Hugh Poulton. Who Are the Macedonians? Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. xiv + 226 pp. $18.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-253-21359-4.
Reviewed by Steven Sowards (Michigan State University)
Published on HABSBURG (June, 2000)
Two Cheers for a Second Edition
American schoolchildren used to read an E. M. Forster essay that proposed "Two Cheers for Democracy" because "Two cheers are enough: there is no occasion to give three" for an accomplishment that was imperfect but nevertheless the best available option. Something similar might be said here. Notwithstanding extensive and often accurate criticism of the first edition of 1995, Poulton's book remains the most convenient English-language introduction to the Macedonian situation for an educated (but not necessarily scholarly) audience, explaining contemporary problems on the basis of ethnic identity and historical perspective.
Indiana University Press is reissuing this work in paperback and at a lower price, enlarging its potential readership. The author has updated his narrative through the end of the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, modified the preface and the index, and corrected some typographical errors. The second edition includes about a dozen pages of new text.
This review plausibly could end at this point. Readers who liked the first edition will continue to like the revision: those who found faults in the first version will see the same defects here. Poulton has not engaged in wholesale revision as some critics might have liked: the book's essential strengths and weaknesses remain unchanged.
However, given that works on Macedonia attract substantial attention, and that Macedonia remains a potential source of international friction, it is worth trying to say a little more. This book was reviewed more than a dozen times in journals spanning multiple disciplines: the sheer number of reviews indicates the importance and sensitivity of Macedonia as a topic. Those reviews ran the gamut from enthusiastic praise to belittling condemnation. Among the harshest critics was Alexandros K. Kyrou, who described the book as "a distinct example of how not to write history." As Kyrou (and others) pointed out, Poulton selectively tapped historical secondary sources for background, but seemed more at home with current and even ephemeral sources: news broadcasts, publications by human rights advocacy groups, and interviews. This is not the traditional way to write history, but Poulton may not have the goals of a traditional historian in mind: certainly the book can be viewed as an analysis of current problems enlightened partially but not exclusively by historical findings. A book can be of importance for historical discussion without being a traditional history: consider Henry Noel Brailsford's Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future, which tried nearly a hundred years ago to explain another period of unrest.
Careful reading shows that a number of reviewers weighed what Poulton had to offer in terms of purposes and uses that go beyond the strict limits of academic history. Misha Glenny described the book as "a fair and perceptive account of events" that "explains the history of Macedonia," and as "one of the best guides that I have read" J. G. Nandris focused on Poulton's "perspective on serious contemporary problems" and his "historical consideration of issues" in praising his work, not on his contributions within a narrowly construed historical literature. These kinds of semantic distinctions are likely to cause some readers of this review to bristle, but when there is a possibility that academic history-writing may be engaged as 'applied history' in finding solutions to present-day problems, then its conventions may have to accommodate some flexibility. (And if academic history writing is not going to be engaged in problem solving, then the discipline forfeits a significant justification for prominence on and off campus.) I believe that much of the controversy attached to a book like this one can be attributed to its potential influence in the realm of current affairs, an idea I will return to shortly.
Some of the most telling critics of the first edition took Poulton's effort to task for failing to cite the secondary literature convincingly. While this revision has added some thirty new footnotes, these reflect Poulton's preference in sources: they are primarily citations of current reports from the Balkan media, intriguing ephemera, and interviews with key figures. There has been no effort to bolster the presentation with scholarly citations or a bibliography. This will be especially disappointing for those who prefer a more traditional approach, because some important new publications could have been mentioned, including The Macedonian Conflict by Loring M. Danforth, a special edition of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies, and Anastasia N. Karakasidou's Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood. In other words, this book remains what it was in the first edition: an introduction and overview by an observer familiar with the territory and a predisposition to rely on his personal networks and contacts.
Publications with weak arguments or execution are more likely to go unreviewed than to be reviewed as often as Poulton's work has been: why the substantial interest among critics in this case? The explanation may lie in anxiety about the book's potential to influence the outcome of present and future international developments. Poulton's critics could be concerned that his efforts will mislead readers who are still forming opinions about Macedonian issues. Is it possible to gauge how influential the book has been? How has Who Are the Macedonians? performed in relation to some other works about Macedonia, or in comparison to works about other Balkan hot spots?
