Slavic Languages and Literatures 24, Section 1

The Mystery and Fascination of the Balkans (1 unit, P/NP) SEATS AVAILABLE

Professor Ronelle Alexander
Wednesday 11:00-12:00, 6307 Dwinelle Hall, Class number: 39156

The Balkans as a region have always fascinated Westerners, ranging from intrepid eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelers seeking the exotica of “Turkey in Europe” to their modern cohorts who become enamored of Balkan culture, and especially its music—a fascination so great that a group of middle-aged and elderly Bulgarian women who were known at home as The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir could be marketed in the West as “Le mystère des voix bulgares” (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices), win a Grammy, and have their songs used on the soundtrack of Xena: Warrior Princess. But the Balkan region is fascinating in a negative sense as well, that sense which has given our language the verb “to balkanize”, defined by Merriam-Webster as “to break up (as a region or group) into smaller and often hostile units." In this class we will explore two basic questions about the Balkans: What is it that makes the region such a land of contradictions and fascination? And why–especially after the intense media attention to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia–does it remain so little understood?

Instructor Bio

Ronelle Alexander, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures (Ph.D., Harvard University), has been involved with the Balkans since she was an undergraduate. She has visited all regions of Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia, and has done extensive field work in villages throughout the southern and southeastern Balkans. Her research interests include dialectology (the relations between different geographical varieties of speech), folklore (especially the language of oral epic), and sociolinguistics (especially the relation between language and identity as connected with the breakup of Yugoslavia).

Faculty web site:


All readings and discussions will be in English.