Narratives Unbound: Historical Studies in Post-Communist Eastern Europe

TitleNarratives Unbound: Historical Studies in Post-Communist Eastern Europe
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsLaczó, Ferenc
Author(s) of reviewed materialAntohi, Sorin, Balázs Trencsényi, and Péter Apor

Pasts Incorporated, CEU Studies in the Humanities, Volume V. Series Editor: László Kontler

PublisherBudapest: CEU Press
ISSNISBN 963 7326 85 5
Review year


Full Text

The volume Narratives Unbound: Historical Studies in Post-Communist Eastern Europe features six extended studies on the historiographies of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria written by a relatively young group of ten authors (six of them were born after 1970). It is the result of an undertaking that started in the late 1990s and has been rather long in gestation: the idea behind the project and the resulting book was to cover the first decade of historical studies in these countries (which makes Narrative Unbound: Historical Studies in Post-Communist Eastern Europe complementary to the volume (Re)writing History: Historiography in Southeast Europe after Socialism edited by Ulf Brunnbauer), though since eventually the volume got to be published in 2007, it made sense to bring the articles up-to-date in some ways. The blueprint was an ambitious one, namely to provide a detailed map of “quantitative and descriptive information on topics, methods and theories, authors, ‘schools’, educational, research and publishing infrastructure,” as well as “a thorough analytical and critical comparative presentation of the core debates, orientations, canons, academic output, historical cultures” (pp.XVII-XVIII).  
Sorin Antohi’s perceptive introduction claims that while Eastern Europeans, instead of inventing a formula to package and market their regional identity have embarked on a program of erasing Europe’s demi-Orientalist symbolic geographies, “it is precisely in the name of affinities and similarities with Western Europe that we insist on our differences and peculiarities” (p.X). Moreover, he touches on the central issue of continuities of theory and practice and points to the “spectacular resilience” of narratives, especially of master narratives beyond 1989 – a well-known phenomenon for literary theorists. At the same time, there is one undeniable accomplishment: the conquest of the right to speak, to tell the stories historians wanted and the way they wanted – having moved beyond “the tyranny of the mandatory, the regulated intertextuality imposed by the Party.” As Antohi claims, the volume has a bias in favor of those for whom this freedom was vital (p.XI). Crucially, he points out that the scant canonical debates in the field “were mainly epistemological and ethical, focusing on the possibility of defining and restoring historical truth, and resulting in various revisionisms” and that interest (both of the public and many younger historians) shifted towards recent history (p.XII).
Let me introduce each of the six studies before offering some concluding remarks about the volume as a whole. The studies in the collection begin with the article on Hungary written by Balázs Trencsényi and Péter Apor, titled "Fine-tuning the Polyphonic Past: Hungarian Historical Writing in the 1990s." Trencsényi’s and Apor’s main focus is on “the transformation of political, social and intellectual history,” aiming to map the most important discourses and individual achievements and link these shifts to the transformations in the (meta-)political and institutional context (p.1). The authors claim that, while there is strong continuity, in both themes and personnel the growth of pluralism opened up new venues. They point to the dominant position of the middle generation (p.9). The two main historical scholarly projects of the 1970s and 1980s (that were meant to reshape the national canon) they characterize as rooted in the positivist compromise of the time, restrained methodologically but without overwhelming political pre-selection. Moreover, they claim that pluralism was present to some extent before 1989, especially in an implicit or latent way (with notable differences between doctrinaire Marxists, liberal Marxists, semi-dissenters, and anti-ideological neo-positivists and others).
It is the growth of social history in terms of importance and output that is probably the most significant development in Hungary. One of the reasons behind this development is that it provided a good opportunity to give empirical and scientific critique of previously held views – it turned into a popular and proper critical weapon, frequently contrasting power and society (pp.12-15). In Trencsényi’s and Apor’s view, social history aimed at the formation of a coherent discourse in the early 1990s, making a claim to account for all possible aspects of the past, and would have thereby been in the position to replace politically oriented historiography. Since then diversification and mixed compositions disables the formation of a universal vision of the past – what is no reason for regret in the eyes of Trencsényi and Apor. Among individuals, Gábor Gyáni is crucial in their eyes who manages to combine his expertise in social history with avid curiosity in theories and methods – something far from common. Among journals, Korall is most representative for this new trend.
