The trap of backwardness: Modernity, temporality, and the study of Eastern European nationalism

Maria Todorova

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This article focuses on the discourse of backwardness as an aspect of what has been recognized as the dominant trope in east European historiography until the end of the twentieth century, namely nationalism. Through a survey of east European historiographies, it demonstrates how different notions of temporality are employed. Eastern Europe as a whole and the particular problem of east European nationalism have been constituted as historical objects of study very much on the pattern of anthropological objects, through structural models of "timeless" theory and method and bracketing out time as a dimension of intercultural study. The article proposes a way to circumvent the trap of origins, which carries backwardness as its corollary, by introducing the idea of relative synchronicity within a longue durée framework. This allows the description of a period in terms of linear consecutive developments but also as a dialogical process without overlooking important aspects of short-term historical analysis involving sequential development, transmission, and diffusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)140-164
Number of pages25
JournalSlavic Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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