Times of Upheaval

Four Medievalists in Twentieth-Century Central Europe. Conversations with Jerzy Kłoczowski, János M. Bak, František Šmahel, and Herwig Wolfram
$40.00 / €35.00/ £31.00
Publication date: 
396 pages

The volume unites conversations with four masters of Medieval Studies from east-central Europe: János Bak from Hungary, Jerzy Kłoczowski from Poland, František Šmahel from the Czech Republic, and Herwig Wolfram from Austria. The interviews, made by younger colleagues, reveal engaging life stories, with numerous observations, anecdotes and experiences. The four scholars grew up before and during the war, under Nazi occupation, emerged as young scholars in the difficult post-war period, and, for most of their careers worked in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, two of them spending most of their lifetimes under communist regimes.
The conversations focus on ways in which open-minded young intellectuals became medieval historians under difficult circumstances, how they experienced the long shadows of totalitarian regimes with their acute sensitivity for historical change, and how their perceptions of the world around them reflected back on their approach to medieval history. The histories of their nations were broken, most of them ceased to exist and then were re-established during their lifetimes, came under foreign domination, were split up, or had their territories shifted. These changes affected these scholars' identities and patriotic feelings, and their present was reflected in the distant mirror of the medieval past.

Introducing Jerzy Kłoczowski
Jerzy Kłoczowski in Conversation with Paweł Kras
Introducing János M. Bak
János M. Bak in Conversation with Gábor Klaniczay
Introducing František Šmahel
Introducing František Šmahel in Conversation with Pavlína Rychterová
Introducing Herwig Wolfram
Herwig Wolfram in Conversation with Walter Pohl

"The four medievalists represented in this volume belong to a generation of historians born in the first half of the twentieth century. The best definition of this cohort comes from the question: ‘what were you doing in 1945?’ Herwig Wolfram and František Šmahel (b. 1934) were still young children, János Bak (b. 1929) was a teenager, Jerzy Kłoczowski (b. 1924) already a young man. The few years that separated their dates of birth made a big difference in the course of their lives, but in another way, connected them to the various political changes that shaped the second half of the twentieth century in Central Europe where all four were born. In sum this is fascinating read and a profound insight into a generation of important medievalist historians who are now giving way to a generation unburdened by totalitarian and empowered by the new methodologies of the electronic age."
"Readers are provided with a glimpse into the lives of four of the most iconic medieval historians of the twentieth century. This privileged access is mediated to us not through a journalist but through those most influenced by these giants, namely, their students, who themselves have now, in turn, achieved international acclaim. It is, perhaps, the stories associated with these four scholars as they navigated their tumultuous milieu that will most impress readers, as they encounter historians who by no means fit the stereotype of an ivory tower recluse, detached and irrelevant. While the biographical portions of these interviews clearly have much value, they also have much to contribute to discussions of historiography. Each of the four historians is questioned about the major influences on their work, ranging from the broader philosophies and methodologies of history to specific mentors and teachers in their education. Despite this focus on the past, this book in many... more