DaT18 in figures
The multicultural past of Central Europe has emerged over the last couple of decades as a distinct topic of historical inquiry. Mirroring the debates in our present society, we are witnessing a resurgence of interest in the strategies of dealing with confessional diversity, the negotiated group identities, and the integrative practices of the polities which ruled over this part of the continent (Louthan et al. 2011; Feichtinger and Cohen 2014). The problem of the decline of religious persecution and the rise of toleration in the age of the Enlightenment is integral to the above questions (Kaplan 2007). Finding the suitable answers is contingent on gathering as much documentary evidence and on compiling as many case studies as possible, in order to account for the many regional flavours of early modern strife and cohabitation. From this perspective, the bitter religious disputes that have troubled the Romanian community in Transylvania at mid-eighteenth century, split between the divisive confessional options of Greek Catholicism and Orthodoxy, together with the measures Vienna instituted in response, provide a fertile research ground to further expand this knowledge.
In recent years, the religious protests of the 1740s–1760s have been the object of close scrutiny from historians interested in how the Uniate Church was affected by the Orthodox contestation (Ghitta 2001; Miron 2007; Stanciu et al. 2009; Miron 2015). However, this did not lead to a parallel reappraisal of the progress of the Orthodox community in that same timespan. The events of those years speak not only of how the dissenters brought the Greek Catholic Church to the brink of collapse, but also of how they set about to bring back to life the religious institution that self-identified with reference to the Byzantine Orthodox tradition. Our critical understanding in this regard is still largely indebted to the work of early-twentieth century and interwar historians (Iorga 1902; Iorga 1915; Dragomir 1920–1930; Lupșa 1945) and to that of modern theologians (Păcurariu 1968; Anuichi 1980; Săsăujan 2002). Despite offering important suggestions, the latter interpretative model has been much slower to adapt to the changing historical questions and methods of investigation. The effect has been an ever-widening gap between our knowledge and interpretation of the Orthodox dissent in Transylvania and comparable realities in early modern Europe.
Abandoning the religious perspective in favour of a social approach to the Orthodox protest movement is key to renovating research on the subject. The DaT18 project proposes a shift of emphasis from the elites to the attitude of the crowds and the leaders they produced, as it seeks to answer a range of interrelated questions:
- Who were the thousands of anonymous men and women behind the contestations at village level?
- How much was the protest movement gendered?
- Were its leaders members of a new elite raised as a result of religious conflict, or were they recruited from among the former influential Greek Catholics who had changed sides?
- In either case, since many of them were priests, what role did the difference of status and economic resources play in their confessional option?
- What about age – were they the reflection of a younger generation or of conservative elders?
- How did this elite make the transition from the age of contention to the free exercise of religious belief?
- What channels did they use to call on their fellows to protest?
- Who were those who mediated between the literate and illiterate environments in this largely rural province of East-Central Europe?
- How wide was the social spread of the ideals conveyed by the political texts they presented?
- How and to what extent could the voice of the subjects of an early modern monarchy influence the holders of power in making decisions that affected them?
Providing a complete account on these topics is no easy task, as many of the earliest internal documents of the Orthodox diocese have been lost during the nineteenth century, while the remaining records of the age are dispersed between Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca, Alba Iulia, Vienna, Budapest, Novi Sad, and other lesser regional archives. While some of the evidence has already been published over the last hundred years, including major religious censuses and various examinations into the unfolding of the protests, a great deal of work is still required to identify the overlooked papers in the archives, especially with regard to the local stories of dissent.
Their recollection is one thing, but getting them to speak about topics they were not originally intended to answer, yet which are contained therein, is the real challenge. Therefore, although it remains deeply rooted in the tradition of historical analysis based on documentary evidence, the proposed investigation builds on a multidisciplinary approach, as it borrows methodological elements from sociology, anthropology, political studies, and linguistics, in addition to being informed by multiple historiographic backgrounds. As the identification of the relevant manuscript and published materials will advance, the inquiry shall separate into distinct paths of analysis.
The project encompasses two entangled goals: (1) interpreting the Orthodox dissent in Transylvania using the methods of social history and (2) reassessing the political practices of the subordinate categories involved in the protests against the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church.
