19th Century Balkan Historiography through the Travelogue: The Accounts by Western Travelers & Others

Anton Cebalo


The Balkans pose a unique question in European historiography and definitions of Europe proper. Since the 17th century, the Balkans have been perceived by Western Europe as an in-between space and passageway to the Ottoman East. Scholars have tried to place the Balkans in the context of orientalism, but this has been met with much difficulty because of its representational ambiguity. Imposed as a concept, the Balkan identity was internalized by its people only after it was discursively branded that way by Western powers. Therefore, if we wish to understand the Balkans in how it was, then we must look at how it was known. By the 1800s, the Balkans became a popular travel destination for Westerners who wanted to comment on the East without stepping outside Europe. These travelers came with their own political prescriptions and theories; and, just as commonly, they came with the same totalizing observations, devoid of cultural context, and always talking with utmost authority. “The Balkans,” this fictitious and imposed construction, was made real through the traveling observer’s eye. This essay will demonstrate that these travelers were far less interested in accurately representing the Balkans as a space, but instead used their observations of the region as a vehicle to comment on Ottoman rule, their home country, and the state of Europe. These two lines of argumentation – an indictment of Ottoman influence and/or a critique of Western society vis- à -vis a critique of Balkan life – runs parallel throughout all these travelogues. These travelers were responsible for displacing the Balkan peoples through their writing, thus playing their part in making the Balkans the abject of Europe.

Keywords: Balkans, travel literature, historiography, orientalism, Bosnia, Serbia, Rumelia, Ottoman Empire

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.