Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History. Preface and Explanation

Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History

Twenty-FIve Lectures on Modern Balkan History (The Balkans in the Age of Nationalism). List of lectures. – Humanities Commons (

Preface and Explanation

Update: Jan. 10, 2023. The project for “Twenty-Five Lectures in Balkan History” began in the mid-1990s, and has been available at a Michigan State University Libraries web address. I am now setting up copies of all the files here in Humanities Commons, with some edits.

This preface first was written (in the Spring of 1996) as a way to anticipate questions from Web surfers who encounter this project.  By dating subsequent sections and changes, I would like to trace the evolution of the text.

28 October 1996


These lectures originally were written for an introductory undergraduate course on modern Balkan history, taught at Swarthmore College in 1995. At the time they were composed, it did not occur to me that posting them on the WWW might be an option. For that reason, the texts are sometimes casual, and fail to cite their sources [for more on this problem, scroll down to the note for 24 May 2005]. The syllabus for that class has been posted in the H-Net HABSBURG archives.  

By training, I have backgrounds in both history and librarianship: this project (despite its content) derives chiefly from the latter. As a librarian interested in the extension of texts (and other sources) into cyberspace, I wanted to experiment with mounting a large-scale document in this medium. What would I learn about html from the experience? What could I teach remote readers, and how could they respond to me? What problems would the project create?

12 June 1996 [URLs updated 22 April 2005]


The first six lectures were posted first on a server at Swarthmore College, in a strictly Macintosh environment. Lectures Two, Three and Four were marked up using Word Perfect 3.5. The Table of Contents, Preface and Lectures One, Five and Six were marked up using HTML Editor 1.0. While HTML Editor seemed to create somewhat larger files, I found that it made manipulation of the text easier. These files were transferred to a server at Michigan State University (in a Windows 95 environment) in September 1996. The remaining lectures, beginning with Lecture Seven, will be marked up using AOLpress 1.2.

18 October 1996


In a lecture at MSU on 25 October 1996, Sherry Turkle (MIT)  reported that some secondary school students now rely on the Web for the bulk of their research. This highlights the need to identify the source and authority for Web pages. Readers using materials posted on the Web need tools to evaluate what they find.

What is the authority for this series? The origin of the content is noted above. As for the author: I earned a Ph.D. in modern European history from Indiana University in 1981, with emphases on Austria-Hungary and Balkan diplomatic history.  I have worked as a librarian since earning an M.L.S. in 1986.  

28 October 1996


During the September 1997 H-Net Conference held at MSU, I was privileged to hear David Seaman speak about the work of the University of Virginia Electronic Text Center. Part of his talk explained their use of the concept of “publicly-accessible texts” as distinguished from “public domain” texts. The former term allows the author of a piece or a site owner who invests significant resources in markup to retain some control over use and abuse of the material, in a way that is not possible should one declare material to be in the public domain. Following the talk, and based on his remarks, I added a Conditions of Use page to this site.

26 November 1997

The end of the fall semester 1997 also sees the end of HTML markup for these lectures. While a certain amount of minor editing is likely to go on indefinitely — I am obliged to several readers for noticing errors — this project is by and large complete. At some future date, I would like to pursue a Web site that directed readers to good quality, English language, online materials dealing with Balkan history, because there seems to be an interest in research materials on the Web, especially for nonspecialists. Should that project bear fruit, there will be a link to it from these pages. [This list is no longer maintained.]

18 December 1997


The recent [1998] Serb-Albanian crisis in Kosovo has increased interest in Balkan matters. These lectures now have been edited so that the texts consistently use the spelling “Kosovo” rather than “Kossovo,” a competing form that has fallen out of usage, especially in the mass media. This change should make it easier for Web surfers to find relevant lectures, if they are entering ‘kosovo’ or ‘Kosovo’ as a keyword search.

Also, I’ve added a notice at the bottom of each page that “This lecture is a portion of a larger Web site, Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History (The Balkans in the Age of Nationalism),” followed by the link to the Table of Contents.  This should make it easier for readers who stumble across one lecture, to see where it fits into the full list.