In the section “In the Search of a New Intellectual History,” the authors claim that the strongest paradigm remains a mixture of literary history and the history of ideas, the former doyen of which is Tibor Klaniczay (p.22). Identifying three markedly different directions of reception of Western methodological offers, they consider the rewriting of Eastern European narratives a pressing task (with the realization that authorial intention, rhetorical framework, and the social and discursive position of the authors are all rather problematic points of reference that are in need of analysis). Among the people working in this vein, the names of Kontler, Horkay Hörcher, Ludassy, Bence, Bene, Takáts, Gangó as well as the political scientist Márton Szabó deserve to be mentioned.
In the historiography of the early modern period, the national “grand narrative” relatively unproblematically coexists with theoretical innovation (the main lines of the traditional construction are entrenched but without most of the “romantic excesses”), and there are various successful fusions of intellectual and social history (p.29). There are some notable attempts to abandon national self-centeredness. Research on the first half of the 19th century was one with highest generational and discursive coherence (p.35), where the “school” around György Szabad (Gerő, Pajkossy, András Gergely, Dénes and others) effectively rehabilitated political history already in the 1970s and 1980s, while also liberating it from the ballast of inter-war illiberalism and the post-1945 overestimation of social determinants. In the eyes of Trencsényi and Apor, both the ranks and the meta-political narrative of this group seem to be disintegrating by now (pp.34-5).
The inter-war period is the most contested of periods. More nuanced, though politically unconflicting narratives were written in the 1970s and 1980s already. A new canon of nationalist modernization, supposedly facilitated by state-protectionism towards the “historical classes” and “historical” high culture emerged in the 1990s, reflecting a relatively broad étatist consensus which is represented by people of various character and quality. This new canon challenges not only the communist one, but also the (semi-)”dissenter” one that originated in the 1980s (pp.38-9). Ignác Romsics, whose perspective has perhaps been the most influential, combines modernist methodology with a return to tenets and issues of the historiography of the 1930s, ultimately contributing to their relativization in a framework which is moderately neo-conservative from a political point of view (p.42). Among the scholars of the period, Lackó, Ormos, Ungváry, Vonyó and Miskolczy deserve to be mentioned in particular. Related to Jewish history and the history of modernization, the challenging and in some respects controversial work of Victor Karády is worthy of attention. Karády has investigated social reproduction through education and employment, comparing various (usually ethnic and/or denominational) groups. Moreover, the history of Anti-Semitism and the “Jewish question” have also attracted considerable attention in Hungarian historiography.
The historiography of the communist epoch tends to employ an unfortunately monophonic and monolithic interpretation, and many of the practitioners seem to be ardently opposed to any constructivist critique of the historian’s practice (István Rév and Tibor Dessewffy can be taken as the exceptions to this rule). Concerning this period, the main debates are on the interpretation of 1956 and the “meaning” of the transformation and “social engineering” that started in 1945 (for overall Hungarian historical development). On both of these matters, opinions are rather strongly divided. In Hungarian, there is also significant amount of work done on neighboring countries and inter-state and inter-ethnic relations (Szarka, Borsi-Kálmán and Miskolczy are particularly important authors in this respect).
In sum, Trencsényi and Apor claim that the transformation after 1989 has been remarkable, even if there was no abrupt change. Unlike in several other cases, Hungarian historiography was relatively de-ideologized already prior to 1989 and the change of regime can be seen as having brought a certain re-ideologization in a pluralist environment (though in their opinion, the mainstream avoided “direct involvement with either “too theoretical” interpretative schemes, or “too topical” political narratives”). One of the crucial questions of the present and the near future is whether these sub-cultures will turn out to be mutually exclusive or they can be brought into a communicative culture to grow richer by becoming more inclusive (pp.62-3). They point out that while there were two mainstream Hungarian historical grand narratives prior to communism (and to some extent during it as well), this duality of traditions was not re-institutionalized. They also identify two informal schools that has attracted young researchers the most, the one around Romsics and the one around Gyáni (p.46). In short, this article manages to critically and systematically cover many authors. It has a strong interpretative ambition which makes it ideal material for debate and further refinement. All in all, it is an important accomplishment in the analysis of recent Hungarian historiography.