1. The research aims to depart from the long-established religious perspective on the events in mid-eighteenth century in favour of an approach that emphasizes what lay beneath the surface of the protests. To this end, the first objective is to reconstruct a collective biography of those at the top of the religious opposition movement in Transylvania. Because it involves working with hundreds or even thousands of individuals whose life details are impossible to trace with precision, the social history of the Orthodox protests is to be examined by means of prosopography. This method has been employed successfully by scholars over the last decades in order to tackle the silence of the sources with regard to the ordinary people they studied, from antiquity to the recent past. The records created by the Habsburg authorities (judicial inquiries, examinations, religious and fiscal censuses etc.) provide historians with enough elements to rely on this approach: name, age, gender, birth place or residence, social status, economic resources, and, at times, the role played in the events. While different types of sources will obviously provide varying levels of information, piecing the elements together in a relational database opens up opportunities to escape the inherent gaps in knowledge. Thus, the derivative objective of creating a meta-source consisting of an index of persons identified by their name and all available biographical details, which will be accessible through an online application, makes it possible to link the different instances when a person was recorded in order to recompile a more complete overall image. The resulting sample shall be interrogated using statistical analysis to gain better insights into the social structures behind the spread of religious dissent.
2. The documentary evidence on the religious disputes in Transylvania from the 1740s to the 1760s also supports the second objective of the project, which is to reassess the forms of political participation, interaction, and ideals of the subaltern groups. By drawing methodological inspiration from the approaches commonly labelled as ‘history from below’, it will proceed from the examination of the heterogeneous corpus of political texts drawn up by the Orthodox dissidents, be they petitions, manifestos, or even acts of popular violence invested with political symbolism. The focus will be on those practices that have made discursive interaction possible outside the strict settings of sociability constitutive of a liberal society, along with the impact of popular requests in shaping the religious policy of toleration in the Habsburg Monarchy. This will eventually lead to ascertain the emergence of a ‘plebeian public sphere’, a concept that takes inspiration from Habermas, but integrates the subsequent contributions that have stressed the plurality of the counter-publics. Historians have already shown that, throughout Europe, the potential for political criticism expanded well beyond the narrow circle of the educated. However, the studies on religious toleration in eighteenth-century Habsburg Monarchy have long emphasized the concept’s fortune among the enlightened holders of power, but have neglected the agency of the commoners living in its lands. The Transylvanian case study will hopefully add to our knowledge on how power relations had been negotiated between the subjects and the elites towards the end of the Ancien Régime.
Both levels of the approach favour explorations that go beyond the implicit provincial arguments. The inquiry over pluralism in an early modern context, at the intersection between how communities lived with religious diversity and how the state attempted to control it, offers a glimpse into a territory that has lately witnessed an influx of research interest from historians. The time of crisis at mid-eighteenth century provides the setting for asking questions and giving interpretations that contribute to the ongoing debate over the timing, meaning and consequences of Josephism, by assuming a non-statist view and stressing, in exchange, the agency of the commoners. The case study will thus benefit historians from various fields, handing them access to information neglected before and putting early modern Transylvania back on the map of contemporary research.
‘Digital Data and Prosopography: Preliminary Results of the DaT18 Database’, Annales Universitatis Apulensis, Series Historica 25, 1 (2021), pp. 105–121. (https://doi.org/10.29302/auash.2021.25.1.6)
'DaT18 Database: A Prosopographical Approach to the Study of the Social Structures of Religious Dissent in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Transylvania', Studia UBB Digitalia 65, 1 (2020), pp. 53–69. (https://doi.org/10.24193/subbdigitalia.2020.1.04)
'Cum să pornești o revoltă în veacul al XVIII-lea: Activism, adunări publice și propagandă în comunitățile ortodoxe din Transilvania (1740–1760)', Revista Istorică 28, 5–6 (2017), pp. 479–498.