3 November 1998


I was recently asked how to cite these Web pages in footnotes and bibliographies. One of the best early sources is Electronic Styles: A Handbook for Citing Electronic Information (1996), by Xia Li and Nancy Crane [a Web page summary formerly available at is no longer online]. Based on Li and Crane’s examples, one of these lectures could be cited as follows:

Sowards, Steven W. “Lecture No. 1: Geography and ethnic geography of the Balkans to 1500.” Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History. 1996. Online. Available: 5 January 1999.

5 January 1999


During the present Kosovo crisis, I have received more e-mail about this site than at any other time, and from an expanded range of readers seeking background material, from around the world and even including a few news agencies. Many have asked for additional information, especially on current events.

Updating or expanding this site is beyond my present resources (especially time); I also believe that it makes sense to preserve the identity and purpose of these pages, as introductory historical background. Instead, I have added hot links to suggested sources of additional information on the Table of Contents page [the current news page is no longer updated].

Without question, the Web is being used as a major source of information during this international crisis, not only by interested individuals but by the media. This underscores the need for reliable, accessible Web resources.

2 April 1999


After the crisis over Kosovo led to NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, there was a noticeable increase in the number of email questions and comments that I received from Web surfers who came across these lectures. At the end of the second week of the bombing campaign, our systems staff assisted me in putting counters on some of the individual pages within the site, for the first time. In the intervening two months, those counters have recorded the following volume of hits:

  • On the main Table of Contents page: 9,300 hits
  • On Lecture 1 (Balkan and ethnic geography): 3,250 hits
  • On Lecture 13 (Serbian nationalism to 1920): 1,050 hits
  • On Lecture 25 (the Yugoslav civil war of the 1990s): 1,950 hits
  • On this preface: 750 hits

About a third of total visits to the site during these two months took place during a single peak week between April 21 and 27, as the media reported spectacular bombing of major buildings in Belgrade, and many students in the United States finished work on Spring semester research projects. Of course, visiting a page does not necessarily mean reading it. The count for the Table of Contents is increased by the site’s design, which tends to route browsers through that page over and over (like a house in which all rooms communicate through a central atrium).

Having heard from dozens of readers in the last year, I have some advice for other Web site designers who invite comments from the public:

  • Give your readers guidance about what you would like to know about their use of the site. For example, as a librarian I am interested in the techniques that Web surfers use to locate information, but few readers have told me about how they were using the Web when they found the “25 Lectures,” because I never asked them to do so.
  • Give your readers guidance about what other services you can (and cannot) provide for them. There is a tendency for readers to view Web sites like “icebergs” — that is, to assume that one is seeing only 10% of some larger store of knowledge. That may or may not be true: in some cases I have been able to answer questions from readers, but in many cases I have had to refer them to other sources.

8 June 1999

I have received many comments about recent events in the Balkans, not only about the Kosovo crisis but also about Lecture 25 which deals with the chronology of the civil war in Bosnia through the end of 1995. Historians prefer to work from a full range of evidence including confidential materials that may remain secret for many years, but because of time constraints that lecture had to be prepared on the basis of news media accounts. This opens the content to valid and serious criticism.

In particular the lecture was criticized for assigning blame for an explosion in Sarajevo’s Markale market place which killed 68 people in February 1994. Reflecting early Western media reports, I stated that Serbian artillery was responsible, but later investigations have been inconclusive. That portion of the lecture has now been modified.

Much more information is now available about many aspects of the fighting in Bosnia. Why then have I not rewritten the entire lecture? Revising the Web page would be technically simple, but raises complicated issues about the permanence of texts in the Web medium. Among other things, Lecture 25 as written “illustrated the extent to which the Bosnian Serbs had lost the contest for world opinion” in 1995. Altering the text of the lecture — years after the fact — would misrepresent the perspective held by the author (and many other Americans) at the time.

In the novel 1984, Winston Smith has a job. This is George Orwell’s description of Smith’s work in the archives of the Ministry of Truth:

“Winston examined the four slips of paper which he had unrolled. …“… The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify. …

“… As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs — to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. … All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place. … Books also were recalled and rewritten again and again, and were invariably reissued without any admission that any alteration had been made.”

Quoted from 1984, Part One, chapter IV

To ‘rectify’ the errors in the 1995 text as written, while technically simple on the Web, strikes me as too close to the standards of 1984 for comfort. I would prefer instead that readers treat what they read — here, on the Web, or elsewhere — with a due sense of caution, and rely on multiple sources when dealing with controversial topics.

