The international approach to history

Written by Rosie on . Posted in Profiles

Bartolomé Yun-Casalilla

Bartolomé Yun-Casalilla, history professor

In September Bartolomé Yun-Casalilla completed his term as head of the EUI’s Department of History and Civilisation. He here reflects on his three years in the post and six more as professor.

“What the students can learn here is not only about how history is done in other countries, it is that they live in a context in which they are acquiring habitus of international behaviour as a historian,” he says. Having worked at institutions across Europe and in the US, where he has focused on economic and cultural and social history, Yun-Casalilla is keen to differentiate between the approach of academic institutions with global history departments and that of the EUI.

“We shouldn’t forget that much of the history which is done now in Europe is still local and national history,” he says, “We attempt to deal with subjects which are not narrowly included in a national narrative and put together cases in different nation states either by connecting the links between them or by comparing them.”

While he does not exclude PhD students who have a local focus, he encourages them to look beyond research opportunities in their own state and make transnational comparisons. “If you are advising an Italian researcher, the first thing you do is put them in contact with other historiographers from other countries; that is the role of our seminars,” Yun-Casalilla says.

Within the first few days of joining the department, where there are currently 144 PhD researchers, newcomers are called upon to present their thesis topic to their peers. This may be a daunting prospect, but Yun-Casalilla sees the EUI as the ideal place for people who “want to internationalise their career, put Europe in a global perspective and are concerned with Europe as a historical entity”.

The professor also helped set up the summer school in comparative and transnational history, as well as the Europe in the World Forum; a space for discussion and research on the relations between the different regions and states within Europe and in turn their role in the world. The collaboration continues as faculty members of dissimilar backgrounds are also paired together to run seminars, which Yun-Casalilla supports as a way of diversifying the discourse.

The professor is multilingual,  a notable achievement although by no means unique within the department. “All of the professors have published in two or three languages before coming here,” he remarks casually. Polyglots are the norm; Western European languages dominate while Hebrew, Russian and Slovak are among the less commonly-spoken languages.

Linguistic ability has been key to Yun-Casalilla’s work and that of his colleagues: “We have to deal with sources which are very much local, in local languages. A colleague in the history department needs more languages to also understand whether our students are reading the languages of the sources well.”

The professor has one more year within the department before he is set to return to the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville. Before being seconded to the EUI he established a doctorate in ‘Europe, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic expansion’ in Siville which attracts students from Europe and Latin America, ensuring that he will continue to work within an international framework.

Yun-Casalilla has passed the role of head of department on to Federico Romero, who is currently researching transatlantic relations in the Cold War, Europe’s post-imperial identity and European integration.

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