Transilvania mea. Istorii, mentalităţi, identităţi

TitleTransilvania mea. Istorii, mentalităţi, identităţi
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsPăltineanu, Oana Sînziana
Author(s) of reviewed materialMitu, Sorin

Title translated:
My Transylvania. Histories, Mentalities, Identities

PublisherIaşi: Polirom
Review year


Full Text

Probably best known to the English-speaking readership for his National Identity of Romanians in Transylvania, published in Romanian in 1997 and translated into English in 2001, in My Transylvania Sorin Mitu mostly continues the analysis of identity mechanisms, the mirror image of the collective self and the other, with a focus on Romanian and Hungarian mutual representations. Mitu’s choice of topic and methods place him among the new generation of Romanian historians who study regionalism, local history and the history of the imaginary. This book, however, is designed as a heterogeneous, subjective and fragmented account of Transylvania’s history, also encompassing articles already published, but reshaped to fit into what the author calls “a typical ‘postmodern’ and polyphonic structure” (12). Consequently, the reader discovers Mitu’s Transylvania from the first half of the nineteenth century side by side with controversial topics, such as Transylvania’s autonomy, pertaining to the post-1989 period. The six chapters of the book are theoretically framed, incorporating Western debates about concepts, historiography, and nationalism theories.

The introduction of the book makes explicit Mitu’s rejection of impersonal history writing, and as a result, he takes the path of postmodern relativism, indulging in a tight bond with the research subject. Unfortunately, at least to some extent, this inherent subjectivity harms the integrity of the work as it hinders a clear enough interpretation of the sources, which is sometimes infused with dramatic overtones.

The first chapter of the book starts with a short overview of the post-1989 Romanian historiography, and Mitu’s tracing of a crisis between the conservative tradition and the revisionist camp may well be regarded as an invitation to a polemical dialogue. In the following three subsections, the author turns his attention to questions of identity, of generations of historians, and to archives and their roles and functioning. The last and largest part of the chapter introduces the theoretical framework: the study of imaginary as the intersection of comparative literature, social psychology, and history, together with the input coming from the study of symbolic geographies.

The second chapter restates in a more pragmatic fashion the general topics posited in the previous one. The question concerning Transylvania’s autonomy is tackled by Mitu with insight gained not only from studying the overlapping and competing Hungarian and Romanian symbolic geographies, but also from dismantling arguments based on present regional stereotypes. The author’s critical analysis of identity mechanisms goes both ways along the spectrum of time and ethnicities in Transylvania. The overarching theme of the chapter, however, is a plea addressed to the putative Romanian historian to supersede the ethnocentric perspective and write a history that pays equal attention to Romanians, Hungarians, and Germans from Transylvania – ideally, a common history that does not orientalize the other.

The third chapter approaches a few fundamental themes in the history of modern Transylvania, in the first half of the nineteenth century: ideas about the fatherland among Transylvanian Romanians, the image of Europe, the 1848 revolution and newspapers, the celebration as a “marker of difference” (Ovidiu Ghitta) and source of social conflict. In spite of the explicit historiographical and theoretical positions Mitu takes on these research topics, accompanied by his interpretation of sources, the reader is left with the impression that a wider (inter)national context is needed.

The fourth chapter, placed at the core of the book, deals with matters of the heart. Concentrically pursuing this subject, and using mainly folkloristic sources, Mitu analyzes the peasant mentality in Transylvania from the level of village, to that of family and individual. Apart from evoking the image of the woman in this context, an analysis that could have benefited from employing gender as an analytical category, Mitu delves into a controversial topic: that of ecclesiastic celibacy and its temptations. Furthermore, collective opinions about inter-ethnic marriages, the myth of the merciful emperor and his courteous conduct towards Romanian women are also themes for Mitu to explore.

The last two chapters of the book are the most consistent both in terms of the grouping of the short historical investigations and of their thoroughness. In view of filling a research gap in historiography, Mitu expands on his earlier works on Romanian stereotypes about Hungarians and vice versa, gradually setting the ground for a comparative analysis that would include the way the French, Germans, or Hungarians represented Romanians in the nineteenth century. Mitu’s analyses of newspapers, particularly that of Gazeta de Transilvania, are convincing and well-structured. To take just one example, some of the comparative, relational, quantitative and qualitative approaches provide the reader with a complex perspective on the Irish model for Transylvanian Romanians.

The shortcomings of My Transylvania stem mainly from the puzzle-like corpus of its texts, which lend an uneven character to the book in terms of depth of research. Nevertheless, the book, as a collection of wise ranging articles, engages the reader at a variety of levels, while Mitu’s analyses provide the trained historian with fruitful hypotheses and methods of approaching the history of Transylvania.