The article on the Czech Republic titled “A Difficult Quest for New Paradigms: Czech Historiography after 1989” was written by Michal Kopeček and Pavel Kolář. Planning to write a simple overview, the authors discovered that forms, themes and methods “follow certain firm lines,” and decided to combine the reviewing of a range of studies with pointing to some common denominators (pp.174-5). Their article is an outline of intellectual, institutional and societal developments in historiography. They see a fundamental contradiction between the discursively constructed distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ and the lack of a sudden ‘paradigm shift.’ In the Czech Republic, there was only limited space and resources for new themes and approaches (such as historical anthropology, gender studies or of the area studies type). Behind the thematic expansion after 1989, the main drive was to cover ‘blank spaces,’ which could not automatically bring methodological innovations. Moreover, old themes have been restored more than new ones introduced (p.225).
Their exploration concerns four questions: firstly, the shift in object and fields (where they note an extraordinary expansion of areas, which did not necessarily mean the addressing of new problems), secondly, the legacy of Marxism-Leninism, thirdly, new approaches and fourthly, what has been happening with the paradigm of nation-centered history. In my view, this focus on problem areas, combined with well-structured argumentation make the article the most systematic in this volume. Moreover, I see two major positive contributions in this article: firstly, Kopeček and Kolář display familiarity with Western innovations and can at times perceptively confront local production with the “original,” instead of only lamenting the latter’s absence [see for instance their discussion of Čechura (p.190)] and secondly, they employ programmatic texts of historians and reviews of their works more frequently to thereby contextualize aims and practices.
The organization of the material is chronological, since “the barriers between chronologically defined sections are still much lower than those in the case of other kinds” (p.175). In their assessment, in the case of medieval studies the younger generation did not take up methodological innovations and stuck to traditional ways of history writing (p.186). On the other hand, in early modern history they observe the most dynamic methodological development. This is where new cultural history, history of sexuality, historical anthropology and gender history first took root. Thereby Czech historiography is following the general Western trend (p.187). Concerning the period, there is new interest in ‘Baroque.’ In studying the ‘lower classes,’ there is a shift away from structural approaches. Research on the landed aristocracy greatly expanded – they assess Petr Maťa’s work as particularly valuable. In studies of the 19th century, some historians born in the 1930s continued to publish the most significant works, such as Hroch and Kořalka. Innovative, more culturalist works have been written by Havelka, Štaif and literary historian Macura (pp.195-6). Social history changed its object completely (with no single article on the working class or the labor movement), but new concepts and theories have been hardly discussed (p.198). Šimůnková and Malečková have written significant works in gender history.
On the 20th century, admittedly much empirical work needed to be done. The problem is that this was not combined with theoretical discussions, and the political standpoints of historians continue to play an extraordinary role. On the inter-war period, political and economic history dominate (p.203), and there is methodological and thematic continuity with the pre-1989 period. Controversial is the history of the so-called Second Republic (1938-1939), on which Rataj, Genhart and Kuklík have written. While Jewish studies and studies on the Holocaust have expanded, they are slow to arrive at the center of research interest and memory of the times. The expulsion (or transfer) of Germans is heavily contested and two sides can be identified (so-called defenders and critics of the decrees). In the assessment of Kopeček and Kolář, political position rule over scholarly differences, moral categories predominate instead of interactive analytical models and interpretations (p.217). In their view, Hahnová, who has explored the discourses, rightly criticizes the master narratives on the German and the Czech side as similarly ethnocentric.