Influence is hard to measure, but some informal tools are available that can suggest how likely it is that the American reading public will encounter Poulton's book, in comparison with similar works. It is possible to count how often a book has been reviewed, how many North American libraries report owning a copy to the OCLC cooperative cataloging service , how many times the work has been cited in the footnotes of the periodicals analyzed by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), and even how well a particular title has been selling online relative to other titles through e-commerce booksellers like Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.
As previously noted, there were at least a dozen reviews of Poulton's first edition in well-known English-language periodicals after it appeared in 1995. Two other recent works on Macedonia received more or less the same level of attention. Danforth's Macedonian Conflict was reviewed some fifteen times after its publication in 1995, and Karakasidou's Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood was reviewed at least fifteen times after it appeared in 1997.
All three works on Macedonia have been widely selected by American libraries. In June 2000 a search in OCLC's 'Passport' software showed that 340 libraries owned copies of Poulton's book, while 519 libraries owned copies of Danforth's book, and 435 had copies of the book by Karakasidou. These are strong numbers for scholarly publications, but when books are purchased widely by public libraries, much higher numbers can result. For purposes of comparison, one can look at Noel Malcolm's two recent one-volume works on Balkan regions that have been in the news. His history of Bosnia was on the shelves of 1,724 libraries, and his similar book on Kosovo was available in 1,274 libraries despite being the most recent publication among the five.
ISI citation studies show that the Poulton book has been cited in journal articles at least fourteen times in the five years since its appearance, not counting ten reviews that also show up in the ISI retrieval. The same databases show that the Danforth book was cited twenty-one times in that period, in addition to fifteen reviews. References to the Karakasidou book appeared in eleven footnotes and thirteen reviews, after three years. Note that the ISI files do not record some book reviews that can be uncovered using a wider range of tools: additional footnotes are just as likely to fall outside the scope of ISI's work.
Certainly the least scientific measure of impact is a glance at the relative sales rank figures provided by some of today's book sales Web sites, such as those run by Barnes and Noble and the all-digital Amazon.com. Without placing undue weight on these figures, they still provide a rough sense of the relative popularity of various titles. Based on the sale of paperback editions, Noel Malcolm's book on Kosovo has consistently sold far better than any of the three books about Macedonia, and Malcolm's book on Bosnia has also outdistanced them, by a smaller margin. On both sites, the Karakasidou book sold the best among the three works about Macedonian affairs, followed by Danforth. Figures for the Poulton book have fluctuated quite a bit, perhaps because the paperback edition is so new: during the last few weeks it has sometimes outsold Danforth, but never Karakasidou.
Thanks to reviews, citation by other scholars, and in some cases the effects of media attention, all these books have fared relatively well in the competition to be noticed and potentially to be influential. For critics of Poulton, this may not be welcome news: the second edition of Who Are the Macedonians? makes no effort to address most of the criticisms leveled at the first edition. For those who would like to see a more traditional approach to Macedonia's history, supported by more extensive scholarly apparatus, the second edition will remain a disappointment. Those reservations will not trouble critics and readers who appreciated the first edition as an accessible introduction to historical elements in a confusing area of world tension. Until and unless something else is published, Poulton's book will reap the benefits of prominence. Put another way: if an educated friend with minimal historical training or interest asked you for a convenient work about Macedonia and its troubles, what other single volume could you suggest?
. E. M. Forster, "What I Believe," Two Cheers for Democracy (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1951), 67-76. Forster wrote the essay in 1939.
. For HABSBURG's review of the first edition see Steven Sowards, HABSBURG, July 1995 (URL: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=7560851371278). Additional reviews appeared in the American Historical Review, Booknews, the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Choice, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Europe-Asia Studies, The Historian, International Affairs, International Relations, The Journal of Modern Greek Studies, The New York Review of Books, Slavonic and East European Review, and The Times Literary Supplement (TLS).
. Alexandros K. Kyrou, review of Who Are the Macedonians? in Journal of Modern Greek Studies 14/2 (1996), 362-365. Readers at institutions subscribing to 'Project Muse' journals can find this text online.
. H. N. Brailsford, Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future (London: Metheun, ).
. Misha Glenny, "The birth of a nation: Who Are the Macedonians? By Hugh Poulton," New York Review of Books 42/18 (November 16, 1995), 24-28.
