Peasants and Urban Centers: Life, Politics and Conflict in the Balkans 1790-2000

Life for Balkan elites was anything but static. Empires came and went, and rulers made profound changes. But what of the common folk? There exists in literature an image of part of society almost forgotten by the great events of history: the peasants, the people bound to the land, simply going about their ordinary lives seemingly overlooked by the currents of political change. We will see in this course that, by the end of the 18th century, such images are unsustainable. From about 1790 to almost the present, the Balkan region has produced profound, sudden, violent, lasting change for the common person.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, October 11 to Friday, November 5. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to discussion board topics, and engage in course activities. You will participate in Zoom Meetings sessions each Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time. 

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Describe how Balkan societies changed fundamentally from about 1790
  • Discuss the power of ideas and ideologies and how they impacted the lives of ordinary people across the region
  • Describe the relationships that common folk had with old and new political, cultural and economic elites
  • Examine the impact that urbanization and social mobility had across the Balkans

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Reading academic and non-academic articles
  • Short video presentations
  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Participation in videoconference seminars

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: The invisible wave

By the end of the 18th century, the region’s elites learned of the need to modernize. They demanded economic and social change, and in the process discovered a new resource–the peasantry. Those who worked the land would be made to pay more and more in tax while also defending visions of ‘the nation.’ There was likely disappointment with peasant unresponsiveness, but those closest to the land were more than aware that realities were changing.

Week 2: The romance

Single-crop economies and new technologies introduced from the early 19th century destroyed old ways. Yet those outside the peasant social groups saw and experienced only the frustration of what they felt was lack of progress. Perhaps to win over the peasants, they appealed to the image of the stalwart worker of the soil, the image of a heroic and self-sacrificing commoner devoted to community betterment. It was a time for nationalism to embrace local tradition.

Week 3: Who are these people?

Were the bourgeoisie nothing but peasants who learned how to read and get rich? As the 19th century wore on, this social class of nouveau riche came to dominate culture and politics from Hungary to Greece, from Serbia to Romania. Their vision of a good life often meant that peasants and even old ‘aristocrats’ would have to abandon their attachment to old ways.

Week 4: Nothing the same!

The 20th century saw trends accelerate. The period witnessed large-scale social dislocation, population migrations, urbanization, emigration and war. These elements are often cited when explanations are needed to account for the region's development. But how important were shifting values and ideas to the realities that evolved?

Books, materials and resources

You will access course resources using SFU’s online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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