Importantly, there is the newly established Institute of Contemporary History, where research on communism focuses on the establishment of the dictatorship, the crisis of 1967-70, 1989 and the state security between 1969 and 1989. Unfortunately, these studies and the studies of communism more generally have often been indebted to a simplified concept of totalitarianism. Kopeček and Kolář claim that there is too much focus on persecution and repression, also at the expense of other stabilizing factors (p.179, pp.218-9). This makes the Czech historiography look rather unsophisticated compared to works on the GDR (p.223). Characteristically, the 1970s and 1980s have not met with great interest yet (p.221). Among the valuable contributions, works by Kusák, Otáhal and Jiří Suk deserve to be mentioned. In sum, Kopeček and Kolář claim that the continuity of habitus as well as mental framework and the strong patronage system is evident, though there are signs of change since around 2000 (p.224). This ‘delay’ of change might be explained by the fact that in the Czech Republic (as contrasted to Hungary for example) the middle generation could not emerge so well from a scholarly and institutional point of view because of the heavier restrictions experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.
The article on Slovakia “Wedged Between National and Trans-National History: Slovak Historiography in the 1990s” written by Zora Hlavičkova has a somewhat simplified mode of presentation and includes the least analytical parts of the six papers comprising Narratives Unbound. Much of the article stays on a general level and the discussion of individual authors barely move beyond the clarification of their research themes (Lipták, Mannová and Dusan Kováč are mentioned as some of the most “positive” figures, but their works are not discussed in greater depth). The article also laments the lack of innovation and critical thinking and discussion in Slovakia (p.264), though I perceive it as somewhat typical that Hlavičkova propagates new theories and methods in general, but does not make concrete recommendations or provide detailed criticism on their basis.
She argues that the concept of an independent Slovak history emerged in the 1930s, in confrontation with Czech and Hungarian historiography (pp.251-2), and it had its third beginning in 1989 (and 1993), after which a shift to the nationalist right could be observed (p.258). Hlavičkova assesses the return of exiles as a particularly great blow in this respect (p.260). Though ethnopopulists remained in a minority among historians, their (often non-professional and politically supported) interpretations had wide resonance (p.261). They clashed with liberals or “cosmopolitans,” who also belong to national historiography: the main difference between them is in the extent to which thinking in national terms and criteria characterizes each. The themes of national identity and the politics of memory stir all divisions of the Slovak historical community (p.281). National history is clearly dominant (statistical indicators are used to prove this), which can be seen as part of the effort of the state to create historical-political legitimacy for itself, even though the concept of “Slovak history” is a rather vague one from an analytical point of view and open to various interpretations (p.283). Newly, regional and local history have moved closer to the center of attention (p.272), in which various minorities can find themselves better represented.
Since 1989, there is no new paradigm (positivistic political history has remained the mainstream), only some new themes (Church, Jewish history, everyday life, gender) and areas of research (identity, memory, stereotypes, myths) (p.265). In her conclusion, Hlavičkova present an international turn as the great opportunity for Slovak historiography, which would also have to mean a multiethnic and multicultural turn in research – for this Slovakia provides ample interesting material (p.280). I find the article reliable in sketching the basic contours of Slovak developments, though it unfortunately deals much more with the big picture than the actual details of scholarly works.
Similarly to the case of Slovakia, Maciej Górny presents the great attention paid to regional and minority studies as a new characteristic of Polish historiography (p.104). In Poland, decentralization of research was also accompanied by the rediscovery of cohabitation: complicated and often highly tragic inter-ethnic histories have recently taken on greater roles. Moreover, the interest in East Central Europe is also notable (p.114).

One of the specialties of "From the Splendid Past into the Unknown Future: Historical Studies in Poland after 1989" is Górny’s denial that the profession fell into some sort of intellectual crisis under communism, since after 1956 there was no pressure to use the “one correct method” only (p.105, p.110). International connections might have expanded, but they, alongside the recognition of the best Polish scholars, cannot be said to have stunningly improved since 1989. The reception of the Annales was profound already before 1989. Social history, cultural history and intellectual history were developing subfields with significant contributions. 