. J. G. Nandris, review of Who are the Macedonians?," Slavonic and East European Review 71 (1996), 742-744.
. Kyrou directly speaks to this point, finding "no use of any archival materials whatsoever" and "no apparent effort to compensate for this shortcoming, by, for example, pursuing an exhaustive examination of the English-language sources" Kyrou detects "an alarming unfamiliarity with the field's basic literature" or with "all recent scholarship in the area." Alexandros K. Kyrou, review in Journal of Modern Greek Studies 14/2 (1996), 362-365.
. Loring M. Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); "Special Issue: Macedonia," Journal of Modern Greek Studies 14/2 (October 1996); and Anastasia N. Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). Poulton acknowledged Karakasidou in the preface to the first edition, but still does not cite her book in the second. Danforth's book was reviewed for HABSBURG: see Nicholas Miller, HABSBURG, January 1996. URL: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=26740850670130 .
. The 'Worldcat' database available in most academic libraries through FirstSearch from OCLC provides some sense of how many libraries own specific titles; the OCLC 'Passport' software used by library technical services and inter-library loan units gives more specific numbers. A large proportion of libraries reporting to OCLC are public libraries. Sales to libraries can be influenced by a variety of factors, including popular demand, librarian opinion, approval plans, the prominence of the issuing press, and advertising.
. The 'Web of Science' database from the Institute for Scientific Information tracks footnoting in a large but finite set of scholarly journals, but not in books: books cited in journal articles will register, but neither books nor journal articles cited in later books appear in the tallies produced by a "cited reference" search. Given the prominence of monographs for historians, this is a significant limitation; in any case, ISI citation counts can never be regarded as comprehensive indications of the attention paid to a publication. The ISI files include distinct Science Citation, Social Science Citation and Arts and Humanities Citation Indexes: all were searched here.
. Based on searches in databases like ProQuest and the print source Book Review Index, reviews of Danforth's book appeared in American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, The American Historical Review, American Political Science Review, The Boston Book Review, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Choice, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Foreign Affairs, International Affairs, The Journal of Modern Greek Studies, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society, National Journal, Slavic Review, and he Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Karakasidou's book was reviewed in American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Anthropological Quarterly, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, Choice, Current Anthropology, Ethnic and Racial Studies, European History Quarterly, The Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Library Journal, Rethinking History, Slavic Review, Social History, The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), and The Village Voice. These two books attracted more attention in disciplines like anthropology than did Poulton's book. All three were reviewed in a mixture of scholarly and popular media. Additional publicity attached to Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood in the news media in 1996 when the Cambridge University Press canceled its publication rather than risk potential threats against its employees in Greece: after this episode, the book was published by the University of Chicago Press. See the discussion of this matter on H-SAE and HABSBURG beginning on February 9, 1996 and Liz McMillen, "Cambridge U. Press backs away from book on Greek Macedonia," Chronicle of Higher Education 42/23 (February 16, 1996), A14.
. As a further point of comparison, OCLC records more than 2,300 library records for various editions and imprints of John Grisham's 1999 novel The Testament. Noel Malcolm, Bosnia: A Short History (London: MacMillan, 1994). Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 1998). Both have been reviewed for HABSBURG: Drew Halevy, HABSBURG, July 1995 (URL: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=26718850086596 ) and Thomas Emmert, HABSBURG, May 1999 (URL: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=4273926506535 ).
. For comparison, Noel Malcolm's book on Bosnia had the largest number of ISI citations, with 27 footnotes and ten reviews in six years; and in only two years, his book on Kosovo had already amassed thirteen citations and eleven reviews. Counting hits in ISI searching requires care: the machine sort separates entries for "DANFORTH L" from those for "DANFORTH LM," for example, and references to authors with common last names may be hard to tease out of large retrievals.
. Both Amazon.com (at http://amazon.com) and Barnes and Noble (at http://barnesandnoble.com) provide sales rank figures for specific items: under this system, sales of a paperback edition on a title are separated from those for the hard cover version. The relative ranks for books are dynamic and can change substantially in a few days. As another point of comparison, Malcolm's book on Kosovo has ranked as high as 34,000th in sales for Barnes and Noble, but the mass market paperback of John Grisham's latest legal thriller, The Testament, ranked 14th in mid-June.
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