Comparatizing Transylvania: Rurality, Inter-Imperiality, and the Global Modernist Market

Collaborative Group

Professor Anca Parvulescu, Professor Manuela Boatca


Sociology and Global Studies


A geopolitical entity since at least the fifteenth century, Transylvania has been claimed serially by a number of empires and nation-states. It maintained a separate identity within the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire, was incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the nineteenth century and into the Romanian state in the beginning of the twentieth. Several languages have historically been spoken in the region: Romanian, Hungarian, German, Armenian, Greek, Yiddish, and Romany. Not coincidentally, Transylvania is considered to be the birth place of the discipline of comparative literature. A study of the region thus contributes a singular perspective on the imbrication of nation-building, postcoloniality, and inter-imperiality. The project, which brings Transylvania into ongoing, interrelated conversations on world literature, world history, and world systems-analysis, draws on literature scholar Anca Parvulescu’s writings on Eastern European modernity as a function of the region’s (post)coloniality and sociologist Manuela Boatcă’s work on semiperipheries in the modern/colonial world-system and the geopolitics of knowledge in Eastern Europe and Latin America. The project thus aims to place this region in a comparative framework that yields a fresh perspective on comparatism itself. Guiding questions are: What does “the world”(-system) look like when seen from the standpoint of a small village in Transylvania? How is comparative methodology transformed when one’s standpoint is Transylvania? In a methodological and pedagogical experiment, the project operates through a multilayered reading of one Transylvanian document, Liviu Rebreanu’s novel Ion, published in Bucharest in 1920. The project’s multimethod analysis centers on the region's inter-imperial history, developing a notion of postcoloniality as the aftermath of multiple, conflicting empires in the longue durée. The project frames Transylvania as a spatial node of multi- and inter-imperial relations, demonstrating that these scalar imperial layers coexist in the first decades of the twentieth century. The study will result in a coauthored book that contributes to scholarship on both comparative literature and the world history of capitalism. Boatcă and Parvulescu have several coauthored chapters and articles, as well as an ongoing joint teaching project involving classes and guest lectures in the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Romania. Award period: July 1, 2018 through July 31, 2019