In Górny’s assessment, the new political order primarily brought thematic enrichment (though no “earthquake”) and the main improvement in contemporary research concerns the Communist period itself, which is also the innovative force where many of the youngest generation of researchers gather [Górny mentions the series “W krainie PRL/W krainie KDL” on the social and intellectual history of communism in particular (p.122)] (p.106). Paczkowski and Friszke have already written syntheses of the period. From the pre-1945 times, the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, the German and Soviet occupations and Polish-Jewish and Polish-Ukrainian relations at the time can be and are studied since 1989 in particular (p.120). The Warsaw Uprising, the history of Armia Krajowa and the anti-communist underground are similarly additional themes. Among the historians studying earlier periods, Górny points to the achievements of Banaszkiewicz, Kizwalter and Kądziela (pp.115-6), but his article clearly focuses on the historiography of the 20th century and the present situation in Poland (earlier times take up less than six pages of more than forty-three).  
Górny also perceives a scarcity of historical debates. Notable exceptions are the exchanges between Słoczyński and Wierzbicki on the relation between communist historiography and the Cracow school and the one between Janowski and Bończa-Tomaszewski on Polish liberalism in the 19th century – and, more generally, on the possibilities and limits of reframing local history through the use of Western categories (p.132). The topics that came to be debated more widely are the most politicized and instrumentalized ones: on the former regime [whether it was a Polish regime or one imposed and run from the outside; on the martial law of 1981; on whether events could have taken a different turn in 1945; about the moral meaning of rapid social change; on the economic heritage of the regime; the term to be used for the regime and the reasons behind this choice; left-wing critiques of the system; the question of totalitarianism (pp.124-6)], on the Jedwabne massacre (in Górny's view, there is a less known counterpart of Gross’ attempt to re-formulate the heroic self-image: Rybicka’s book from 2002), on the highly controversial working of the Institute of National Memory and issues of ‘memory politics’ in more general terms. Moreover, Górny lists eight of the most active and productive institutes, addresses the issue of history in the visual media and discusses funding. He predicts a decrease of interest in recent history, a continuation of topics and debates alongside significant new archeological findings and work on the Polish intelligentsia (p.143). All in all, this article is a panoramic one and at times sharp and opinionated, though it does not treat the historical scholarship on various epochs with the same depth.
The article on Romania, written by Cristina and Dragoş Petrescu is titled “Mastering vs. Coming to Terms with the Past: A Critical Analysis of Post-Communist Romanian Historiography.” It opposes ‘old’ history to ‘new’ which “has begun to gain momentum” (p.311), even if “a decisive shift from the traditional paradigm towards a social science type of research in historical studies has failed to take place” (p.322). This makes the basic argument of the article and the assessment of the post-communist situation somewhat ambivalent (while what is bad is identified with the ‘old’ and what is promising and valuable with the ‘new,’ substantial continuities cannot be overlooked). The authors identify three major trends: the de-ideologizing, the de-mythologizing [turning into a vogue for deconstruction and iconoclasm in their view (p.324)] and the re-professionalizing turn that have followed one another in the 1990s. Their aim is to discuss individual attempts to structurally change the discipline from within after decades of cultural isolation (pp.312-3).
Besides addressing the communist legacies at the beginning (identifying three stages in the development of communist historiography, and pointing to the total isolation from methodological developments and dramatic de-professionalization evident by the 1980s, especially related to the study of the more sensitive issues of modern history), the authors concentrate on developments on different epochs and also discuss history-related public polemics. For the post-1989 times, they accept the dichotomy of those “attached to national Communist values” and the respected specialists, who aim at disciplinary reform (p.319), which serves them well to discredit the former and justify their focus on the interesting recent works by the latter group, in particular the initiators of new trends (p.334).
From among the scholars of earlier periods, Petrescu and Petrescu provide short discussions of works of Papacostea, Pecican, Ioan-Aurel Pop, Murgescu, Duţu, Barbu, Vlad, Livadă-Cadeschi, Djuvara, Luminiţa-Murgescu, Zub, Antohi, Platon, Cojocaru, Mitu, Nicoară and Nastasă. In the study of the inter-war period, they point to how understudied much of the period still is. Related to Romania in the Second World War and the Holocaust in particular, they emphasize the importance of the contributions of Dinu C. Giurescu and Jean Ancel. [I have to remark that this part features the most curiously phrased statement of the book: “It was only because of the tragic turn during WWII in relation to Nazism that the fate of the Jews living in Romania differed from that of all other ethnic groups.” (p.351)].
