Who Are We? What Do We Want?
The Romanian Society for Historical Studies (RSHS) is a non-profit organization with no political or institutional affiliation, which gathers up historians coming from Romania or showing interest in the Romanian historiographical issue. What mainly unites its members is their affiliation to a liberal political culture, meaning here, not only a refusal of the totalitarian political ethos (from the authoritarian temptation to the attraction towards collectivism or isolationism), but especially the trust in the virtues of free debate, of professional communication, of uncensored critics, of the opening towards society and other disciplines of knowledge.
RSHS was founded in the spring of 2001, in Iaşi; it was initially meant to be a circle of historiographical studies. The motivations of its transforming into a professional organization of academic cooperation are to be looked for in the intellectual and institutional context of the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium, when the brake effect, induced by the revolt of December 1989 and especially by the anti-totalitarian movements at the beginning of the 1990s, started to vanish. The new version of the State-party was getting ready to control the society again, and, at the academic level, the Romanian academic community was already in full restoration as far as its (aggressive-dogmatic!) intellectual message was concerned and, above all, if we were taking into consideration the return of the old national-communists in the academic administrative structures.
In the field of historiography, these new tendencies took the form of an anachronistic professional agenda, and the academic institutions and life were turned into ‘clienteles’. Thus, professional authority continued to be related rather to age, institutional position, integration into the clientele system, etc., and less to the competencies, always liable to doubt. This quickly led to, first of all, a trivialization of the historical research, to the domination of an unprofessional scholar model, and, secondly, to an evident crisis of the intellectual debate on historiography, to a more and more obvious fracture compared to the international academic world and, unavoidably, to the decline of the historian profession in the public life.
The renegotiation of the position that the historian held in public life was also under discussion. It is well known that, by tradition, the historians are one of the most available intellectual categories when it comes to configuring their professional approach at the instrumental level, especially as a public discourse. Moreover, the experience of the last decades shows us that the research of the past has, besides the academic stake, equal moral and political importance. Yet, over the last years, the historiographic body in Romania seems to be more and more reticent (or unable!) to respond the society’s messages with civic-moral implications, a fact that mostly appears as a deficit of mass-media representation.
Besides, for a long period of time, as professional historiography has lost its authority, we have seen that the field of the disputes related to the past has been occupied, tenaciously and more and more aggressively, by new categories of actors, ready to mediate the representation of the historical past: amateurs of all kind, activists and politicians looking for legitimacy, journalists, etc. At the same time, even if they refuse to be mediators, to participate in the “media liturgy”, the historians do not refuse the “populist liturgy”, the celebration of the nation-State, a practice that Vlad Georgescu once called the parastasis* history. All this creates the impression that the Romanian historians prefer the evoker’s position, a new version of the royal buffoon, fit for memorial events and feast meetings (parastasis), and less that of an ‘opinion carrier’. The former offers a facile notoriety and the comfort of a professional authority configured as part of the magic thinking, while the latter implies arguing, problematizing, seeking and committing, morally and publicly.
Considering all these, the Romanian Society for Historical Studies aims at the following main objectives:
- to cultivate professional public debate around issues related to the research of the historical past in Romania;
- to promote professional autonomy and solidarity for the scholars of the historiography field;
- to become an area of active professional sociability and communication and to cultivate forms of acknowledgement in the historiographical field starting from a free competition of ideas and values;
- to contribute to the ‘unghettoing’ of the Romanian historiography, beside other epistemic fields;
- to support liberal and democratic values, as well as the effort of reflection upon the historian-citizen’s condition;
- to fight the surrounding attitude, unfavourable to historiographic innovation and, above all, extremely reticent towards the theory and speculation in historiography.
Conceived as a space of meetings, this site will naturally host, first of all, data and images regarding the activity of RSHS. At the same time, its guests will have the opportunity to find here information about historical studies in general, specialized links and a space of debate and free information regarding the historical studies and the research of the past in today’s Romania.