22 November 1999


When I set up this Web site, one of my goals was to gain some knowledge of the ways in which online readers work with online sources. Some of my observations are now available in an article about use of these pages that appeared in the Journal of Electronic Publishing for December 1999.  

25 January 2000


As of July 2000, I plan to add selected images to this site gradually, to increase comprehension and interest. One feature of these Web pages has always been the use of text alone, so that the lectures load rapidly even for users with low bandwidth connections to the Internet. So as to retain that strength, the images will appear by way of links to separate pages. [I am no longer updating or maintaining the image and map links].

I would be interested to hear from readers if they have trouble with this way of presenting maps and images: I don’t want this enhancement to interfere with the general accessability of the lecture texts.

5 July 2000

At the Michigan Library Association conference (October 2003), I heard a fine presentation by Carrie Bricker (author of Web Design on a Shoestring). She noted that a sans-serif font (like Verdana) was most readable on screens, combined with a serif font like Georgia for headers. As you can see, this page has been redone on that basis: it certainly looks different. I’m going to go with expert advice and modify all the lecture pages as time allows. After all, everything can be put back as it was without great trouble. [This project was completed on 17 December 2003].

3 November 2003

I continue to be fascinated by the unexpected consequences of putting free text on the Web. It is now possible to buy a bound hard-copy German translation of these lectures thanks to hard work by Georg Liebetrau, the translator, using the publishing system of Books on Demand GmbH and The title is Moderne Geschichte des Balkans. After seeing the original Web version, Herr Liebetrau believed there was a potential audience who would prefer reading the text in paper and auf deutsch. I am in his debt.

1 July 2004


As already noted, the unexpected path from reading to course lecture notes to a “published” Web site means that proper citing of sources has been lost along the way. Given concerns about plagiarism and the Web, this remains a troubling situation without a good solution.

Not just facts but crucial ideas, arguments and theses made their way into these lectures from the mass of material that I looked at in graduate school and later. Some sources are explicity named in the text, but not all. Anyone widely reading Balkan history quickly will see that Lecture 1 draws heavily on L. S. Stavrianos for comments about geography; that Lecture 2 often relies on Daniel Chirot’s anthology on backwardness; and that Lecture 16 could not have been written without ideas from Arno J. Mayer. The thesis of Lecture 22 reflects many classes taken with Professor Wayne S. Vucinich (upon his death in 2005, Lisa Trei called him “a legendary professor who taught that the ‘Communist Bloc’ was far from the gray monolithic entity characterized by U.S. policymakers in the postwar era”). The list could go on. The Bibliographic Note page lists many but not all of the sources used, limited by memory and the passage of time.

24 May 2005

In November 2008, it once again became necessary to change the URL address for all parts of this site (a server maintained by the MSU Libraries was being retired). I have done my best to change all the pages that begin with with corrected new URLs that begin with Given all the linkages, I won’t be surprised if I miss a few. The previous system of counters also could no longer be maintained, and won’t be replaced. The main Table of Contents page was visited 208,352 times between 14 June 1999 and 24 October 2008, or about 22,000 times per year or about 60 times per day on average (with higher totals during the American school year months). [The future status of these MSU URLs is unknown.]

4 November 2008

Some twenty years have gone by since these lectures were written. It makes sense to provide an update on recent trends, looking at events that have meaning for the Balkan region as a whole. A consistent theme has been the uncertain relationship between Southeastern Europe and “Europe” as a larger concept. The Greek financial crisis is a useful tool for looking again at that relationship, since Greece’s participation in institutions of the European Union is at stake. This ties into a larger discussion of the expansion of Western European institutions into Eastern Europe: NATO, the EU, the Schengen travel zone, and the Eurozone. With the Greek crisis at a new milestone in July 2015, I have added a Postlogue (more or less Lecture 26) on these topics.

1 July 2015

I remain interested in hearing from readers who discover these texts. At this time (January 2023) my contact information is  for email, or:

Steven W. Sowards
Michigan State University Libraries
366 W. Circle Drive
East Lansing MI 48824-1048 USA

This preface is a portion of a larger set of texts, Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History (The Balkans in the Age of Nationalism). 

This text last modified 11 January 2023.

Copyright 1996 by Steven W. Sowards

Comment display has been disabled on this doc.

Comment display has been disabled on this doc.