The Romanian Association for the Advancement and Spread of Sciences, the National Exhibition, and a Peasant Revolt

The beginning of the twentieth century was a moment of historical optimism. The local advance of modernity – in institutions, infrastructure, and public spirit – in a very short time was proclaimed by many – liberals and conservatives alike. C. Istrati was an important figure in the articulation of this new historical optimism. The ambiguities from the beginning of the 1880s, when the instauration of modernity was counterbalanced by the physical and moral degeneration of the people, were all but forgotten. For a short moment science was the obvious, direct, and immediate answer.

A feverish organizing and institutionalization of science grew under the supervision of Istrati and others: scientists were brought from abroad, associations were created, conferences were organized, the medical system was integrated with emerging research institutes, social questionnaires were designed and distributed. In a few years, social sciences became, from vague self-definitions of mostly public hygiene reform-work, a vaguely institutionalized but recognizable area. The singular event that tried to capture this new historical mood was the 1906 National Exhibition. It signaled, I argue, an attempt of redefinition of the national and the social together. It tried to mimic a more imperial-like patriotismus where national identity was less clear-cut under the promise of near future economic and social progress.

The peasant revolt of 1907 was a culmination of a wave of revolts (the one from 1888 was particularly violent) that engulfed in its violence the foundations of what seemed to be one of the most stable Balkan states. This revolt represented an important point of inflection in the modernization of rural Romania, by blocking the possibility of a thorough capitalist transformation of agriculture. The promise of social progress the new state based itself on was brutally challenged. The subduing of the revolt only emphasized the magnitude of the crisis: heavy artillery was used; general mobilisation was enforced – not only for direct repression but also in order to enroll the potential peasant rebels. The peasant revolt opened up an enduring fracture but did not destroy, only reshaped the interest in science-driven progress, as social expertise looked more important, even if dangerous because of its mixture with socialism.


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  • Marin, Irina, Peasant Violence and Antisemitism in Early Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.