I perceive part 11, “Approaches to the Communist Past” as the most interesting of the article – in a sense this is where the anti-communist tone (the meaning of which is admittedly rather specific to each country) of the article enables Petrescu and Petrescu to present the appearance of new material as a dramatic and exciting development, even if, all in all, they judge the historiographical production to be of poor quality (p.365). Exceptions by Tismăneanu, Tănase, Câmpeanu, Cioroianu, Şperlea, Vasile, Dinu Guirescu and Constantiniuare studies, the last two of whom they perceive as somewhat overly cautious (p.357). Petrescu and Petrescu also devote attention to the great number of memoirs, diaries and interviews concerning the period that have continued to appear in significant numbers and attract readers’ attention. They also discuss the notorious textbook controversy and the debate on the events (revolution?) of 1989. Moreover, important characteristics of the current situation are financial shortages, regional variety and some institutional peculiarities (for instance the relevance of Political Science in Bucharest). The great (and probably also disproportionate) influence of Annales, particularly the third generation is also worth remarking.
In their conclusion, the authors support also the “revolt” against the pre-Communist national tradition, want the de-mythologizing turn to be accompanied by a re-professionalizing turn, and wish to see the overcoming of the current anti-pluralistic conceptions – then the current thematic changes could be accompanied by methodological sophistication, which is still often lacking.
While the article’s analysis is multilayered and its presentation on important historiographical achievements in Romania is rather comprehensive, I have two smaller problems with this text. I feel its authors could have devoted more attention to the intriguing and complex problem that after the (admitted) deformations and fabrications of history in communist times, there are two developments that emerged: some feel there is a need to restore the Truth, while others have become overly critical and iconoclastic – and that both of these developments are problematic in their own ways. Secondly, their theory of two sides, the opposition (and clash) of the pre-1989 establishment with “the group of historians who enjoy a great professional prestige because of their resistance to the ideological intrusions of the former regime” (p.369) seems to lack the sufficient complexity – and it feels rather crudely political. On a purely technical level, strangely, in this case the Notes feature many more extra comments than in all the other papers put together (elsewhere basically all important statements are incorporated into the main body, the Notes only provide references).
The article on Bulgaria titled “Historical Studies in Post-Communist Bulgaria: Between Academic Standards and Political Agendas” has the strongest “grand narrative” of the development (or rather lack thereof) of historiography. Much attention is devoted to institutional developments, the setting of the professional canon and the concept of scholarly standards. In my opinion, Ivan Elenkov and Daniela Koleva devote too much space (close to 20 pages, pp.410-427) to the communist times and the development of institutions back then, aiming to justify this with their claim that institutional continuity and change is of paramount importance for the continuity and change of paradigms and research styles (p.458). Though they see at the core of the institutional reforms under communism the aim of an Orwellian rewriting of Bulgarian history, they claim that the development of historiography was different and even in tension with this aim (p.426).

At the same time, they point to a basic continuity of Bulgarian historiography since the 1960s and 1970s, when claims to “historical truth” as expert, apolitical, and anti-ideological knowledge were first formulated, and an internal professional anti-ideological critical discourse was initiated while authoritarian proclamations of the truth remained standard (pp.416-7) and the past became all-Bulgarian (p.421). In short, factology became opposed to ideology as well as to reflection on interpretative frameworks. Moreover, Elenkov and Koleva opine that the majority of discussion themes set in this period (, if not already in 1950-51) have not changed since (p.419).
The post-1989 changes they view not as a result of an inner logic. This also means that in their view these changes could not amount to a revolution and paradigm change (p.428), and what is more, the methods and standards of the profession have remained unquestioned (p.434). Their impression is that changes in evaluations took place within the same framework and research vocabulary (p.436). Theoretical and methodological innovations since 1989 have amounted at best to a critique of historical materialism and a search for alternatives (p.445). The nation remains as the dominant discursive frame of historical analyses (p.441). Though thematically there are some notable novelties (minorities have become visible and religion has recently attracted the attention of researchers), stepping beyond the dominant nation-centered paradigm is exceptional, often appears innovative and remains marginal within historiography, also in the institutional sense – a systematic challenge to the nationalist historical narrative has only come from other disciplines (pp.443-4 and p.457).
