Courses Taught by Blinken OSA Staff to CEU Students

Gabriella Horn

In each academic year Blinken OSA – in co-operation with the departments of History and Legal Studies – offers postgraduate academic courses to Central European University students. The regular courses seek to address a broad spectrum of archival matters concerning the historian’s craft, documentary works, or legal and cinematic documentary practices related to human rights. Some of them require an active, hands-on approach to materials curated by Blinken OSA.

In the first term of the 2017/2018 academic year the following courses are taught by staff members of Blinken OSA.

Urban History is a course taught by Anna Mazanik, Samizdat Archivist (OSA) and Katalin Szende (CEU Department of Medieval Studies). This course presents the key concepts, sources, and methodology of urban history and offers an overview of the development of towns in Europe from Late Antiquity to the twenty-first century.  It also places the European experience in a global perspective by introducing students to the urban development of China for example (where the world’s largest cities of the Medieval and Early Modern period were located), and also discussing - among others topics - the connections between European and colonial cities.

Through the term the students examine the environmental dimensions of urbanism and the relations between cities and the space around them, from food provision in the Medieval towns to contemporary pollution and the role of urbanism in climate change. The course stresses the importance of inter-urban connections across continents, national and cultural borders or the Iron Curtain, from trade to the circulation of knowledge, technological innovations or planning designs. The sessions and the readings discuss aspects of social, economic and cultural life, from families and households through fraternities, corporations, and urban communities to commercial and industrial enterprises, municipal governments and urban planning initiatives.

Anna Mazanik also teaches a course on Advanced Russian Source Reading in Historiography. This course introduces students to the key Russian historiographical concepts, debates, writing styles and the language usage in historical sources. The classes are organized around reading and discussing specific texts. The exact choice of texts depends on the composition of the class and is tailored to the needs, interests and language level of the participants. The course aims to develop the students' understanding of Russian historiography, helping them put secondary sources into a broader historiographical context and improve their comprehension of Russian-language scholarly texts. This course allows students  (not native Russian speakers) dealing with primary or secondary sources in Russian to discuss such texts, to get help with understanding them and to learn to put them into historiographical context. The course also aims to show how specific historiographical texts relate to broader scholarly or intellectual trends both in the Soviet Union/Russia and abroad.

István Rév, Professor of History and Political Science at the Central European University Budapest, and the Director of Blinken OSA Archives teaches a course under the title Historical Credibility of Self-Accusatory Practices. The members of the seminar try to come to terms with the historical validity of narratives, confessions, and biographies of the accused produces under duress. The class analyzes both police and court documents, censored diaries, pseudo-autobiographies, and it also attempts to interpret, make use and sense of the confessions and the self-accusations.

The majority of the documents examined in this course come from secret police archives of the Cold War, while the theories discussed range from theological tracts and philosophical explanations to historiographical and literary analysis. As Arthur Koestler wrote in his autobiography, reflecting on Darkness at Noon: “To the Western mind, unacquainted with system and the rules, the confessions in the Trials appeared as one of the great enigmas of our time”. Besides archival documents and theoretical works, members of the class analyze documentary and experimental films; documents and reflections on forced self-accusation. The seminar probes the limits of making good use of fabrications in historical analysis. Members of the class are expected to write one-page positional papers for the classes, and produce a short research paper – experimenting with theories and methodologies discussed in class – by the end of the semester.

Archives, Evidence and Human Rights is the title of the course taught by three staff members of Blinken OSA: Iván Székely social informatist, course leader, András Mink, historian,  Csaba Szilágyi, human rights archivist. This course was started 14 years ago as a one credit class at the Department of Legal Studies, and has by now become a three credit one for students from several departments. Students in this class look at the roles and uses of human rights documentation in the context of preserving recorded memory and of the history of human rights. The course explains to students how facts are established by forensic methods to produce impeccable evidence to convict perpetrators, and it explains how the roots of conflicts can be understood. This course is offered to the Human Rights Program of the Legal Studies Department, cross-listed to the History Department.

The course seeks to attract students with different backgrounds, working on topics related to recorded memory, historical analysis and representations of oppressive regimes, and retroactive justice. It includes an introduction to the history and philosophy of preserving recorded memory and gives an overview of the basic functions and types of modern human rights archives. It further aims at analyzing the legal and ethical problems of using human rights documents containing personal data, as well as basic provisions of archival and information law.

Case studies illustrate the problems of using and evaluating evidence on mass atrocities, the historical, ethical, and legal aspects of making justice for past abuses and the difficulties of making state leaders liable for human rights violations. New methods of (re)creating historical/human rights narratives from diverse archival sources are introduced, along with innovative digital systems of managing human rights information. The course also explores practices of memorializing grave human rights violations in the archival space. In addition, students gain skills in doing archival research and handling archival documents in practice.