty from the graduate school with CEU faculty and students. In its scope the summer school was truly interdisciplinary featuring presentations on a wide array of topics from anthropology, over history and literature, to linguistics. Although the title of the summer school referred to ‘area studies in a globalized world’ the topic was not addressed as such in any of the presentations.

Rather, the ‘area studies’ were represented by cases and case studies that focused on Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, which were placed in a transnational (rather than a global) perspective. As the abstract for the summer school states: “One of the particularly promising avenues of East and Southeast European Studies today is the discussion of trans-regional entanglements in order to highlight the specific positioning of the region in the world. This includes also an emphasis on entanglements and relationships within the region.”The very dense schedule of the week-long school consisted of a seminar part in the morning, accompanied by keynote lectures and cultural activities in the afternoons. In most of the cases the seminar was made up of a lecture by a faculty member and presentations by the members of the four study groups of the graduate school. These study groups have a certain theme (e.g. migration, transfers, cultural contacts) related to the broader research agenda of the graduate school. They are led by post-doc researchers and unite several doctoral students from different disciplines, whose dissertation topics can be subsumed under the theme of the study group. The keynote lectures were made by Prof. Jutta Scherrer (Paris) on bolshevism and an unpublished Gor’kij-Bogdanov correspondence, by Prof. Viktor Karady (CEU) on situational and ethnic inequalities in the Carpathian Basin, by Prof. Don Kalb (CEU) on “Critical Junctions” and by Prof. David Lane (Cambridge) on the transformation from state socialism.

Here you find the report by Prof. Dr. Ulf Brunnbauer.

Reflections on the summer school

The seminar part of the first day comprised presentations by Prof. Constantin Iordachi and Prof. Balázs Trencsényi that were focused on aspects of transnational history. While Prof. Iordachi addressed the methodology of comparative history, Prof. Trencsényi presented the regional history of central and southeastern Europe as a case of transnational history. Prof. Iordachi gave a historiographical overview on the use of the comparative method in the social sciences and stressed the need for a comparative approach as a meaningful way of engaging with and challenging national paradigms. Prof. Trencsényi’s presentation discussed a number of issued involved in the study of the intellectual history of the region. In principle, he argued that the intellectual history of the region can fruitfully be cast as a transnational history. He gave a broad overview on the intellectual history of the region and showed a number of characteristics that invite for such transnational approaches. From institutions (such as the Orthodox church), over personal and intellectual trajectories of politicians, scholars and other figures of public life (e.g. training in Western Europe, engaging in debates on East-West divide, etc.) to sub-national regions (such as Silesia) Eastern Central and Southeastern Europe provide for a number of possibilities to cast the region and its history in a transnational perspective. One key advantage is that often the objects of research are not only intra-regional but also inter-regional phenomena.

On the second day the seminar consisted of presentations by Prof. Martin Schulze Wessel (München) and Prof. Judit Bodnár (CEU). In his presentation Prof. Schulze Wessel discussed the recent politics of commemoration of the expulsion of Germans after World War II. Schulze Wessel argued that claims to memory were becoming increasingly universal, which in his opinion constitutes a transnational dimension of memory. Thus, in the case of expellees the activities of commemoration in Germany were received and commented in Polish media, thus creating an international feedback loop. On the level of the actors, however, the commemoration was/is still enacted within a mostly national framework. The presentation by Prof. Bodnár was mainly centered on the discussion of the categories of post-socialism and Eastern Europe. Revisiting her book Fin de Millénaire Budapest Bodnár strongly suggested to tread carefully when employing such labels. Especially in the case of changes in Budapest from the 1990s onwards she pointed to a number of changes (gentrification, consumption patterns) could not be simply subsumed under the label of post-socialism.

In the third seminar session Prof. Jasmina Lukic (CEU) presented the case of Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav literatures as an example of transnational literature. Lukic argued that the production and reception of these literatures exceeded national borders and as such requires a transnational perspective. She also argued that such a perspective could help to undermine the ongoing development of (artificial) national canons within the ex-Yugoslav states. While Lukic’s presentation of the case was very convincing, the question remains to what extent these insights can be transferred to other examples.

Prof. Ulf Brunnbauer (Regensburg) presented in the fourth seminar on transnational migration. By referring to ‘transnational life worlds’ of migrants, who are embedded in one national context, but stay in touch with their country of origin, e.g. through the transfer of money, knowledge, etc., he presented transnationalism as a lived, social phenomenon. This perspective helps to overcome static perceptions of migration and integration and allows to understand migration not so much as a finished product of movement (from country A to B), but rather as an ongoing process.

In the seminar on the last day of the summer school Dr. Petar Keyahov (Regensburg), presented his research on language diversity and transnationalism and the phenomenon of death of languages. With a number of examples from different contexts Keyahov demonstrated the changes that occur in the structure of languages through contact with other languages, and he also gave an overview on endangered and soon to be extinct languages.

Followed by the lectures the students of the different study groups discussed texts they had chosen and/or presented their dissertation projects in light of these texts. The content and scopethe presentations varied greatly. The idea of interdisciplinary study groups with a specific theme seems very appealing. However, the combination of the presentation and discussion of certain theoretical texts (e.g. on transnational memory) with a presentation of the research projects that were not necessarily related to these texts or theories, was not always convincing. It seems that allotting more time to the presentation of the different research projects, or choosing one of the two, i.e. either presenting/ discussing a text or presenting the specific projects, might have been a more fruitful approach. Getting to know the projects and approaches of the colleagues was certainly one of the most interesting parts of the summer school. But it could also be argued that a summer school with over 25 participants is not the right framework for presenting and discussing research projects in great detail and that a graduate conference could be a much more suitable venue for such an endeavor.


Overall, the summer school offered a glimpse at the state of the art in different fields of studies on Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. While the summer school had the genuine advantage of offering a very broad overview, there were also two slight drawbacks. A conceptual introduction to the program, its structure and goals would have certainly been a useful addition. Secondly, as noted above the title was slightly misleading. Although the summer school did not address area studies as such, it nonetheless offered a number of insights on transnational research approaches to the region. The enormous diversity of the topics that were addressed in the course of the summer school makes it difficult to draw specific conclusions. But it seems that at least two basic points can be made. First of all, ‘transnational’ is a label that has been and still is applied in a number of different ways and is almost used inflationary. Secondly, transnational history has already been practiced to varying degrees without applying the label. Therefore, rather than debating on the various forms of transnational approaches and (as is often the case) claiming the novelty of those, it is the actual implementation of a transnational perspective that matters. In many cases a transnational perspective can and should be adopted, since it allows to (re-)frame the respective research project in a meaningful way.

Jan Bröker, CEU Budapest