Bulgarian Landscapes in Medieval Studies

Bulgarian Landscapes in Medieval Studies

By Rossina Kostova

Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU, Vol. 15 (2009)

Introduction: It is not by chance that I chose “landscape” as a keyword for the present paper. If one looks at the program of the 15-year anniversary reunion of the Department of Medieval Studies at the Central European University, one will see that “landscape” is the keyword that concentrates, consciously or not, everything we would like to see, to say, and to hear about our common and personal fifteen years in medieval studies in general. Have we changed something in the landscape of medieval studies worldwide? Are we visible in that landscape? And do medieval landscapes matter at all?

Perhaps the scope of the present paper does not require going in the history of medieval studies in Bulgaria as far as their beginning at the end of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, in order to understand the trends of later development, one needs to outline the main characteristics of the field that had been laid down by the middle of the twentieth century. From its inception to the 1940s the main theoretical approach was straightforward positivism; analytical works predominated, with very few attempts at synthesis (e. g., P. Mutafčiev). In terms of method, throughout the twentieth century medieval studies in Bulgaria remained a strongly empirical and closed discipline. There was little interaction with other European schools, although the general quality of theory and the critical approach was on the level of the best contemporary school, German positivism. In terms of scope, medieval studies were exclusively Bulgarian-centered, with a few forays into Byzantine history. In terms of subject matter, political history was overwhelmingly present, along with local studies, and source editions. In addition, one must also note the contributions of archaeology and art history to the study of a number of important medieval sites and monuments.

The crucial political change that came with the establishment of a pro-Soviet communist regime in Bulgaria after the end of the Second World War inevitably made a deep and ambiguous mark on the humanities. By branding leading Bulgarian medievalists, such as B. Filov, V. Beševliev, Iv. Dujčev, and B. Primov, “chauvinists” and “fascists” and suspending them from the University of Sofia, medieval scholarship was decapitated. This led to a decay of medieval studies and their isolation from the current trends in European medieval and Byzantine studies. Marxism became the only theory and its vulgar application in the 1950s and 1960s distorted historical analysis that concentrated on social history and class struggles. At the same time, the foundation of research centers at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS), their relatively good financial support by the state and the systematic manner of work brought the main achievement in the field during the second half of the twentieth century, the collection and critical edition of foreign and native sources. Particular emphasis has also been put on the critical edition of works by medieval Bulgarian writers and on the preparation of catalogues of medieval Bulgarian manuscripts in national libraries and collections.

Furthermore, the instrumenta studiorum of the Bulgarian Middle Ages have been remarkably enriched by the results of the large-scale and long-going excavations of various medieval sites all over the country, but predominantly in the medieval state centers of Pliska, Preslav, and Veliko Turnovo.

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