Bosnia: Centuries of Conflict and Coexistence (55+)

For decades historians and social scientists have tried to explain how Bosnia became embroiled in one of the most violent conflicts in 20th-century Europe. Some insist that the internecine warfare was imported by nationalisms stoked from outside; Bosnia had a long history of communal coexistence and peace, they argue. Others point to periods of intense violence over the course of centuries in Bosnia, and insist that long-standing conflict always lurked beneath a veneer of civility.

Taking a long view of Bosnian history, we’ll ask who is right. Are those who insist Bosnia is a land of peace better able to account for the war of the 1990s? Or are those who maintain that conflict is nothing new in this tiny Balkan state advancing the coherent vision?

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

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

  • Explain how Islam, the Ottoman Empire, changed life in Bosnia
  • Discuss how and why Bosnia became an important factor in causing some of the most serious conflicts in the 20th century
  • Describe how ideas and influences from outside Bosnia helped shape and change the society
  • Examine what Bosnia can tell us about bringing communities together after conflict

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: From the Middle Ages (7th century) to Ottoman Bosnia (1878)

During the Middle Ages, Christian empires fought for influence in and control over Bosnia. The local population espoused its own version of Christianity in the form of the Church of Bosnia, which  was regarded by much of the outside world as heretical. Local leaders eventually controlled local politics and society, with some returning or turning to Catholicism. This period in Bosnian history disappeared after the 14 the century with the arrival of the Ottoman Empire.

Week 2: Bosnia in the Ottoman Empire

We'll explore the impact the Ottoman Empire had on local cultures and see that much changed with the arrival of Islam. We'll observe that Bosnia became a vital part of that empire, and explore how its people served the sultans.

Week 3: The 19th century

With European power becoming global, Ottoman influence in the Balkan region began to wane. Bosnia, now caught between Hapsburg, Russian, and Ottoman interests saw new influences and ideas streaming into all spheres--social, political, cultural--of daily life. We'll investigate how these factors, particularly ideas informed by nationalist movements in states and jurisdictions around Bosnia, took root.

Week 4: Bosnia on the world stage

In 1914, the assassination of a Hapsburg leader in Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, triggered a series of events that led to catastrophic violence.  When it ended, Europe was in ruins. How and why did Bosnia become the catalyst for one of the greatest conflicts in world history? We'll explore Bosnia's role, from the Bosnian side, in the First World War.

Week 5: From Yugoslavia to independence

We'll explore social political, cultural life in Bosnia from the time of the formation of the first Yugoslavia, after World War 1, to the time when, once again, Bosnia became the focal point for events that turned into one of the most violent conflicts to take place in Europe during the 20th century. We'll ask whether or not Bosnia, on the eve of the conflict, had anything resembling a homogeneous culture, or whether it was a patchwork of cultural and social groups who could no longer co-exist within the framework of the given political structures.

Week 6: War and peace

We will explore in depth the war and its effects on Bosnian society. The country emerged from the conflict one state divided into several entities. We will investigate the peace processes and ask how successful efforts to repair the harm caused by the conflict have been. We'll conclude by asking: Wither Bosnia's peace?

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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