'Pe urma banilor: O investigație din secolul al XVIII-lea asupra surselor averii adunate de episcopul Dionisije Novaković în Transilvania', at the international conference Istoria și scrisul istoric azi: Opțiuni metodologice, paradigme, agendă, Institutul de Istorie George Barițiu, Cluj-Napoca, February 3–5, 2020
'DaT18 Database: A Prosopographical Approach to the Study of the Social Structures of Religious Dissent in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Transylvania', at the international conference DigiHUBB Days, Transylvania Centre for Digital Humanities, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, November 27–29, 2019
'The changing practice of petitioning: State power, religious dissent and political communication in mid-eighteenth-century Transylvania', at the international conference The 18th Century as Period of Innovation, Society for 18th Century Studies on South Eastern Europe, Universität Graz, Graz, May 10–11, 2019
'Averting the dangers of sedition: Religious dissent, public opinion and petition practices in the Habsburg Monarchy around 1760', at the international conference Petitions in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions (c.1760 – c.1840), Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon, February 13–15, 2019
'Patrons from the East: Russia and the Orthodox Public in Habsburg Transylvania, 1740s–1750s', at the international conference Addressing the Public Abroad: Strategies of Cultural and Public Diplomacy in the Early Modern Habsburg World (1550–1750), Universiteit Gent, Brussels, December 6–7, 2018
'Spre o istorie socială a disidenței religioase. Un inventar al surselor referitoare la protestele ortodocșilor din Transilvania la mijlocul secolului al XVIII-lea', at the workshop Sursele unei istorii (pre)moderne românești în Moldova și Valahia, Institutul de Istorie N. Iorga, Bucharest, September 21, 2018
'Embodying the nation: memory, symbols, and identity in 20th century Orthodox narratives of 18th century religious dissent', at the 2018 Society for Romanian Studies Conference #Romania 100: Looking forward through the Past, Bucharest, June 26–29, 2018
The current year proved full of challenges both for the research involved in and the management of the project. Set initially for just four months, the third and final stage of implementation was eventually extended until September to overcome some of the delays and complications that resulted from the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It was thus possible to further expand the knowledge base on the Orthodox dissent following new research into the archives in Alba Iulia and Budapest. The official reports in the 1740s and 1750s and the myriad of details uncovered on the workings of the imperial commission that separated the Orthodox from the Greek Catholics at village level in the early 1760s will complement the information in the database and form the backbone for future conference papers and articles. Meanwhile, the prosopography of dissent was completed with an update to the database. Version 3.1 added the details of another 1,224 clerics that were included in the 1767 census, meaning that a full catalogue of the priests serving in the Orthodox diocese in Transylvania between 1762–1767 is now available online. Personification and record-linkage resulted in the ascertainment of some 1,600 individual careers from the 2,599 total entries, but, due to the nature of the records, assigning identities was not always self-obvious and further fine-tunings are still possible. And, while the lockdown prevented the communication of results at the 2020 European Social Science History Conference, which was pushed to next year, another paper was delivered at an international conference hosted by the Barițiu Institute of History in Cluj-Napoca, with two other articles accepted for publications. Although some delays still exist, most notably with regard to the publication of earlier submitted articles, these results confirm the successful achievement of all of the goals set in the initial proposal, in spite of all uncertainties in the recent months.
During the second stage of implementation, which covered the whole of 2019, there have been three set goals that have in the end been fully attained and exceeded. Firstly, the research activity towards reconstructing the collective biography of the participants in the protest movements against the Greek Catholic Church continued at two distinct levels. Because of the need to document in greater detail the opposition movement, explorations into the archival collections in Romania (Mureș and Cluj), in Austria (Vienna), and in Serbia (Novi Sad and Sremski Karlovci) have been pursued throughout the year. The new information provides essential insights that will be available through the database and will eventually form the basis of other projects. In continuing with previous year’s efforts, the second research focus has been on setting up the test version of the database and building the required application for querying the data. Data entering proceeded at sustained pace, totalling over 2,500 entries at the end of the year, of which almost 2,300 were already made available online on this website. In parallel, an application was developed for searching the information in the database, either by some pre-defined keyword or by browsing through each of the linked tables. Last but not least, the third goal was to study the religious toleration at the intersection between requests from the Orthodox community and reform ideas circulated in the upper echelons of the court in Vienna, which resulted in two papers delivered at international conferences. Three other papers were already accepted for publication for the following year, as indicated in the list of outcomes. Thus, most favourable premises exist for successfully finalizing the project on time, at the end of April 2020.
The research carried during 2018, over a period of eight months (May–December), was fully in line with the proposed plan and obligations set within the research project for the first stage of implementation. The activities planned for this stage targeted first and foremost the establishment of the theoretical and methodological bases of the research by critically looking at previous historiography and collecting edited documents on the project’s topic in order to build the database model. Consequently, the second objective was to initiate archival research in collections in Romania and abroad in order to complement the existing documents with previously unknown texts, which has resulted in scientific trips to Budapest and Sibiu with significant results for the following stages of the project. Thirdly, critical steps for the building of the database have been taken, from buying an internet domain that will host the application, to designing the database and selecting the most suitable SaaS cloud solution for implementing the relational database. In terms of the scientific results, the initial thresholds have been largely exceeded, but, more importantly, the project managed to connect very early in its development to the European contemporary historiography, as evidenced by the list of conferences attended and existing invitations for next year.
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