Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

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The Power of Microhistory: Swamp, Sugar, Communism, Environment
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This event is online only.

Please join us for a conversation between Tirana-based historians Artan R. Hoxha and Edon Qesari, moderated by Elidor Mëhilli (CUNY).

Can one write the history of the 20th century by focusing on a single place? With Sugarland: The Transformation of the Countryside in Communist Albania, the historian Artan R. Hoxha embraces this challenge. His case study is Maliq: former swampland in southeastern Albania, which the communist regime transformed into the country’s center of sugar production. By zooming in and zooming out, Hoxha explores the economic, environmental, social, and cultural transformations that took place there, linking them to broader European and global historical trends that transcend both the East-West divide and the pre-and communist eras. Hoxha’s other goal is to de-exoticize Albania’s history—especially the communist era—generally identified exclusively with paranoia, extreme ideological dogmatism, and xenophobia. To mark this publication, Hoxha and the Tirana-based historian Edon Qesari will explore how microhistory can serve as a good scholarly tool to question and destabilize many broadly accepted categories historians take for granted. This is especially true when microhistorical studies integrate into their analyses multidisciplinary approaches that include the environment and the economy as important factors for understanding social and cultural transformation.


Artan R. Hoxha is a historian of Southeastern Europe with a strong thematic interest in social and cultural transformations during the 20th century. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently a researcher at the Institute of History in Tirana, Albania.


Edon Qesari is a social historian. He obtained his Ph.D. in history from the University of Rome II in 2013 and currently works as a researcher at the Institute of History in Tirana, Albania. His work has spanned a number of topics. From earlier studies of nationalism and political conflict in the contemporary Balkans, Qesari’s more recent work focuses on the social and cultural effects that modernizing practices—industrialization, proletarianization, mass education, and mass mobilization—exerted over rural communities in the Western Balkans. Using a microhistorical key, his work explores specifically how fascism—as a set of ideological concepts and social practices—impacted societal structures on both shores of the Adriatic during the interwar years.


Elidor Mëhilli is Associate Professor of History and Public Policy at Hunter College, City University of New York. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harriman, where he teaches the popular course “Eastern Europe’s Cold War.” He has published widely on dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, geopolitics, technology, and the diplomatic, economic, and cultural dimensions of the Cold War. His book From Stalin to Mao received three prizes. He is a frequent commentator on current affairs for popular Albanian media channels, and his opinions have also appeared in The Washington Post, the BBC, Salon, and elsewhere.


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