Metropolitan Belgrade

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Metropolitan Belgrade: Culture and Class in Interwar Yugoslavia will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in June 2018, and it will appear in the Pitt Series in Russian and East European Studies. It can be purchased from the publisher or from Amazon.

Metropolitan Belgrade presents a sociocultural history of the city as an entertainment mecca during the 1920s and 1930s. It unearths the ordinary and extraordinary leisure activities that captured the attention of urban residents and considers the broader role of popular culture in interwar society.

As the capital of the newly unified Yugoslavia, Belgrade became increasingly linked to transnational networks after World War I, as jazz, film, and cabaret streamed into the city from abroad during the early 1920s. Belgrade’s middle class residents readily consumed foreign popular culture as a symbol of their participation in European metropolitan modernity. The pleasures they derived from entertainment, however, stood at odds with their civic duty of promoting highbrow culture and nurturing the Serbian nation within the Yugoslav state.

Ultimately, middle-class Belgraders learned to reconcile their leisure indulgences by defining them as bourgeois refinement. But as they endowed foreign entertainment with higher cultural value, they marginalized Yugoslav performers and their lower-class patrons from urban life. Metropolitan Belgrade tells the story of the Europeanization of the capital’s middle class and how it led to spatial segregation, cultural stratification, and the destruction of the Yugoslav entertainment industry during the interwar years.

Palas Theater program cover from the late 1920s
Palas Theater program cover from the late 1920s

Praise for the book

Metropolitan Belgrade is an engaging feat of urban history, in which entertainment is center stage. Babovic’s textured descriptions of the city and its inhabitants often reveal the unexpected—such as the visit of Josephine Baker in 1929. Babovic’s captivating account is a superb lens to rethink some of the most important themes and tensions in Serbian, Yugoslav, and European history.” —Mary Neuburger, University of Texas at Austin

“A valuable contribution, not just to East European history and the history of the former Yugoslavia, but to the broader fields of urban history and European cultural history more generally. This book will sit very comfortably, and confidently, alongside some of the most interesting and impressive new additions to the field.” —Patrick Patterson, University of California-San Diego

Support of research and writing

My research has been supported by the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, the Fulbright Institute of International Education, the Henson Anderson Bunch Fellowship, the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and two Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.

Several articles have emerged from this project. “National Capital, Transnational Culture: Foreign Entertainment in Interwar Belgrade” appeared in 2015 in a special issue of East Central Europe edited by John Lampe and devoted to Belgrade during the interwar years. Godišnjak za društvenu istoriju published my article “Re-Contextualizing Entertainment in Interwar Culture in Belgrade” in 2014. I was awarded the Joseph Ward Swain Publication Prize for “Municipal Regulation of Entertainment in Interwar Belgrade,” published in Istraživanja in 2013.

A busy afternoon on Belgrade’s downtown promenade during the interwar years

I’ve presented portions of this project at meetings of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, American Historical Association, Urban History Association, and Berkshire Conference on Women Historians, as well as at the Pleasures of Backwardness: Consumer Desire and Modernity in Eastern Europe conference hosted by the University of California – Berkeley, the North Louisiana Collegium of Historical Studies, the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, the Wilson Center‘s (now sadly defunct) Junior Scholars’ Training Seminar, and the Mid-Size City Colloquium at the University of Ghent.

A short interview about this project (in BCS) can be found here.