Representing the South Slavonic peasantry in British popular discourse, 1900-1918

Foster, Samuel (2015) Representing the South Slavonic peasantry in British popular discourse, 1900-1918. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This study explores the link between perceptions of British identity in the early twentieth century and representations of foreign cultures, focusing on the South Slavonic peasant communities of the Balkan territories which formed the first Yugoslavia in December 1918. Utilising a range of source materials, including archival documents, memoirs, press articles and scientific literature, it presents an original perspective on Anglo-Balkan engagement – in the specific historical context of Yugoslavia’s creation as opposed to the region in general – from a social, rather than political, dimension. Furthermore, it challenges previous historical interpretations of this period as representing merely the conclusion of a ‘long-nineteenth’ or the beginning of a ‘short-twentieth’ century process of ‘othering’. In doing so, it contributes to the study of Western engagement with southeastern Europe before the Second World War.
Despite Britain entering the twentieth century as the dominant world power, public discourse became imbued with distinct cultural pessimism, stemming from a range of social anxieties surrounding the future of British identity, which increasingly undermined nineteenth-century ideals of modernity and progress. By the 1910s, these latent anxieties had even permeated into elite, supposedly unrelated, debates on the contemporary Balkans, recalibrating the image of the South Slavonic peasantry as an allegory for Britain’s perceived ‘decline’. Reactions to regional violence signalled this shift, forging a metanarrative of peasant victimhood in the face of modernity’s worst excesses yet also feeding into the emerging notion that Britain had a moral duty to resist such forces. The deployment of thousands of British military and civilian personnel in the Balkans, compounded by a vigorous domestic propaganda campaign, saw this process reach its apotheosis in the First World War: Yugoslavia’s creation was legitimised as the solution to peasant victimisation and became integral to Britain’s imagined revival as civilisation’s moral arbiter.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 17 Aug 2018 14:30
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2021 00:38

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