Picturing the peasant : nation and modernity in 20th century Bulgaria




Hillhouse, Emily Anne

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This dissertation examines representations of the Bulgarian peasant in order to explore how nationalist, agrarian and ultimately communist governments attempted to negotiate the meaning of "modernity" in predominantly rural Bulgaria. This work is not intended as a survey of displays of folk culture in the 20th century, but instead focuses each chapter on an important person, movement or organization which best seems to articulate Bulgaria's evolving sense of itself and its place on the edge of Europe. Beginning with a background chapter on the 1878-1917 period, I trace the foundation and development of ethnographic display, representations of peasants in the interwar educational press, campaigns to improve village hygiene and culture, alpine tourism, and the ever-changing image of peasants in propaganda from the years of agrarian rule in the 1920s through the early decades of communism. My dissertation explores the contested meanings of peasant images in Bulgaria's changing political and social milieu. Bulgaria's acceptance into first Europe and later the Soviet sphere of influence was for many nation-builders predicated upon her ability to attain European and later Soviet-style modernity. However, these modernities were based upon ideas of industrialization and urbanization. In the middle of the 20th century, however, Bulgaria's economy was still overwhelmingly agricultural. This represented a problem for Bulgaria's nation builders. Confronted with these seeming contradictions, different regimes attempted to incorporate the rural population into their visions of a modern Bulgaria. The changing nature of this imagined Bulgaria can be best elucidated through images of the Bulgarian peasantry. At one moment incorporated and at another excluded, modern and backward, embraced and reviled, the imagined peasantry reveals the anxieties and aspirations of Bulgarian state builders in the 20th century.




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