Bones of Contention
The living archive of Vasil Levski and the making
of Bulgaria's national hero
Maria N. Todorova is a Professor of History
at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
This book is about documenting and analyzing the living
archive around the figure of Vasil Levski (1837–1873),
arguably the major and only uncontested hero of the
Bulgarian national pantheon. The processes described,
although with a chronological depth of almost two centuries,
are still very much in the making, and the living archive
expands not only in size but constantly adding surprising
new forms. The monograph is a historical study, taking
as its narrative focus the life, death and posthumous
fate of Levski. By exploring the vicissitudes of his
heroicization, glorification, appropriations, reinterpretation,
commemoration and, finally, canonization, it seeks to
engage in several broad theoretical debates, and provide
the basis for subsequent regional comparative research.
The analysis of Levski's consecutive and simultaneous
appropriations by different social platforms, political
parties, secular and religious institutions, ideologies,
professional groups, and individuals, demonstrates how
boundaries within the framework of the nation are negotiated
around accepted national symbols.
Introduction; Part I.
Bones of Contention or Professionals, Dilettantes, and
Who Owns History 1.
A “social drama” at the Bulgarian Academy
of Sciences 2. From breach to crisis 3. No redress,
or where are Levski’s bones? 4. A socialist public
sphere? 5. “Professionals” and “dilettantes”
6. Recognizing the schism or what is worse: bad professionals
or good nationalists? Part II. The Apostle
of Freedom or What Makes a Hero? 1. What
is a hero and are heroes born? 2. The “making”
of Vasil Levski 3. A banner for all causes: appropriating
the hero 4. Contesting the hero 5. The literary and
visual hypostases of the hero 6. From hero for all to
dissident and back Part III. The National
Hero as Secular Saint: The Canonization of Levski 1.
The split or how a bicephalous organism functions 2.
The canonization and its implications 3. Levski and
the Bulgarian church: memory and narration 4. The orchestration
of a grass-roots cultus 5. Commemoration, ritual and
the sacred 6. Heroes and saints: the dialectics of reincarnation
Conclusion Appendices Appendix
I. The scholarly consensus on the 1956 excavations
until the 1980s in the writings of Stamen Mikhailov.
A critical analysis; Appendix II. The discussion
at the Academy of Sciences : 10, 12 and 27 February
1986; Appendix III. Letter of 20 Bulgarian
historians to Todor Zhivkov, 4 May 1987; Appendix
IV. Poems written by citizens on the topic of Levski’s
grave; Appendix V. Letter of Radka Poptomova,
April 1987 ; Appendix VI. Letter of medieval
section at AI, June 2001 ; Appendix VII. The
double-headed hierarchy of the Bulgarian Orthodox church
(1996-2004); Appendix VIII. School questionnaires
The No.2 issue of the 36th volume of Southeastern
Europe dedicated 22 pages to a debate
about Bones of Contention. The two comments
by Ivaylo Ditchev and Stefan Troebst were responded
by the author.
"This book is many things, but foremost it is
a detailed analysis of the social and political processes
that crafted a nineteenth-century Bulgarian revolutionary,
Vasil Levski, into the most admired and revered hero
in Bulgaria. Although the current representation of
his revolutionary actions would suggest that this was
inevitable, Maria Todorova shows that this was not necessarily
the case. His ascendancy to the pinnacle of Bulgarias
heroic pantheon was a result of continual contestation
and debate from his death in 1873 through the 1920s.
As his preeminence was consolidated, different groups
with opposing political philosophies all tapped into
his celebrity to advance their platforms, further enhancing
his aura and elevating him toward saintly status.
This is an impressive piece of scholarship demonstrating
meticulous historical research with both primary and
secondary sources combined with engaging personal expositions
based on the authors close connection to some
of the major protagonists and events. It is an important
contribution to scholarship in both method and content.
It is also an important contribution to the literature
on nationalism generally, particularly the growing interest
in varieties of nationalisms. The book thus speaks to
multiple disciplines, including history, political science,
sociology, and anthropology. It is also augmented by
a lovely collection of color prints that further enhance
its readability. The result is an outstanding book that
combines the best of the historians craft with
novel innovations" - Slavic Review
"A complex, clever, and compelling book. It is
an excellent guide to a major nineteenth-century revolutionary
figure, and it provides a fascinating study in the political
exploitation and manipulation of legend and myth."
- Journal of Modern History
"An enjoyable but daunting volume; Maria Todorova
entertains with straightforward prose while she tackles
a subject that is in its breadth and depth unusually
Todorova's book arrives at a promising moment in the
evolution of nationalism studies. The author engages
several theoretical debates, and in doing so revives
the quest for impartiality in academic research."
- American Historical Review
622 pages + 16 with color photos
ISBN 978-963-9776-24-1 cloth $55.00/ €44.95 / £40.00
2011: abridged paperback version of the cloth
390 pages + 16 with color photos
ISBN 978-615-5053-09-2 paperback $27.95/ €25.95