“Our Native Cinderella”: Balkan Bees within Global Economies of Breeding and Racialization

Lecture format: on site + online.
Room: 2R-EG-07 (lecture hall of the Institute for Eastern European History).
Street address: Spitalgasse 2,  Campus of the University of Vienna, Hof 3.

This lecture explores how fin-de-siècle beekeepers in the Yugoslav region imagined and attempted to carry out the racial reclamation of their local honeybees. In the 1890s, apiarists from the Kingdom of Serbia began to lament the “degeneration” and darker color of local Balkan honeybees compared to the lighter, supposedly more productive ‘Western’ strains of honeybees. Ideas of purifying and improving both livestock and human societies permeated the political and scientific literature of the day. Using apicultural journals and agricultural literature from the Balkans, wider Europe, the United States, and Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this study contextualizes Balkan apiarists’ racialization of the honeybee within the global literature of livestock breeding and exchange, as well as the ascendant science of eugenics. I argue that the processes of industrializing agriculture and increasing global trade during this period produced diverse discourses of difference in Southeastern Europe, some rooted in complex racializations of nature. While some in Serbia traced local honeybees’ ostensible deficiencies to various sources such as the ‘Ottoman yoke’ or enduring peasant ‘backwardness,’ most typically offered Western beekeeping technology as the antidote to honeybee degeneration. This lecture demonstrates how Southeastern Europe participated in important networks of capital and technological exchange as well as contemporary discourses of race in the nineteenth century. It is ultimately one part of a larger labor and environmental history of the post-Ottoman Balkans, which examines how transnational capital and new national states reshaped the relationship between local labor and the environment.

Peter Wright is an assistant professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His primary research examines socialist Yugoslavia and its relations with the Global South. He is particularly interested in themes of economic cooperation, decolonization, and anti-colonialism. He also researches the environmental history of the Balkans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Please note that registration is only required for those participants who wish to participate via ZOOM broadcast.