Next to the presentation of a number of significant individual works (by Mishkova, Daskalov, Georgieva, Popova, Gergova, Avramov, Gavrilova and themselves), they devote space to some relevant developments in neighboring disciplines (Balkan studies, sociology, ethnology and literary studies), since history is narrowly conceived in Bulgaria, and therefore many novelties that could belong to the field of history are incorporated outside of it. They take the Bulgarian debate on fascism to indicate the strangeness of the 1990s, when the ideological enemy (the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideological dogma) does not need to be disputed any longer, still this debate fulfils the function of legitimizing the non-political status of the expert study of history – which has by now come to acquire the states of “art for art’s sake” in their opinion (pp.462-4).

In their conclusion, Elenkov and Koleva talk of impeded pluralism and mention the emergence of new topics as the only truly positive development (p.465). While the article is certainly informative and provides introductory paragraphs to several crucial Bulgarian authors, I believe the reader could have been better served with more discussion of scholarly oeuvres and interpretative trends, instead of the somewhat homogenizing narrative and general critique of the profession, which at times feels much like lamenting. 
In sum, this volume is based on an immense amount of material, is highly informative and at times, even if not throughout, strongly analytical. Importantly, the book also has long and excellent bibliographies for each country. The lack of greater systematization of the presentations is advantageous in the sense that no homogenous vision is imposed and the reader needs to consider each country on its own terms. At the same time, some points are made in each article [such as the ‘relative relevance’ of 1989, the conservatism of the profession, the (implicit or explicit, often narrow) definitions of the profession, the lack of theoretical and methodological training and interests, the emergence of new themes as one of the most significant change, the importance and types of political histories, the place and frequent weakness of gender history, etc.]. These could have been presented in more strictly comparative ways. Moreover, one might wonder to what extent the divergences we can discern between the countries are a result of the authors’ perceptions and preoccupations and to what extent they can be taken as a direct reflection of the actual differences between the historiographies of the countries under examination (for instance, Slovak historiography appears to have produced way fewer significant works than Czech, which might be the case or might be due to the more superficial versus scholarly focus of the authors).
On the most general level, the concept for the book is based on the mixing of the periodizations of history and historiography (after all 1989 is a historical date, not a historiographical) and exploring how much there is a real coincidence/simultaneity of dynamics. In a book based on such a concept, it is somewhat surprising to find most authors disagreeing with the view of 1989 as a decisive point in time for the profession. They tend to prefer to tone down its importance and positive impact, even if they would “support developments.” Górny in many ways even reverses the assessment of the two periods for Polish historiography, on the other end of the scale Petrescu and Petrescu stress how positive, even if insufficient the changes have been in Romania.
In my assessment, the studies on the Czech Republic and Hungary stand out as the best ones, since they present the greatest amount of historical scholarship and also succeed at critically reflecting on them in their dense pages. Without questioning that familiarity with the (institutional) context of scholarship is important, I would still maintain that since access to such information can be found in other ways too while in-depth introductions to local/national historians and scholarly developments is much more difficult to find, it is the latter that should be seen as the primary benefit of the publication of this volume. In particular, the article by Kopeček and Kolář succeeds in not only lamenting the absence of Western expertise and synchronization, but critically confront existing scholarship with such standards and point to how Czech adaptations have been (at times they have been excellent, at others they have produced mutants). This article also has a sufficiently complex argument and a clear structure.
In sum, the claim that the present volume “could be used as a building block for a history of European and global historical studies; as a heuristic reference for similar projects; as a pedagogical means for classes in the history of historical studies, both in Eastern Europe and elsewhere” (p.X) is justified. The authors have taken care of an important task that can hopefully trigger more of needed reflection and contribute to making historical studies in Eastern Europe and intra- and inter-regional exchanges more sophisticated.