Heroes and myths have fascinated humanity since antiquity and they shape our view of history. They can function as screens onto which territorial and national demands are projected. Myths can be created from both characters and events from history that are deemed memorable by a society. The prevailing narrative of the hero or the myth generally bears little relation to the person as they existed or the event as it actually occurred.
South-eastern European historical sciences are frequently moulded by national constructs of myths and heroes, which, in turn, have an effect on the narratives in history textbooks. This allows the legitimisation of a nationalistic world view and can be a catalyst for conflict within “multi-ethnic” societies and even between the individual states of a region.
This conference was organised by the Georg Eckert Institute in cooperation with the department of history at the faculty of history and philology of the University of Tirana, and aimed to highlight myths and their potential for creating conflict and to provide a forum for discussions regarding their role in history teaching.
The conference featured three panels in which the following aspects of the topic were addressed in more detail:
I. Historic figures become mythical heroes
• What relationship exists between the real, historical figure and the portrait of the hero?
• What role does the construction of national heroes fulfil?
• What conflicts can be caused by the nationalisation of historic figures?
• How are heroes generally presented?
• How can historical figures become common south-eastern European heroes? In what ways can they conquer boundaries and offer trans-national (not only trans-state) reference points.
II. Historical events as a foundation for myths
• How are historical events explained and transfigured at a national level?
• What function does the mythicisation of these events serve?
• What can be learned about a society from its myths?
• How are historical events presented and rendered?
III. Myths and heroes in south-eastern European history textbooks
• Which heroes are addressed in history textbooks?
• What purpose do the mythological tales serve?
• What contribution can textbooks and school lessons make to demythologising history?
Draft conference programme
Wednesday 22 Oct.
Individual visits to the national history museum possible
17:00-18:00 Keynote Lecture Prof. Bernd Fischer incl. introduction by Prof. Valentina Duka in the national history museum
18:00-19:00 Drinks reception in the national history museum
Thursday 23 Oct.
9:00 Introduction and welcome (Lichnofsky, GEI; Valentina Duka, University of Tirana)
9:30-11:00 Panel I: Myths in Albanian-language history textbooks
Chair: Bernd Fischer, Indiana University
Abdullahu Durim (Prishtina): The mythologisation of history in the service of identity construction in textbooks in Kosovo
Astrit Dautaj/Xhevair Lleshi (Tirana): Heroes and myths in curricula, textbooks and other educational materials
Ndricim Mehmeti (Tirana): Myths and legends used in support of political manipulation of history
11:30-13:30 Panel II: Key studies of history textbooks from Albania
Chair: Gentiana Kera, University of Tirana
Enriketa Pandelejmoni (Tirana): “The Myth of a Leader”: Enver Hoxha’s role during the Second World War in Albania
Enis Sulstarova (Braunschweig/Tirana): The myth of the “return to Europe” in Public Discourses and Textbooks of Transitional Albania
Dieter Nehring (Berlin): Myths and events in history textbooks of Albanian language areas during the First World War
Mimoza Telaku (Beersheva): Collective narratives of the interethnic conflict in Kosovo
15:00-16:30 Panel III: Myths in comparative perspectives
Chair: Enriketa Pandelejmoni, University of Tirana
Fabio Bego (Rome): Ideology, history and myth: The case of 1920 Vlora War from a trans-Adriatic perspective
Konstantinos Giakoumis (Tirana): Continuities and changes in perceiving the Greek as an “enemy” in the Albanian national identity-building process (Albanian National Movement until the 2010s)
Friday 24 Oct.
09:30-11:00 Panel IV: Myths in Slavic-language history textbooks
Chair: Konstantinos Giakoumis, University of New York Tirana
Darko Stojanov/Jovan Bliznakovski (Skopje): Between history and politics: understanding antiquitas myths in Macedonian history textbooks
Jovana Mihajlović Trbovc (Ljubljana): Myths of statehood in post-Yugoslav textbooks
Igor Despot (Zagreb): The impact of the political context on Croatian heroic mythology
11:30-13:00 Panel V: Myths in historical history textbooks
Chair: Eckhardt Fuchs, TU Braunschweig/Georg Eckert Institute
Gentian Kera (Tirana): The National Liberation Movement in Albanian history textbooks during the socialist period
Vojsava Kumbulla (Tirana): Mythologising and de-mythologisation of heroes, shield of the communist system
Denis Vuka (Berlin/Athens): Constructing the myth of the national leader over the centuries
13:00-14:00 final discussion