Thomas A. Emmert & Charles W. Ingrao: Bringing Balkan scholars together

Historians in the News

Sitting at a table in a downtown restaurant here, Charles W. Ingrao is more than 4,500 miles away from Sarajevo. But as he talks with a reporter on a blustery January morning, Mr. Ingrao, a professor of history at Purdue University's main campus, could be sitting at a cafe in Bosnia and Herzegovina's capital. There's coffee and Coca-Cola on the table, and the rapid-fire conversation is thick with Balkan controversy and history. Only the fog of cigarette smoke found in any Bosnian cafe is missing.

Mr. Ingrao is project director of the Scholars' Initiative, an international effort to resolve lingering questions about the decade of wars in former Yugoslavia. Those wars not only brought about a violent end to that country but also severely tested international institutions like the United Nations, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The plan of the Scholars' Initiative was simple enough: Create research teams combining reputable scholars from the Balkan region with their counterparts in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and elsewhere. The groups would address historical flashpoints created by the conflicts, with the goal of writing a history — anchored in solid scholarship — by consensus.

A clear plan, but its execution has been anything but simple. The wounds of conflict are still fresh. Not even a decade has passed since some of the events in the wars that created five nations. Agreement has been hard to forge among scholars in the region — and, at times, even among Western scholars of the conflict whose own views clashed. Even mundane things — paying scholars, arranging for travel — have been complicated by the relative poverty of Balkan universities and the vagaries of regional banking systems.

Mr. Ingrao has made 29 trips to the Balkans over the past five years to organize, cajole, and even bully the initiative's participants. He and the project's associate director, Thomas A. Emmert, a professor of history at Gustavus Adolphus College, have made uncounted hours of telephone calls, sent thousands of e-mail messages, arranged meetings, and raised almost $100,000 for the program from organizations including the U.S. Institute of Peace, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the German Marshall Fund.

Mr. Ingrao recalls one trip to a meeting of scholars in July 2002 in Sarajevo, much of which he spent attempting to secure stipends for participants in the proper currency. "I missed half the conference in Sarajevo," he says with a chuckle. "Dealing with banks. Getting 50-euro pieces."

At many times, the initiative appeared quixotic. "If anyone had doubts," says Mr. Emmert, "they saw the doubts being realized whenever you got to any issue that is contentious."

Yet the project has achieved tangible results. Drafts of eight out of 11 planned papers are complete. More than 250 scholars from 28 countries have participated. Indeed, Mr. Ingrao and Mr. Emmert were in Philadelphia because three panels of the American Historical Association's annual meeting were focused on the initiative....

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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